Ira Gershwin (6 December 1896 – 17 August 1983) was an American lyricist who collaborated with his younger brother, composer George Gershwin, to create some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century.
With George he wrote more than a dozen Broadway shows, featuring songs such as "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," "The Man I Love" and "Someone to Watch Over Me," and the opera Porgy and Bess.
The success the brothers had with their collaborative works has often overshadowed the creative role that Ira played. However, his mastery of songwriting continued after the early death of George; and he wrote further hit songs with composers Jerome Kern ("Long Ago (And Far Away)", Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen.
His critically-acclaimed book Lyrics on Several Occasions of 1959, an amalgam of autobiography and annotated anthology, is an important source for studying the art of the lyricist in the golden age of American popular song.
Ira Gershwin (born Israel Gershowitz) was reportedly shy as a young boy and spent most of his time at home reading. However, from grammar school through college he played a prominent part in several school newspapers and magazines. While his younger brother began composing and “plugging” in Tin Pan Alley from the age of sixteen, Ira worked as a cashier in his father’s Turkish baths- still unsure of his calling. But in 1921 he found it. Alex Aarons signed Ira to write the music for his next show, Two Little Girls in Blue, with Vincent Youmans. His lyrics were well received and allowed him to successfully enter the theatre world with just one show.
It wasn’t until 1924 that Ira and George teamed up to write the music for their first Broadway hit, Lady, Be Good! Once the brothers joined together, their talents exploded into one of the most influential forces in the history of American Musical Theatre. Together, they wrote the music for over twelve shows and four films. Some of their more famous works include “The Man I Love”, “Fascinating Rhythm”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “I Got Rhythm” “Summertime” and “They Can't Take That Away from Me”. Their partnership continued up until George’s sudden and tragic death from a brain tumor in 1937.
Following his brother’s death, Ira waited nearly three years before writing again. After this interlude, he teamed up with such accomplished composers as Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill, and Harold Arlen. Over the next fourteen years, Ira continued to write the lyrics for many film scores and a few Broadway shows.
Ira died on August 15, 1983, and is now interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Together, the Gershwin siblings left behind a legacy that would help shape American Musical Theatre. Solely, Ira played a huge part in bringing about a new type of song lyric: a smart, witty, vernacular style that the common man could relate to and enjoy.
American singer, pianist, musical historian Michael Feinstein worked for Ira in the lyricist's latter years, helping him with his archive. Several lost musical treasures were unearthed during this period and Feinstein performed some of the material.
Comments on the Gershwin collection at the Library of Congress
From Library of Congress publication (presumably in the public domain, as are all US Govt. publications) http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9809/gershwin.html
The music of George and Ira Gershwin runs deep in the American consciousness. The opening clarinet glissando from Rhapsody in Blue, the taxi horn theme from An American in Paris and the songs — "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," "The Man I Love," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Fascinating Rhythm," and many others — are instantly recognizable. Mere mention of the name "Gershwin" brings to mind the sophisticated glamour of the '20s and '30s, personified by the brothers who helped to give those decades their musical voice.
But if the Gershwins symbolize a time, their music and words transcend it. The proliferating performances and recordings of their music testify to its enduring popularity, and George and Ira continue to be the subjects of both popular and scholarly study.
Ira Gershwin was a joyous listener to the sounds of the modern world. He noted in a diary: "Heard in a day: An elevator's purr, telephone's ring, telephone's buzz, a baby's moans, a shout of delight, a screech from a `flat wheel,' hoarse honks, a hoarse voice, a tinkle, a match scratch on sandpaper, a deep resounding boom of dynamiting in the impending subway, iron hooks on the gutter."
George's beautiful manuscript full score for Porgy and Bess conveys his care in creating the opera and the importance he attached to it. Song manuscripts with erasures and corrections present the youthful composer whom Edward Jablonski has called the "Jazz Age Meteor." Similarly, Ira's lyric sheets, with experimental rhymes, unused couplets and various corrections, show us Jablonski's "Contemplative Craftsman." No fewer than 17 pages of lyric drafts survive for the Ira Gershwin-Jerome Kern classic "Long Ago (And Far Away)." Also included are the so-called Secaucus manuscripts (scores and lyric sheets found in a Secaucus, N. J., Warner Bros. warehouse), George's harmony exercises, and eight of his musical sketchbooks.
Rosenberg, Deena (1991). Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin. Penguin Books USA Inc.. ISBN 0-525-93356-5.