One of the most influencial composers of the 1920’s was George Gershwin.
Gershwin was the most celebrated and wealthiest American composers of the 1920’s. In
this paper I will discuss Gershwin’s life as a child and his upbringing and how his music
expressed the dreams of every American Citizen by mixing different styles of music like
Jewish, black, jazz, classical, blues and put them into one genre and created absolute
George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 26, 1898. As the
son of immigrant parents, Georges father had many jobs, so they were forced to live in
many locations. George had two brothers, Arthur and Ira, and one sister, Francis.
Although, George was the most well known of the family, his brother Ira was also a
successful lyricist. Also, it was Ira’s interest in music that made their parents purchase the
first family piano. However, it was George that took the immediate interest in playing the
piano. George played by ear before his parents purchased piano lessons for him. George
began to study music seriously at the age of twelve.
After studying and perfecting his talent, under the guidance of Charles Hambutze,
Gershwin was taught proper techniques, lyricism, and harmony. This opened up a the
worlds of Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Schoenberg (Ewen 58-60). Gershwin was offered a
job at Remick’s Music Publishing House in Tin Pan Alley. Gershwin jumped at the
opportunity to become the youngest pianist ever employed at the popular music capital of
the world. Gershwin , at the young age of fifteen, quit school and became a song plugger.
(Schwartz 21). The purpose of a song plugger was to make a song become a hit.
Everyday hundreds of singers and actors came to Tin Pan Alley looking for fresh new
materials. The song pluggers could improvise and transpose a song on the spot to fit a
particular singer or actor. Soon, everyone was going to Gershwin to compose music.
George Gerswhin 3
It wasn’t long before Gershwin figured out that he wanted something different in his
life, and began composing for himself. In 1916, Gershwin had his first song printed and
published. It was this first publication that led to him meeting famous lyricist, Irving
Caesar. Gershwin and Caesar decided to work together on a Broadway musical. This was
a dream come true for Gershwin, and a major turning point in his life. The Broadway
musical was completed in May 1919, and was named La La Lucille. It was billed as, “a
brilliant, up to the minute musical comedy of class and distinction” (Adam 32:19)
Although this brought in several job offers, Gerswhin and Caesar decided to work on
another project together. It took only ten minutes to compose a song called Swannee. The
song was incorporated into the show Sinbad at New York’s Winter Garden. The song
was such a huge success selling over two million copies of sheet music world wide.
Gershwin and Caesar earned each over ten thousand dollars each for their song (Gojowy
From 1920-1924, Gerswhin signed on to write the music for a new Broadway
musical called the George White Scandals. This production featured twenty-five
Gerswhin tunes. Soon after, he wrote an operetta but was pull out because it didn’t
fit in, however would be used in later compositions (Schwartz 47). One of the greatest
jazz musicians of all time, Paul Whiteman, was so impressed with Gerswhin’s use of jazz
in the melody, harmony and rhythms, he suggested to him to write a concerto for two
piano’s to be played at Aeolian Hall under Whiteman’s direction. Oddly, Gerswhin forgot
about writing the piece until he read an advertisement, which announced the premier of a
new composition by George Gershwin. He finished it in two hours (Adam 35:19).
Gerswhin composed the work, which defined his career and elevated him to a new level
George Gershwin 4
Rhapsody in Blue was the piece that Gerswhin composed. The opening of the
composition features a clarinet solo, which trills at the beginning and scales up as high as
they can go. Rhapsody in Blue is still one of the favorites pieces played in the United
States and worldwide by orchestras and ensembles. Besides Rhapsody in