George and Ira Gershwin
Though composer George Gershwin and his lyricist brother, Ira, both worked with other people, they are understandably connected in the minds of the public. With their run of theatrical hits in the 1920s and '30s, they gave Broadway musicals a new level of sophistication.
Their parents, of Russian and Ukrainian Jewish descent, migrated to New York City as young adults—mother Roza (later Rose) first; father Moishe (later Morris) followed—and they were married soon thereafter. They changed the family name from Gershowitz to Gershwine, a spelling that George changed after his musical career was underway. Ira was the firstborn (of five) to the family, with George arriving nearly two years later.
The brothers' Broadway collaborations began in 1924 with Lady Be Good, followed by Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Show Girl (1929), Strike Up the Band (1930), Girl Crazy (1930), Of Thee I Sing (1931) (the first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama), Pardon My English (1933) and Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933).
In 1937, George, who had branched out into classical compositions in 1924 with Rhapsody in Blue, began to experience headaches and mood swings. No medical cause was found until George collapsed into a coma. Doctors then realized he was afflicted with a brain tumor, but emergency surgery was unsuccessful and he died on July 11, 1937, at the age of 38.
Ira waited nearly three years before working again, but he went on to collaborate successfully with the likes of Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen. He died in 1983.
In 2007, the United States Library of Congress named its annual Prize for Popular Song after the brothers Gershwin.