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The Greens of Summers: The Gershwins and The Invention of Kodachrome

In this post, discover the origins of one of the first successful color photography processing methods—and its surprising connection to the Gershwin family! While most of the Gershwin family’s accomplishments are related to music, a member of this prolific family is also credited with one of the most significant photographic developments of the 20th century. Leopold Godowsky Jr.—George’s brother-in-law and the husband of the youngest Gershwin sibling Frances (Frankie) Gershwin Godowsky—invented Kodachrome, one of the most famous light-sensitive products in the world, with lifelong friend Leopold Mannes. Godowsky (1900–1983) and Mannes (1899–1964) became friends while attending the Riverdale School in […]

The Ghost in the Machine: Decoding Gershwin in His Piano Rolls

George Gershwin’s work creating rolls for player piano remains a source of curiosity among scholars and enthusiasts alike. But the more we search for evidence of Gershwin’s individuality and style in this lost technology, the more questions arise about the role of the composer as a visible author of music within the culture of 1910–20s music consumption, and whether during his lifetime these musical artifacts were even perceived as “recordings” at all. By Sarah Sisk “In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble,” but the songs of Tin Pan Alley have taken on a timeless aspect: a continuous ripple […]

“Rhythm Changes” Update and Forthcoming Series on Dr. Eva Jessye

In June, we announced some “rhythm changes” here at the Gershwin Initiative/American Music Institute — namely an enlargement of our educational mission to amplify and celebrate BIPOC creators and performers in the field of American music, and to confront issues of appropriation, advocacy, and representation in the works of George and Ira Gershwin. Toward this expanded mission, recent blog posts by our undergraduate researchers have highlighted Ella Fitzgerald’s recordings of the Gershwin Songbook; profiled composer Undine Smith Moore; and critically considered Gershwin’s Blue Monday (1922), an operatic blackface sketch for a musical revue often cited as a prototype for The […]

“A House of Many Mansions”: Undine Smith Moore and the Fight for Black Music

“Black music is a house of many mansions. Blacks have many musics and some of them relate in an extremely universal way to the human condition,” said Undine Smith Moore, who believed strongly in the power of Black music to reveal the innermost parts of the human heart, mind, body, and soul. This post is a celebration of her life as a Black woman in America, a legacy of bravery and persistence that lives on through her music. Known to many as the “Dean of Black Women Composers,” Undine Smith Moore (1904–1989) forged a remarkable career in composition and music […]

I Got Starlight: Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook

Ira Gershwin once declared, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.” Indeed, the Gershwins owe much of their enduring success to vocalist Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996), whose clear tone, seemingly effortless improvisational skills, and tremendous popularity earned her the nickname “The First Lady of Jazz.” Fitzgerald’s accessible yet powerful interpretations of the Gershwins’ music helped repopularize it over twenty years after George’s death, further cementing their compositions in the Great American Songbook. Launched to fame by her 1938 recording “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” Fitzgerald recorded over 200 albums during a robust, nearly 60 year-long career. […]

Frances Gershwin Godowsky: Her Untold Story

After years as a footnote in her famous brothers’ stories, this post shines a light on Frankie Gershwin Godowsky. Learn about her accomplishments, relationships, and legacy in our latest post! By Marlina Bowring Frances “Frankie” Gershwin Godowsky (December 6, 1906 – January 18, 1999), while frequently overshadowed by her older brothers George and Ira, was herself an accomplished musician and performer deserving of recognition. From a childhood career touring with a children’s troupe to appearances in Broadway revues and Parisian clubs to an album she released at nearly 70, Frankie remained in the public eye for most of her life. […]

Doin’ Time: The Coast to Coast Transformation of “Summertime”

Between the Metropolitan Opera’s new production and Lana Del Rey’s recent song “Doin’ Time,” we’re hearing about Porgy and Bess everywhere these days. But how did “Summertime” end up on Top 40 radio? This post explores the rich afterlife of Gershwin’s famous aria, from early recordings to Sublime’s ska-punk interpretation, and its most recent appearance in pop star Lana Del Rey’s sixth album. By Sophia Janevic The aria “Summertime” from the American opera Porgy and Bess (1935) is perhaps composer George Gershwin’s most recognizable tune—so ubiquitous, in fact, that it has been reworked into a SoCal pop anthem. But how […]

Announcing the Gershwin Initiative’s “Alfred and Jane Wolin Managing Editorship”

Join us as we express our thanks to Alfred and Jane Wolin for their generous gift to the Gershwin Initiative. The Gershwin Initiative is pleased to announce the “Alfred and Jane Wolin Managing Editorship.” Supported by a three-year gift, the named position assures the continuation of this key leadership position and thus the continuing productivity of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition. “I am so grateful for the Wolin’s generous support,” said professor Mark Clague, director of the U-M Gershwin Initiative. “Their gift recognizes not only the importance of the Gershwin Critical Edition to the brothers’ legacy and American […]

I Got Rhythm: Ethel Merman’s Big Break

Ethel Merman, one of Broadway’s most legendary performers, got her big break when she starred in the Gershwin’s 1930 musical Girl Crazy. Read on to learn more about her incredible career, and click here to learn more about the song that started it all: “I Got Rhythm.” By Rachel Fernandes Ethel Merman (1908–1984) is one of the most well-known Broadway actresses of all time. But did you know that the Gershwin’s musical Girl Crazy was the springboard for her incredible career? An article from Women’s Wear Daily, published the day after the premiere of Girl Crazy, wrote this about Ethel’s […]

Archivist and Biographer: A Conversation with Michael Owen

Michael Owen has spent the majority of his career working closely with the archival materials of George and Ira Gershwin, with an emphasis on the life and work of the lyricist side of the songwriting team. He is currently writing what he hopes will be a landmark biography of the eldest Gershwin brother. In this interview, Michael describes his journey from archivist to biographer and talks about his upcoming book. By Rachel Fernandes A few months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to interview Michael Owen, the consulting historian and archivist for the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts, located in […]

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