Gershwin, Ira

Gershwin, Ira (b. Israel Gershvin)

(1896–1983) lyricist; born in New York City (brother of George Gershwin). Showing a youthful talent for writing and drawing, he wrote humorous columns while in high school. But after two years at the City College of New York, he dropped out to work at odd jobs and to concentrate on his writing. He sold his first magazine piece in 1917 and became a reviewer of vaudeville shows. That same year he began to write song lyrics and in 1918 he began his long collaboration with his brother, George; at first Ira used the name "Arthur Francis," but beginning in 1924 he took on his own name. Ira occasionally collaborated with other composers but primarily with his brother; together they created such classic hits as "The Man I Love" (1924), "'S Wonderful" (1927), and "Of Thee I Sing" (1931) (all from stage musicals rich in other fine songs); Ira also contributed lyrics to George's Porgy and Bess (1935) and they wrote original scores for a number of movie musicals. After George's death (1937), Ira retired from songwriting for four years but returned to collaborate with such composers as Kurt Weill (Lady in the Dark, 1941), Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen ("The Man That Got Away," 1954). He wrote an account of his work, Lyrics on Several Occasions (1959), and retired for good in 1960; his health incapacitated him after 1970 but he maintained an active role in the Gershwin properties and even revised his own lyrics. He was shy and introspective and content to let his younger brother take the limelight, but later generations have not failed to realize how much his words contribute to the success of the Gershwin songbook.