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Report from 11th Sept 2008 

The Life & Music of George Gershwin
Mr K Humphreys

What a splendid start to our programme: Music by Gershwin and Words by Ken Humphreys.

Not only did Ken give us the opportunity to hear George and Iraís music and lyrics performed by the best of singers, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Paul Robeson, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole, he also told us the story of their origin and early life.

Born of Jewish parents in Russia during the nineteenth century Moishe Gershowitz and Rosa Bruskin emigrated with their parents to New York. They eventually married and produced four children - Ira and George were the two oldest and most talented. A family piano was bought and the young George soon showed his talent as a pianist. The family changed their name to Gershwin and by the age of fifteen George was playing professionally in the Catskill Mountains holiday resorts. He then became a music publisherís pianist for $35 per week and also started writing music. In 1916 he had his first big national hit when he wrote "Swanee" for the showman of the era Al Jolson.

Although not as musically talented as George, Ira had a way with words that enabled him to become the lyricist for Georgeís music. Together they wrote numerous songs that are still sung by the best singers today. In the early twenties George wrote Rhapsody in Blue a purely instrumental piece but what followed was a series of musical shows which had songs written by George and Ira. Lady be Good, Funny Face, An American in Paris, Strike up the Band, Girl Crazy, were some of their successful Broadway shows before their tour de force. Porgy and Bess an opera about the plight of black people, that was not initially appreciated by music critics, but became a huge success because of the quality of its music. These stage successes were followed by Hollywood musical films. For their first "Shall we Dance" featuring Fred Astaire they were paid $55,000. But unfortunately this run of successes was brought to an untimely end by the death of George at the early age of thirty eight.


"Otley Wetlands Nature Reserve" by Mr P Riley will be our next talk in the Main Hall of Otley Civic Centre at 10-00am on Thursday 25th September 2008.

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