Bintel Blog

Gershwinning on All Fronts: An American Jewish Lyricist in Excelsis

By Benjamin Ivry

The distressing news about a battle over royalties between George and Ira Gershwin’s heirs coincides with a no less unexpected report that Beach Boy Brian Wilson has been allowed by the Gershwin Estate to complete songs left unfinished by George when he died of a brain tumor at age 38 in 1937.

Ira, who survived into his anecdotage, dying in 1983 at age 86, is being honored with a new volume in Library of America’s Poets Project, alongside Jewish modernists Muriel Rukeyser, Louis Zukofsky, Karl Shapiro and Samuel Menashe.

Ira Gershwin (born Israel Gershowitz on the Lower East Side) rates this company since, despite his assimilated, even insular approach to Tin Pan Alley craftsmanship (“Even if Roumania/ Wants to fight Albania./ I’m not upset,” from “I Can’t Be Bothered Now”) there is a recurring awareness of the Old Country in his lyrics. His parents, Moishe and Rosa, emigrated from Russia, and Ira’s patter song “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians),” written for Danny Kaye (Born David Kaminsky to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn) is a frenetic list of Russian composers, mentioned alongside Russian Jews (Joseph Rumshinsky and Dimitri Tiomkin) and even Polish Jews (Leopold Godowsky).

Integrating Jews in the New World was also evident in another song, “Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha” in which brother George’s music likewise fades out to quasi-nonexistence to better pay tribute to the “Temp’rmental Oriental Gentlemen,” the fiddlers Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Toscha Seidel and Sascha Jacobsen (the latter being the LA Philharmonic’s concertmaster). And it’s also evident in “Freud and Jung and Adler” whose repeated names add up, according to the singing psychiatrists, to “Six sex psychos, we!” who are available “If you’re really not certain as to which your/ sex is.”

Ultimately, Ira’s Yiddishe kop is expressed in his glowing esteem for Jewish intellectual achievement, in “The Economic Situation,” ranking Benjamin Disraeli with the Ancient Greeks: “Questions that Plato and Socrates/ And Disraeli wouldn’t dare discuss.” He was a brilliant wordsmith and thoroughly deserves this brilliantly new presentation by editor Robert Kimball.

Watch the great chanteuse Frances Faye (born Frances Cohen) sing Ira Gershwin classics. The lower one introduced by Hugh Hefner.

Watch Faye and Mel Tormé (born in Chicago to a Russian Jewish family) sing Gershwin.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ira Gerschwin




Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.