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Medal by Robert Russin (1972), George Gershwin, Composer.

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

George Gershwin was a very normal boy - he was the undisputed roller-skating champion of his neighborhood on the lower East side of New York. He even felt that youngsters who went in for music were sissies. But one day a young violinist, Max Rosen, played for his fellow classmates at PS 25. George had not been interested enough to attend the performance, but heard it through the assembly hall window. Gershwin later wrote: "It was, to me, a flashing revelation of beauty."

Max opened the world of music to George, and George taught Max wrestling. One climactic day, his friend told George that he had better give up all thoughts of a musical career, saying "You haven't it in you; take my word for it." Fortunately for American music, George ignored his friends advice.

Gershwin wrote his first songs while working as a pianist with a music publishing firm; and his first revue Half Past Eight opened in 1918.

George Gershwin tragically did not live to be 40, but his music will live forever. He was equally at home writing "pop" tunes, such as Swanee, The Man I Love, 'S Wonderful, and I Got Rhythm; musical comedies like Oh Kay, Girl Crazy, and Of Thee I Sing; serious music: Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, and An American in Paris; and he even pioneered in creating a genuine American folk opera: Porgy and Bess. Most of the lyrics for his revues and songs were written by his brother Ira (1896-1983).

Rhapsody in Blue, commissioned by Paul Whiteman as a "jazz symphony," made jazz respectable for the American concert stage after it was performed in New York in 1924 ... and it made Gershwin famous. In less than two decades of productivity, George Gershwin left an indelible impression upon his country's culture.

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