George Gershwin is one of America's most popular and widely performed composers. Brought up by immigrant parents on Manhattan's lower east side, he left school at 14 to work as a pianist for Tin Pan Alley. He incorporated jazz elements into his music and won first success with songs including Swanee recorded by Al Jolson.
His reputation as a serious composer advanced when Paul Whiteman commissioned and performed Rhapsody in Blue (1924). During the 1920s and ‘30s he wrote music for concert hall and for musicals and films. His songs were mainly composed to lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin and were soon performed by legendary stars including Fred Astaire, Gertrude Lawrence, Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers.
From his Piano Concerto to the opera Porgy and Bess, he constantly demonstrated a desire to expand his compositional skills increasingly further from Tin Pan Alley and the popular song. George Gershwin supposedly once asked Maurice Ravel whether he would give him lessons in orchestration. After asking Gershwin how much he earned, Ravel replied “how about you give me lessons? ”However “classical” he attempted to become in compositional style, it was his brilliance for writing an outrageously catchy melody that ensured his popularity and cultural significance far beyond his tragically short life.