All Articles
September 20, 2023

12.5 Fun Facts About George Gershwin


George Gershwin, the great American composer, was born in Brooklyn, NY 125 years ago, on September 26, 1898. In honor of this remarkable musical genius, here are…

12.5 Fun Facts About George Gershwin

1. George Gershwin wrote exciting, timeless music that crossed genres from popular to jazz to classical. His work includes groundbreaking works like Rhapsody in Blue (1924), An American in Paris (1928) and Porgy and Bess (1935), along with chart-topping popular tunes like “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

2. George began playing piano at age 10.

3. In his early teens, George would attend orchestral concerts and then rush home to play the pieces – from memory – on the family piano.

Photo courtesy of Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts

4. George was a fitness buff. He enjoyed boxing and working out at his home gym.

5. George and Ira were given lifetime passes to UCLA football home games for giving the university its fight song – “Strike Up the Band for UCLA.”

6. George sold his first song, “When You Want ’Em, You Can’t Get ’Em; When You’ve Got ’Em, You Don’t Want ’Em,” to a publisher in March 1916, when he was just 17 years old.

7. George’s first and most popular major classical work, Rhapsody in Blue (1924), was conceived partly on a train ride to Boston. He said the early ideas came “on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang that is often so stimulating for a composer.”

George Gershwin’s doodles (Collection of the Strunsky Family)

8. George was also a visual artist. He had a habit of doodling on telephone message pads and had an extensive collection of modern art. He was an accomplished amateur painter, and many of his paintings remain on display.

9. George had a “composer’s stomach.” His friend Oscar Levant joked that George’s favorite food was “gruel… zwiebach, Melba toast… Ry-Krisp, Swedish bread and rusk”!

10. George designed his own writing desk for composing and had it built to his specifications – it has special drawers, ink well and even a built-in pencil sharpener.  It sits today in The Gershwin Room (open to the public) at The Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy of Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts

11. George bought the original taxi horns used in An American in Paris from a series of car dealerships in Paris.

12. George received numerous posthumous honors. In 1970, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1998, the centenary of his birth, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

12.5. George was one-half of the songwriting team of George & Ira Gershwin. Together, the Gershwin brothers wrote a dozen major stage scores, producing such standards as “Fascinating Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “’S Wonderful,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” and others far too numerous to mention.

To license a musical featuring a score by George Gershwin, visit the Gershwin Collection at Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header photo courtesy of Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts.