Lyricist Ira Gershwin was born in New York in 1896. Unlike his brother George, who was musical from a young age, Ira was more interested in literature. In 1914, he enrolled as an English major at City College of New York, but dropped out two years later. As George began to make a name for himself in the music business, Ira began to write the lyrics for some of George’s songs under the pen name, Arthur Francis. In 1921 he had his first stage success, writing the lyrics for the show Two Little Girls in Blue. The following year, the Gershwin brothers wrote the first major hit of their career, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (1922). Throughout the 1920s, they continued to write big hits for Broadway shows, such as “Tip Toes” (1925) and “Funny Face” (1927).
In 1932, Ira, George S. Kaufman, and Morrie Ryskind won the first ever Pulitzer Prize for Songwriting for their score for the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing. In 1935, he reunited with his brother to write the operatic masterpiece, Porgy and Bess, which remains a popular production today. From this point on, Ira worked predominantly within the movies and he was nominated for three Academy Awards for his work on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (1937), “Long Ago and Far Away” (1944), and “The Man That Got Away” (1954).
Ira’s brother, George, died in 1937 during brain surgery and Ira wrote sporadically for the Broadway stage after this. He died in California in 1983, aged 86.