Ira, the Other Gershwin
By: Linnea Crowther
4 years ago
Ira Gershwin, who died 30 years ago, was one of the most celebrated musicians of the first half of the 20th century. But in popular memory, he's been overshadowed by his frequent collaborator and younger brother, George Gershwin. While it's true that George composed an amazing array of music for orchestra, piano and Broadway before his untimely death at age 38, it's no less true that Ira was an unmatchable lyricist, both while working with his brother and on his own after George's death.
When the Gershwins worked together, the music they created was award-winning and memorable: "Someone to Watch over Me," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," the opera Porgy and Bess (including songs like "Summertime," "I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin," "It Ain’t Necessarily So"), and many more.
Their collaborations were certainly a highlight of both brothers' careers. But though Ira spent several years away from writing after his brother's death, he outlived George by more than 45 years. And in those years, he wrote – and wrote and wrote, continuing to produce the perfect lyrics to accompany the music created by his new composing collaborators.
Among his earliest projects written without his brother was writing lyrics for the Gene Kelly – Rita Hayworth musical Cover Girl in 1944, with music by composer Jerome Kern. "Long Ago and Far Away" was nominated for an Academy Award.
Then came the legendary Judy Garland musical A Star is Born. Working with composer Harold Arlen, Ira produced some of the greatest, most-enduring songs of the day, receiving another Oscar nomination for "The Man That Got Away."
Late in his career as a lyricist, Ira once again collaborated with his brother, even years after George's death. For Billy Wilder 's Kiss Me, Stupid, starring Dean Martin , Kim Novak and Ray Walston , Ira wrote lyrics to tunes his brother had written long ago but never used. The result was three funny, catchy new songs – "I'm a Poached Egg," "All the Livelong Day" and "Sophia."
Ira Gershwin was 85 years old when he died on August 17, 1983. Though he collaborated throughout his career, with his brother and with others, the legacy he left was all his own.