Another American great who boasts a Parisian street named in his honour is none other than Oscar-award-winning composer, George Gershwin. Born Jacob Gershwine in 1898 in Brooklyn, New York, he was of Russian Jewish heritage. Unlike many of the eternal composers who started their musical careers as infants, Gershwin first began to play the piano at the age of 10 and at 13 began lessons with the man who was to become his mentor, Charles Hambitzer. It was Charles who taught George the techniques and European styles that would influence his future career and set him on a path to greatness.
His first employment was suitably musical. At the age of 15 he was hired by a sheet music company on Tin Pan Alley in New York as a song plugger. This was before the days when good quality audio recordings were widely available and Gershwin’s job was to demonstrate the music through live performance, encouraging other musicians to purchase the sheet music.
At 17 he published his first song, earning $5 and at 20 had his first national hit with Swanee. Over the next ten years he produced dozens of arrangements and collaborated with the likes of William Daly and Buddy deSylva. It was with deSylva in the early 1920s that he wrote Blue Monday, a one-act opera many believe to be the pre-cursor to his most ambitious piece, 1935’s Porgy and Bess.
But why would there be a street in Paris named after this American composer? Well, along with Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue, one of Gershwin’s most famous works is the instantly-recognisable An American in Paris. He wrote it in Paris, where he lived for a short while in the mid-1920s, spending time applying to study with European masters such as Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Revel.
An American in Paris was first performed in December 1928 and initially received mixed reviews. However, by the start of the 1930s it was one of the most popular repertoire pieces in both his native US and Europe. He didn’t stay in Paris long, moving back to the States by 1929.
Rue George Gershwin is relatively new, built in 1993 and located near to the Parc de Bercy in the 12th arrondissement. It is short, much like George’s stay in the city, but it is there nevertheless. Anyone wanting to visit it can follow the map below.
For Europeans keen to see a Gershwin revival, head to the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park, London, this summer for a spectacular limited run of Porgy and Bess. Find out more here.