Ira Gershwin, the first songwriter to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize (along with librettists George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind for OF THEE I SING (1931)), was born in New York City on December 6, 1896. For his achievements he received many accolades, including Academy Award nominations for: "They Can't Take That Away From Me," written with his younger brother George Gershwin, "Long Ago and Far Away," with music by Jerome Kern and "The Man That Got Away," created with Harold Arlen.
While attending the College of the City of New York he began contributing to the famed Conning Tower and Don Marquis' column in the Evening Sun. The latter in May 1917 published his first song lyric, "You May Throw All The Rice You Desire But Please, Friends, Throw No Shoes." Marquis appreciated the joke lyric, printed it, and called the work "perfect." 1918 marked the year of Ira Gershwin's first work to be sung from a stage, as well as the beginning of a longtime collaboration with his brother George when their "Real American Folk Song" was interpolated into the Nora Bayes show, LADIES FIRST. Not wanting to trade on the success of his already famous brother, Ira soon afterward adopted the nom de plume of Arthur Francis, combining the names of his youngest brother Arthur and sister Frances. Under this pen name Ira Gershwin enjoyed his first major stage success, TWO LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE, written in 1921 with another Broadway newcomer, Vincent Youmans. By 1924 the pseudonym was dropped. Thus it was as "the Gershwin brothers" that George and Ira created the 1924 stage hit LADY, BE GOOD!, their remarkable collaboration was to produce a dozen major stage scores, including TIP TOES (1925), OH, KAY! (1926), STRIKE UP THE BAND (1927 & 1930), GIRL CRAZY (1930), OF THEE I SING (1931), and the American opera PORGY AND BESS (written in collaboration with DuBose Heyward). In 1936, the brothers went to Hollywood for what became their final collaboration, three motion picture scores: Shall We Dance (1937), A Damsel In Distress (1937), and The Goldwyn Follies (1938). Together the Gershwin brothers created dozens of "standards," many of which have been re-discovered by a younger generation, delighted by the "new" Gershwin musicals MY ONE AND ONLY (1983) and the 1992 Tony Award winner for best musical, CRAZY FOR YOU.
As one of the great American songwriting teams of this century, Ira and George were inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, and the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1983. (The Theatre Hall of Fame coincidentally resides in the Gershwin Theatre in New York, which was renamed in tribute to the brothers.) Other prestigious awards with which George and Ira were honored include: the Congressional Gold Medal from the United States Congress in 1985, and the Grammy National Trustees Award in 1986. In 1976, Ira was honored with the National Music Award.
Ira was also proud of his collaborations with other songwriters, including his life long friend, Harold Arlen (LIFE BEGINS AT 8:40, A STAR IS BORN, THE COUNTRY GIRL), Vernon Duke (ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1936), Kurt Weill (LADY IN THE DARK, THE FIREBRAND OF FLORENCE, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?), Aaron Copland (NORTH STAR), Harry Warren (THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY), Arthur Schwartz (PARK AVENUE), Burton Lane (GIVE A GIRL A BREAK), and Jerome Kern (COVER GIRL). From COVER GIRL came Ira's greatest song hit of any one year "Long Ago (And Far Away)."
In the late 1950's Ira began to work on what Alfred A. Knopf hoped would be the lyricist's autobiography. What Ira actually created was a unique compendium that included 104 of his lyrics along with annotations, observations, and anecdotes. The critically acclaimed Lyrics On Several Occasions was published in 1959 by Knopf. It is arguably one of the best books ever written about lyric writing; over the years it has been republished several times.
In all the years after George's death, Ira was the keeper of the Gershwin flame, assiduously attending to the details of his brother's estate and supervising, for donation to the Library of Congress, the organization and annotation of manuscripts pertaining to their careers. On August 17, 1983, Ira died peacefully in the Beverly Hills, California home that he had long shared with his wife of 56 years, Leonore.