|George Gershwin in 1937. Photo by Carl Van Vechten.|
Presented to the Club on Monday Evening March 19, 2018 by Albert E. Easton
The Triborough Bridge connects the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens. Basically it’s a bridge from the Bronx to Manhattan, with an offshoot connected to Queens. George Gershwin built a bridge too, basically from popular music to classical, but connected in is a bridge that already existed from popular music to jazz. We wouldn’t be at all surprised today if a classical piano program included some pieces by Gershwin, and we could probably stand the shock if there was a little jazz thrown in.
Gershwin’s parents came to the United States in the 1890’s from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Rose Burkin came first and was living in Manhattan when a couple years later, Moise Gershowitz (who later changed his name to Morris Gershvin) arrived and asked her to marry him. Both came from fairly well off families in Saint Petersburg and had known each other there. They married in 1895, and in December 1896, their first son Israel (who later changed his name to Ira) was born. Almost two years later, in September 1898, their second son Jacob, who was always called George, was born.
The Gershwin family was fairly well off, and always had a maid. Morris was an entrepreneur at heart and bought and managed several businesses: cigar store, restaurant, several Turkish baths and many others. Each time he took on a new business, he moved his family to be near it. If I told you George Gershwin was a product of the lower East Side, like so many famous Jewish Americans, I wouldn’t be lying because he did live there sometimes, but he also lived lots of other places. In all, the Gershwins had over 20 addresses in Manhattan and three in Brooklyn while George was growing up. Religion and Jewish tradition did not play a very important part in their lives, although they always celebrated the seder at Passover.