S’wonderful – Ira Gershwin

Picture of Ira Gershwin, center; upper RH corner, emoji of someone explaining something; bottom LH corner, Mezzoid Voice Studio logo

Today is the 126th anniversary of the birth of lyricist Ira Gershwin (12/6/1896-8/17/1983).

While his brother George had the reputation as the celebrity composer beloved by movie stars and international classical composers alike (although less so by American ones of his era), Ira was the quiet, somewhat shy older brother. George was a notorious commitment-phobe; Ira was married to his wife Leonore for 57 years. George died at 38 of a brain tumor; Ira lived a long life, dying at 86 at his home in Los Angeles.

Ira is the one who wrote the lyrics to George’s music, and, according to biographer Joan Peyser, those lyrics chronicled George’s life.

“Ira would generally be seen at parties standing in the corner and watching George’s every move… Ira wrote in his lyrics what he believed George should have felt about the situations he found himself in.”

–Joan Peyser, The Memory of All That (Simon & Schuster)

And what wonderful lyrics they were!

Stephen Sondheim would disagree with me, and did vociferously in his book Finishing the Hat, where he describes Ira’s writing as “an insatiable need to rhyme,” often at the expense of common sense. He hated one of my favorite lyrics, from “By Strauss” (which I have sung many times):

“Oh give me the free and easy waltz that is Viennese-y”

Personally, I don’t think that rhyme is all that different, in terms of cleverness, from

“Or else we’d be left bereft of F – D – R” (“How I saved Roosevelt,” Assassins)

Ira’s career did not end with George’s death; he continued to write with Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill, and Harold Arlen, mostly for movies. He stopped writing for the stage in 1946, and ended his career with Arlen with A Star is Born in 1954. It’s most well-known song, “The man that got away,” considered one of the top movie songs of all times by the American Film Institute.

Ira outlived his brother by 46 years. George’s music, both instrumental and vocal, will live on forever, played by symphonies and opera companies. Ira’s lyrics will be sung by performers in cabaret and jazz for many years.

Our romance won’t end on a sorrowful note – though by tomorrow you’re gone. The song has ended but as the songwriter wrote – the melody lingers on*

*reference to Irving Berlin’s “the song has ended but the melody lingers on”

On his 100th birthday, Ira was the first lyricist to be recognized at Carnegie Hall in a special tribute performance. While I couldn’t find any videos from that performance, I was able to find a tribute concert held around the same time at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Enjoy!


Who could ask for anything more?

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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