“Our Love is Here to Stay”: Language, Gender, Brotherly Love, and Sexual Politics
“ Love is Here to Stay” has been a celebrated jazz standard for more than six decades, and it is most often treated as a straightforward love ballad. However, the lack of gendered language in its lyrics opens up the possibility for alternative interpretations, as well as creative and political performances.
By Megan Hill, Ph.D.
The presence of gendered language (he/she/him/her, man/woman, etc.) in song lyrics provides the opportunity for people concerned with gender and sexuality politics to perform the song in order to make political statements, regardless of whether or not the song’s composer and/or lyricist had such politics in mind. When it was written in 1937, the Gershwin brothers’ song “Love is Here to Stay” was certainly not intended to have any political connotations. In fact, it initially did not attract much attention at all, since it was given quite cursory treatment in the film, The Goldwyn Follies (1938), for which it was composed. It was sung by Kenny Baker, on stage in the film as a crooner character, but his performance was partially obscured by other characters’ dialogue. The song did eventually reach the status of jazz standard after it was performed by Gene Kelly in An American in Paris (1951) (Gioia 2012, 324-5). In that film, Kelly, playing the titular American, sings it to his love interest, a French perfume saleswoman, played by Leslie Caron.
Paired with its danceable, expressive melody, the lyrics of “Love is Here to Stay” are usually assumed to refer to a romantic relationship:
The more I read the papers
The less I comprehend
The world with all its capers
And how it all will end.
Nothing seems to be lasting.
But that isn’t our affair,
We’ve got something permanent,
I mean in the way we care.
It’s very clear
Our love is here to stay,
Not for a year
But ever and a day.
The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies,
And in time may go.
But, oh my dear,
Our love is here to stay,
Together we’re going a long, long way.
In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble,
They’re only made of clay,
But our love is here to stay.
Certainly, when the song is used in Hollywood films (The Goldwyn Follies , An American in Paris , Lady Sings the Blues , Manhattan , When Harry Met Sally , Forget Paris ), it is virtually always in service of heterosexual romantic storylines. However, the words are also ambiguous enough that the love that is here to stay can be read as the brotherly love, an interpretation made all the more poignant by the fact that, according to Ira, the song was the last one George penned before he died. With its lack of gendered pronouns (he/she, him/her) or any explicit reference to romantic love, it can be read, as singer Michael Feinstein notes, “as an eloquent memorial to the brothers and their life and work together” (Feinstein 2012, 333).
The lack of gendered pronouns and other signifiers has also meant that male and female singers have been able to sing the song as a love ballad without making lyrical alterations or any significant political statement. This is in notable contrast to several of the Gershwin brothers’ other ballads, which have either been revised when sung by a singer of the opposite gender (for instance, Ira wrote slightly altered lyrics for “The Man I Love,” which became “The Girl I Love”), or have otherwise taken on queer overtones. Gershwin tunes are used with marked frequency in this way by gay men to be overtly political, singing, for instance, “The Man I Love” or “I Got Rhythm” with their original gendered language intact. “Love is Here to Stay,” with its absence of such language, has been a popular and straightforward repertoire choice for male and female singers over the decades, including Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Joni James, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald (both as a solo, and as a duet with Louis Armstrong), Doris Day, Billie Holiday, Andy Williams, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Rosemary Clooney, Harry Connick, Jr., Smokey Robinson, Barry Manilow, and Eric Clapton, among many others.
The interpretive flexibility that the lyrics afford, while a way of avoiding political statements for some, can nevertheless be a vehicle for such statements by others. The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus saw such potential when putting together their Gershwin tribute album in 2012. In that context, “Love is Here to Stay” became a powerful expression of gay pride, earning its spot as the concluding track, and providing the title of the album as a whole, Here to Stay: The Music of George Gershwin.
Gioia, Ted. The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Feinstein, Michael. The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Miller, D. A. Place for Us: Essay on the Broadway Musical. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Megan Hill is an ethnomusicologist specializing in the music of Japan, with a secondary specialization in American popular music. She currently serves as the Managing Editor for the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation’s “Music by Black Composers” initiative, and as an Adjunct Professor of Musicology at the University of Toledo. She earned her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Michigan in 2016, and her research interests include urban soundscapes; contemporary musical practice in East and Southeast Asia; and music, gender, and sexuality. She formerly served as an editorial assistant at the Gershwin Initiative.