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Lyricist Ira Gershwin wrote for popular musicals like Porgy and Bess in the 1920s and '30s. He was in the first writing team to win a Pulitzer for songwriting.
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Ira Gershwin was born on December 6, 1896, in New York City. Ira and his brothers' first collaboration came in 1918, with "The Real American Folk Song." In 1932, Ira shared the honor of a Pulitzer Prize for the score, "Of Thee I Sing." Over the course of their careers, the Gershwin brothers collaborated on more than 20 musicals and songs. Ira Gershwin died on August 17, 1983, in Beverly Hills, California.
"Life is one long jubilee."
"I always felt that if George hadn't been my brother and pushed me, I'd have been contented to be a bookkeeper."
Lyricist Ira Gershwin was born as Israel Gershowitz in New York, New York, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, on December 6, 1896. The oldest of four children born to Russian Jewis immigrants Rosa Bruskin and Morris Gershovitz, the future lyricist was always a bookish child. Unlike his brother George, whose interests were primarily musical, young Ira's ran more along literary lines. The family moved frequently throughout Gershwin's childhood due to his father's ever-changing job status. In 1914, the word-loving Gershwin enrolled as an English major at City College of New York, but dropped out after only two years.
Gershwin spent the next several years taking after his father, moving from job to job. He worked at various times as a steam room attendant, a photographer's assistant and a business manager for a carnival. Occasionally, Gershwin would write theater reviews, but otherwise he did not show much promise as a writer. Meanwhile, his brother George was making a name for himself in the music business, composing and arranging, as well as making a brief foray into vaudeville.
At his brother's prompting, Gershwin took a shot writing lyrics for one of his songs. Their first collaboration came in 1918 with "The Real American Folk Song," which appeared in Ladies First. Ira Gershwin once said, "I always felt that if George hadn't been my brother and pushed me, I'd have been contented to be a bookkeeper." He continued writing lyrics, but often under the pen name Arthur Francis, a playful combination of the names of his younger brother and sister.
Still using his pen name, Ira wrote his first published song, "You May Throw All the Rice You Desire but Please Friends, Throw No Shoes." He followed up in 1921 with his first stage success, providing lyrics for the show Two Little Girls in Blue. The critically acclaimed show was produced by Abraham Erlanger and co-composed by Vincent Youmans and Paul Lannin.
In 1922, the Gershwin brothers came together again creatively to write the first major hit of their career, I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise. In 1924, they followed up with the hit show Lady, Be Good! The next decade of collaboration would cement the brothers firmly in American musical history; combining their talents, they wrote for Broadway musicals, operettas and even vaudeville. In the 1920s, their big hits included Tip Toes (1925), Oh, Kay (1926) and Funny Face (1927).
On September 14, 1926, Ira Gershwin married Leonore Strunsky. Around the same time, the Gershwin brothers decided to combine their personal lives as well as their professional careers, moving both families into one five-story house in Manhattan.
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