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George Gershwin: The original rocker

Video clip: 675k QuickTime

Music fans celebrate Gershwin's many contributions

Web posted on: Friday, September 25, 1998 4:50:04 PM

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A celebration of George Gershwin's life and music will reach a peak on Saturday as the world celebrates his 100th birthday.

The composer, who was said to write six songs a day to get the bad ones out of his system, died at the age of 38 in 1937 after a prolific career that saw him pen some 800 songs. Many of his works played a integral part in classic Hollywood.

A walking tour of locations associated with George and brother Ira Gershwin will be held in Manhattan on his birthday, and National Public Radio will hold a 24-hour tribute featuring performances by symphonies, pianists and other performers as well as documentaries about the composer.

On Saturday, Turner Classic Movies plans a daylong tribute to Gershwin, playing movies featuring his work, beginning with the Judy Garland film "Girl Crazy."

Performances in major concert halls throughout the country also are scheduled.

George with his brother Ira playing Tic-Tac-Toe

Do you know Gershwin?

The day caps a summer-long celebration of Gershwin's music that included tribute concerts by artists like Rosemary Clooney and Linda Ronstadt.

"You can sing Gershwin for an entire evening and have an orchestra play Gershwin for an entire evening and never be bored because there are so many different approaches to things," says Clooney.

In addition to live concerts, several artists have recorded Gershwin classics on new CDs, including Michael Feinstein and Herbie Hancock.

"Swanee," written by Gershwin, was one of his many musical contributions

"He's a world-famous name to people who care about his music, but there are many people who have never heard of George Gershwin and those numbers increase," said Feinstein, who worked as an assistant to Ira Gershwin -- the lyricist brother of George -- for six years during the 1970s.

Feinstein said he was surprised to find his audience spanned all generations, since most of America's youth is oblivious to Gershwin.

"If you ask most high school and college kids, they're not going to know who Gershwin is. But the success of my career proves there is a strong audience of people who care about these songs, which will never disappear," he said.

Rosemary Clooney and others pay tribute to Gershwin

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'I hear the name Gershwin ...'

Gershwin managed in his short life to brew a musical mix of pop, blues, jazz and classical music that yielded such masterpieces as the opera "Porgy and Bess" and "Rhapsody in Blue."

Raised by Jewish immigrant parents in New York City and primarily self-taught at the piano, Gershwin left school at the age of 15.

In 1919, he wrote his first and best-known hit, "Swanee," which was popularized by Al Jolson. "Rhapsody in Blue" followed in 1924.

He was well-known at the time of his death, but it would be years before the impact of his contributions became evident. Few respectable concert pianists would play Gershwin in concert halls until the 1950s and 1960s.

Feinstein says Gershwin's talent cannot be measured.

"I hear the name Gershwin and I think of the most incredibly talented, prolific, extraordinary composer of the century, and his music is as fresh and vital today as it was when he originally created it," Feinstein says.

Music fans will have a chance to get to know Gershwin better with this weekend of dedications and TV specials. And many more performances, television specials and album releases are slated through 1999.

Correspondent Sherri Sylvester and Reuters contributed to this report.

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