Thursday, October 1, 2009

"George Gershwin, Part One": One of America’s Greatest Composers, from Voice of America.

"Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin


VOICE ONE:

I'm Barbara Klein.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Steve Ember with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about the life and music of one of America's greatest composers, George Gershwin.

(MUSIC: "Rhapsody in Blue")

George Gershwin
VOICE ONE: That was the opening of "Rhapsody in Blue," composed by George Gershwin. Gershwin lived only thirty-nine years. Yet, in that short time, he wrote hundreds of unforgettable popular songs. He wrote some concert works, such as "Rhapsody in Blue," that are still performed today. And he wrote what many consider to be the most beautiful American opera, "Porgy and Bess."

VOICE TWO:

George Gershwin was born in New York City in eighteen ninety-eight. His parents were Russian Jews who had immigrated to the United States. George and his two brothers and sister had a close, happy family life. George liked playing games on the streets of New York. He liked exploring the city. He did not like school or studying.

While exploring the city, George heard jazz and blues music spilling out of public drinking places. However, he did not become seriously interested in music until he heard another boy playing the violin in a concert at his school. George began to take piano lessons. His teacher was a fine classical musician. He immediately recognized George's unusual ability. The teacher wrote about him to a friend: "I have a student who will make his mark in music, if anybody will. The boy is a genius, without doubt. "

VOICE ONE:

George studied classical piano. But his strongest interest continued to be jazz and popular music. At the age of fifteen, he left school and went to work in the music business. The New York City street where most music publishers had their offices was called "Tin Pan Alley."

The phonograph and radio had been invented in the late eighteen hundreds. But it would be many years before there were musical recordings or regular radio broadcasts. Tin Pan Alley publishers needed another way to sell new songs. So, they employed people to play the piano to do this.

VOICE TWO:

The piano players played the songs all day long to interested singers and other performers. George Gershwin was one of the youngest piano players in Tin Pan Alley. Soon, he was considered one of the finest there. He was already writing his own songs. He succeeded in getting one published when he was only eighteen years old. It had a long title: "When You Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em."

VOICE ONE:

George Gershwin was now a real composer. The rest of his life was an unbroken record of success. He wrote song after song. His ideas were so endless that he was not even troubled when he once lost some music he had been writing. "There is plenty more where that came from," he said.

George Gershwin had his first big hit in nineteen nineteen, when he was twenty-one years old. It was a song called "Swanee." A popular entertainer, Al Jolson, sang the song. "Swanee" was made into one of the first musical recordings. George Gershwin was suddenly famous. Here is Al Jolson singing what became his trademark song, "Swanee."

(MUSIC)
Swanee - how I love ya, how I love ya
My dear old Swanee.
I'd give the world to be among the folks in D-I-X-I-E-ven though my mammy's waiting for me,
praying for me down by the Swanee.
The folks up north will see me no more when I get to that Swanee shore

(he whistles like a bird)

I love the old folks at home
Swanee - how I love ya, how I love ya
My dear old Swanee. I'd give the world to be among the
folks in D-I-X-I-E-ven though my mammy's waiting for
me, praying for me down by the Swanee.
The folks up north will see me no more when I get to that Swanee shore

VOICE TWO:

Music critics note that "Swanee" is not like most of George Gershwin's music. Later, he wrote true love songs. Some were light and funny. Some were full of intense feeling. Many of these songs were written for the popular musical theater. One of his most emotional love songs never became part of a musical play, however. It is called "The Man I Love." Here is a modern recording by Maureen McGovern.

(MUSIC)

George and Ira Gershwin
VOICE ONE: George Gershwin's older brother, Ira, wrote the words to that song. As George became famous, Ira wrote the words to more and more of his songs. The two brothers were very different. Ira, the writer, was quiet and serious. George, the musician, was outgoing -- the life of any party. But George wrote better songs with Ira than with anyone else. It is impossible to imagine many of George's songs without Ira's perfectly chosen, often surprising words.

One of many examples is the song "They Can't Take That Away From Me." The Gershwins wrote the song for dancer and actor Fred Astaire for the film "Shall We Dance." That was George and Ira Gershwin's first movie musical. Here is Fred Astaire, followed by a later version sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Steve Ember.

VOICE ONE:

And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week as we continue the story of the music of George Gershwin on People in America in VOA Special English.

COMPREHENSION CHECK

1. 1.George Gershwin’s parents were _______________________ .
a: Russian Jewish immigrants 
b: gypsies from Italy
c: Greek Americans
d: Irish leprechauns

2. The Gershwin family lived in __________________________ .
a: Philadelphia
b: Tegucigalpa
c: Chiquimula
d: New York City

3. George Gershwin’s first piano teacher said _________________________ .
a: George was a horrible brat
b: George had great musical talent
c: ,“I love America”
d: George had stolen the teacher’s lucky pen

4.
The music publishing business was located in “Tin Pan Alley” in ___________________ .
a: Buenos Aires 
b: Rio de Janeiro
c: Antofagasta, Chile
d: New York City

5. George Gershwin published his first song _________________________ .
a: in 1981
b: when he was 18
c: after World War II
d: in a cemetery

6. The most popular version of George Gershwin’s first big hit, “Swanee,” was sung by ___________________ .
a:  Albert Einstein
b: Albert Schweitzer
c: Al Jolson
d: Ali Baba

7. Which of the following sentences is true?
a: Ira Gershwin was George’s baby brother 
b: George Gershwin didn’t really like music
c: Ira Gershwin wrote the words to some of George Gershwin’s greatest songs
d: George Gershwin said the devil told him what songs to write

8. Ira Gershwin was a serious man, _________________________ .
a: and so was his brother George 
b: while George was very outgoing
c: but his father didn’t like him
d: and he later became a dentist in Schenectady, New York

9. George Gershwin wrote many of his famous hits _____________________ .
a: for the musical theater
b: when he was in the army
c: in the temple
d: after he was dead

10.George Gershwin’s first musical starred ______________________ .
a: Enrique Caruso
b: Winston Churchill
c: Fred Astaire
d: the Beatles



"Summertime" from Porgy and Bess; Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, from Youtube:



Summertime and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin'
So hush, little baby; don't you cry.

One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing
And you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky
But till that morning, there ain't nothin' can harm you
With daddy and mammy standin' by.

One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing
And you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky
But till that morning, there ain't nothin' can harm you
With daddy and mammy standin' by.


George Gershwin, Part Two

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