Ira Gershwin was born Israel Gershowitz on December 6, 1896, in New York City. Ira Gershwin is the older brother to famed George Gershwin. In 1921, Ira found his calling in composing when Alex Aarons asked Gershwin to write music for his next show, Two Little Girls in Blue, with Vincent Youmans. It wasn’t until 1924 that Ira and George collaborated to write the music for their first Broadway hit, Lady, Be Good!
Together with his younger brother, the Gershwin brothers created some of the greatest songs of the 20th century. The Gershwins wrote more than a dozen Broadway shows and four films, featuring such songs as “I Got Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch over Me,” and the opera Porgy and Bess. Together the Gershwin brothers left a lasting legacy on the American Musical Theatre. In 1931, the two brothers won a Pulitzer Prize for their Broadway musical hit Of Thee I Sing. Their partnership continued up until George’s tragic death from a brain tumor on June 11, 1937.
Following his brother’s death, Ira waited nearly three years before beginning to write again. Nevertheless, Ira was able to continue writing hits with such composers as Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen. In 1959, Ira released his acclaimed book, Lyrics on Several Occassions, an autobiography about the art of songwriting. It became an important source for studying the golden age of American popular song.
Ira Gershwin died on August 17, 1983.
Sources: “Ira Gershwin (1896 - 1983).” American Jewish Desk Reference. NY: Random House, 1999. pg. 361-2.
White, Raymond. “The Gershwin Legacy: Library Celebrates Contributions of George and Ira.” Library of Congress. September 1998.
Picture by the Library of Congress