American composer and pianist
Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), the songs Swanee (1919) and Fascinating Rhythm (1924), the jazz standard I Got Rhythm (1930), and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935) which spawned the hit Summertime.
Gershwin studied piano under Charles Hambitzer and composition with Rubin Goldmark, Henry Cowell, and Joseph Brody. He began his career as a song plugger but soon started composing Broadway theater works with Buddy DeSylva and his brother Ira Gershwin. He moved to Paris intending to study with Nadia Boulanger, but she refused him; he subsequently composed An American in Paris. He then returned to New York City and wrote Porgy and Bess with Ira and DuBose Heyward. It was initially a commercial failure but came to be considered one of the most important American operas of the twentieth century and an American cultural classic.
Gershwin moved to Hollywood and composed numerous film scores until his death in 1937 from a malignant brain tumor. His compositions have been adapted for use in films and television, and several became jazz standards recorded and covered in many variations.
Son of Moishe Gershowitz (aka Morris Gershwin) & Roza Bruskina. Siblings: Ira, Arthur, Frances.
Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and a recurring impression that he smelled burning rubber. On February 11, 1937, he performed his Piano Concerto in F in a special concert of his music with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the direction of French maestro Pierre Monteux. Gershwin, normally a superb pianist in his own compositions, suffered coordination problems and blackouts during the performance. He was at the time working on other Hollywood film projects while living with Ira and his wife Leonore in their rented house in Beverly Hills. Leonore Gershwin began to be disturbed by George's mood swings and his seeming inability to eat without spilling food at the dinner table. She suspected mental illness and insisted he be moved out of their house to lyricist Yip Harburg's empty quarters nearby, where he was placed in the care of his valet, Paul Mueller. The headaches and olfactory hallucinations continued.
On the night of July 9, 1937 Gershwin collapsed in Harburg's house, where he had been working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies. He was rushed back to Cedars of Lebanon, and fell into a coma. Only then did his doctors come to believe that he was suffering from a brain tumor. Leonore called George's close friend Emil Mosbacher and explained the dire need to find a neurosurgeon. Mosbacher immediately called pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing in Boston, who, retired for several years by then, recommended Dr. Walter Dandy, who was on a boat fishing in Chesapeake Bay with the governor of Maryland. Mosbacher then called the White House and had a Coast Guard cutter sent to find the governor's yacht and bring Dandy quickly to shore. Mosbacher then chartered a plane and flew Dandy to Newark Airport, where he was to catch a plane to Los Angeles; however, by that time, Gershwin's condition was critical and the need for surgery was immediate. In the early hours of July 11, doctors at Cedars removed a large brain tumor, believed to have been a glioblastoma, but Gershwin died on the morning of Sunday, July 11, 1937, at the age of 38. The fact that he had suddenly collapsed and become comatose after he stood up on July 9, has been interpreted as brain herniation with Duret haemorrhages.
Gershwin's friends and fans were shocked and devastated. John O'Hara remarked: "George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."
He was interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. A memorial concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl on September 8, 1937, at which Otto Klemperer conducted his own orchestration of the second of Gershwin's Three Preludes.
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