Ira Gershwin

On this date in 1896, Ira Gershwin was born in New York, N.Y. He briefly attended the College of the City of New York (1914–1916), where he became interested in writing and music. His first foray into writing lyrics for Broadway plays was in 1921 for “Two Little Girls In Blue,” under the pseudonym of Arthur Francis. Gershwin, a renowned lyricist, achieved worldwide fame by composing music with his brother, George Gershwin—composer of the famous “Rhapsody In Blue” (1924)—beginning in 1924. The Gershwins often composed scores for Broadway plays, including “Lady, Be Good” (1924), starring Fred Astaire, and the popular opera “Porgy and Bess” (1935). Ira Gershwin wrote the lyrics for classic songs such as “ ’S Wonderful” (1927), “I Got Rhythm” (1930) and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (1937). He continued writing lyrics after George Gershwin’s death in 1937, collaborating with other well-known composers, including Burton Lane and Jerome Kern. In 1932, Ira Gershwin was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his work with the musical “Of Thee I Sing” (1931), making him the first lyricist to earn a Pulitzer.

Gershwin was born to a secular Jewish family that practiced no religious rituals besides Passover. On Sabbaths, Gershwin’s mother made sure to close the curtains so her neighbors would not notice that she had not lit the Sabbath candles. Gershwin seemed to share his mother’s lack of faith; According to Gershwin by Rodney Greenberg (1998), during one Passover, Gershwin “wore a silly top-hat like a vaudeville comedian, and had rewritten the ancient text for maximum comic effect.” In 1935, Gershwin wrote the lyrics for the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” which is strongly atheist, ridiculing improbable bible stories such as the story of Jonah. D. 1983

“De t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
to read in de Bible
it ain’t necessarily so.”

—Ira Gershwin, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” 1935.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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