George Gershwin, born in Brooklyn, New York on September 26, 1896, began his musical training at thirteen. At fifteen he left high school to work as a Tin Pan Alley "song plugger" and within three years he had seen his first song published. Although "When You Want 'Em You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em You Don't Want 'Em" created little interest, George's "Swanee", popularized by Al Jolson in 1919, brought Gershwin his first real fame. In 1924, when George teamed up with his older brother Ira, "the Gershwins" became the dominant Broadway songwriters, creating brisk, infectious rhythm numbers and affectingly poignant ballads. This extraordinary collaboration lead to a succession of musical comedies, among them Of Thee I Sing (1931), the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Starting with his early days as a composer of songs, Gershwin had ambitions to compose serious music. His Rhapsody in Blue caught the public's fancy and opened a new era in American music.
In 1926 Gershwin came across DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy, and immediately recognized it as a perfect vehicle for a "folk opera" using blues and jazz idioms. Porgy and Bess was the Gershwin brothers' most ambitious undertaking, tightly integrating unforgettable songs with dramatic incident. The opera was made into a major motion picture by Samuel Goldwyn in 1959.
In 1937, Gershwin was at the height of his career. His symphonic works were becoming part of the standard repertoire for concerts and recitals, and his show songs had brought him ever-increasing fame and fortune. Gershwin died of a brain tumor at the age of 39 on July 11, 1937.
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