George Gershwin - An American Composer


George Gershwin, born in 1898, was one of America’s greatest composers. He published his first song when he was eighteen years old. During the next twenty years until his death in 1937 he wrote more than five hundred more songs. He also wrote an opera as well as music for piano and orchestra.

Many of George Gershwin’s songs were first written for musical plays performed in theatres in New York City. These comedies, mixed with plenty of songs, were a popular form of entertainment in the 1920s and 1930s.

One of Gershwin’s musical plays, “Girl Crazy” introduced a young singer named Ethel Merman, who later on became a celebrated performer in America. In the play she sang “I Got Rhythm”, a world hit.

Many songs that Gershwin wrote for musical plays and films have remained popular as ever. Over the years they have been sung and played in every possible way – from jazz to country.

In the 1920s there was a debate in the United States about jazz music. Could jazz, some people asked, be considered serious music?

George Gershwin - American ComposerIn 1924 jazz musician and orchestra leader Paul Whiteman decided to organize a special concert to show that jazz was serious music. George Gershwin agreed to compose something for the concert before he realized how little time he had to do it. The concert was just a few weeks away, and Gershwin got to work. And, in that short time, he composed a piece for piano and orchestra which he called “Rhapsody in Blue”.

Gershwin himself played the piano at that concert. The audience, made up of some of the greatest classical musicians of the time were electrified when they heard his music.


Rhapsody in Blue made George Gershwin famous all over the world. He showed that jazz music could be both serious and popular.

Gershwin also wrote an opera, “Porgy and Bess”. It is a tragic love story about Black Americans along the coast of South

Carolina. Porgy and Bess opened in Boston in 1935. The audiences loved it but most critics did not know what to think of it. It was not like any other opera or musical play that they had ever seen. Gershwin did not care about the critics’ opinion. He thought some of his greatest music had gone into the opera. He said he created a new musical form – an opera based on popular culture.

Another well – known Gershwin song is “An American in Paris”. It also became an immediate success. Critics were once again divided over the music. Some called it happy and full of life, to others it was silly and long-winded. Still it remains one of his most popular works.

George Gershwin died in 1937; just days after doctors learned he had brain cancer. He was only thirty-nine years old. Newspapers all over the world reported his death on their front pages. Everyone mourned the loss of the man and all the music he might have still written. George Gershwin is still considered one of America’s greatest composers. His works are still performed by many singers and groups.



  • audience = the people who come to watch and listen to a performance
  • based on =here: the root or center of something
  • brain cancer = a very serious illness of the head in which cells grow in a way that is not normal
  • celebrated = famous, liked by many people
  • compose = wrote a piece of music
  • consider = think about as
  • create = make
  • divided = mixed
  • electrify = to make people feel very excited and interested
  • entertainment = things like films, music or shows that people watch and enjoy
  • immediate = at once
  • long-winded = here: very complicated, boring
  • loss = here: the death of someone
  • mourn = to feel very sad an miss someone after they have died
  • opinion = your ideas or thoughts about something
  • perform = act
  • popular = liked by a lot of people
  • publish = write
  • realize = to find out
  • remain = stay
  • serious =important
  • success =when you do what you really want to