I'm Barbara Klein.
I'm Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we continue our report about the life
and music of one of America's greatest composers, George Gershwin.
(MUSIC: "Rhapsody in Blue")
As we reported last week, George Gershwin published his
first song when he was just eighteen years old. During the next twenty years,
until his death, he wrote more than five hundred more songs. He also wrote an
opera, and music for piano and orchestra.
Many of George Gershwin's songs were first written for
musical plays performed in theaters in New York City. These comedies, with
plenty of songs, were a popular form of entertainment in the nineteen twenties
and nineteen thirties.
of Gershwin's musical plays, "Girl Crazy," introduced a young singer
named Ethel Merman. She became one of the most celebrated performers in
America. In the play, Ethel Merman sang a song George Gershwin wrote just for
her. It was called "I Got Rhythm. "
songs that George Gershwin wrote for musical plays and movies have remained as
popular as ever. Over the years, they have been sung and played in every
possible way -- from jazz to country.
example is the song, "Someone to Watch Over Me." It was written for the nineteen twenty-six
musical "Oh, Kay!" Here is a
modern version of the song, sung by Willie Nelson.
In the nineteen twenties, there was a debate in the
United States about jazz music. Could jazz, some people asked, be considered
In nineteen twenty-four, jazz
musician and orchestra leader Paul Whiteman decided to organize a special
concert to show that jazz was serious music. George Gershwin agreed to compose
something for the concert before he realized how little time he had to do it.
The concert was just a few weeks away. Gershwin got busy. And, in that short
time, he composed a piece for piano and orchestra. He called it "Rhapsody
himself played the piano part of "Rhapsody in Blue" at the concert.
The audience included some of the greatest classical musicians of the time.
When they heard his music, they were electrified. It seemed to capture, for the
first time, the true voice of modern American culture. Today, we can still hear Gershwin playing
"Rhapsody in Blue." An old mechanical piano recording has been
reproduced exactly on this recording.
"Rhapsody in Blue" made George Gershwin
famous all over the world. Several hundred thousand copies of the printed music
sold immediately. Gershwin was satisfied that he had shown that jazz music
could be both serious and popular.
also wrote an opera, "Porgy and Bess. " It was based on a book by
DuBose Heyward. It is a tragic love
story about black Americans along the coast of South Carolina.
And Bess" opened in Boston, Massachusetts, in nineteen thirty-five.
Audiences loved it. But most critics did not know what to think of it. It was not like any other opera or musical
play they had ever seen.
was not affected by the critics' opinions. He believed some of his greatest
music had gone into the opera. He said he had created a new musical form -- an
opera based on popular culture. Here is the song "Summertime" from a
later production of "Porgy and Bess" in nineteen fifty-two. Leontyne Price, who played Bess, sings the
Another well-known Gershwin piece is "An American
in Paris. " It is a long tone poem for orchestra. Its first public
performance was by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in nineteen
twenty-eight. Here is a modern recording from "An American in Paris."
again, opinion was mixed. Most people loved "An American in Paris,"
as they loved all of Gershwin's music. Some critics liked it, too. They called
it happy and full of life. Others hated it. They called it silly and
long-winded. Still, it remains one of his most popular works.
George Gershwin died in nineteen thirty-seven, just
days after doctors learned he had brain cancer. He was only thirty-nine years
old. Newspapers all over the world reported his death on their front pages.
Everyone mourned the loss of the man and all the music he might have written. George Gershwin is still considered one of
America's greatest composers. His works still are performed by many singers and
groups. They are probably performed more often than any other serious American
composer Arnold Schoenberg was one of the people who praised George
Gershwin. Schoenberg said Gershwin was a
man who lived in music and expressed everything through music, because music
was his native language.
(MUSIC: "Rhapsody in Blue")
program was written by Shelley Gollust.
It was produced by Lawan Davis.
I'm Steve Ember.
I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next
week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.