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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. […]

NOI+F’s An American in Paris

We are delighted to share that the University of Maryland’s National Orchestral Institute + Festival (NOI+F) has released a new album of American music featuring our critical edition of George’s Gershwin’s 1928 tone poem, An American in Paris! The album, titled Bernstein, Gershwin and Copland, also includes performances of Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest and Aaron Copland’s An Outdoor Overture under the direction of conductor James Judd. Judd’s performance of An American in Paris offers particular fidelity to the insights gleaned from Gershwin’s 1929 recording of the work that informs our edition. Find or stream this recording and others by the National […]

Rhythm Changes: Expanded Scope and Educational Mission for the Gershwin Initiative

As students, musicians, professionals, scholars, and human beings, we at the Gershwin Initiative / American Music Institute are committed to engaging and honoring marginalized voices within American musical cultures. To that end, we will enlarge our educational mission and platform to use our work as a vehicle for learning about, amplifying, and celebrating diverse musical voices. This will be reflected through expanded digital content here on our research blog and social media feeds, with a focus on the work of BIPOC creators and performers. The Gershwin Initiative’s focus is on preserving and celebrating the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin […]

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 […]

‘What Makes a Hit?!’: A Conclusion to the Series

Over the past two years, Rachel Fernandes, one of the Gershwin Initiative’s undergraduate assistants, explored some of George and Ira Gershwins’ most successful Broadway songs and a handful of near-misses. In the final post of the “What Makes a Hit” series, Rachel summarizes her findings and shares her views on what makes a hit! By Rachel Fernandes George and Ira Gershwin are two of the most celebrated figures in American music, but not all of their songs were major hits in the 1920s and ’30s, and even fewer are still being listened to today. Over the past two years, I […]

I Got Lyrics: Ira’s Unique Writing Process

“I Got Rhythm,” an enduring Gershwin classic, is from the musical Girl Crazy, which premiered on October 14, 1930. Despite having some initial trouble with the text, Ira was able to write one of the most memorable lyrics in musical theater history while enhancing George’s syncopated melody. By Rachel Fernandes Before “I Got Rhythm” became the up-tempo song we know and love, it was a slow ballad for an unfinished Gershwin musical. When revising the song for Girl Crazy in 1930, George ultimately gave it a jazzy feeling (discussed in this earlier post) that inspired Ira to write his iconic […]

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