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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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During this time, the house served as a creative nerve center for the brothers; artists, musicians and friends could be seen coming and going at all hours of the day and night.
the frantic pace became too much and Ira Gershwin retreated to spend some time on a farm north of the city. His brother would join him in the spring and summer to work and collaborate. It was there that the two wrote and re-wrote Funny Face and Smarty.
Biographers and music historians note that the brothers' huge popularity was due, in part, to their innovative new style and combinations. Ira Gershwin in particular was adept at implementing new lyrical styles, playing with timing and unusual word combinations. Charles Schwartz once said that the brothers had "the uncanny knack for coming up with the fresh and the novel ballads appropriate for their time and genre with wonderfully creative lyrics, songs of chivalric love and gallantry."
In 1928, the Gershwins and their wives went on a trip to Europe that included stops in Vienna, London and Paris. Their journey across the Atlantic ended up becoming the inspiration for the iconic orchestral, "An American in Paris." Four years later, Ira Gershwin shared the honor of a Pulitzer Prize with writers George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind for the score of the musical comedy, "Of Thee I Sing." The award gave the men the distinction of the first ever Pulitzer Prize for songwriting.
The Gershwin brothers' biggest triumph came in 1935 with their famous "folk opera," Porgy and Bess. The characters in the musical are almost exclusively African-Americans hailing from Charleston, South Carolina. The Gershwins insisted on hiring only black singers to play the parts, a progressive move at a time when blackface entertainment was still common. Musically, the composition was the brothers' most ambitious and successful, and it remains a popular production even today.
After Porgy and Bess, Ira Gershwin began working almost exclusively on motion pictures, spending much of his time in Hollywood. For his work on "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (1937), "Long Ago and Far Away" (1944) and "The Man That Got Away" (1954), the lyricist was nominated for three Academy Awards.
In 1937, Ira Gershwin's beloved brother and partner, George Gershwin, died of a brain tumor. Throughout their lives, Ira had functioned as his brother's business manager and always looked after his finances. After George's death, Ira devoted himself to organizing his brother's legacy in the hopes of preserving it for future generations. His work paid off and the Library of Congress now has an extensive Gershwin Collection dedicated to that end.
1940, Ira Gershwin began writing and collaborating again with the likes of Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen. The famed lyricist said his goodbye to Broadway in 1946 with his last work for the stage, Park Avenue. He spent the rest of his life working on the family archive with historian Michael Feinstein.
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