George Gershwin

George Gershwin

Weep over the lifelessness of the melody and harmony, so derivative, so stale, so inexpressive!

—Lawrence Gilman, reviewing Rhapsody in Blue for the New York Tribune

After over a decade of working behind the scenes—first as a department store pianist and then as a composer and arranger of piano rolls—George Gershwin composed his first major work, Rhapsody in Blue, in 1924. Audiences enjoyed the piece, but many critics didn’t know what to make of it, and opted to tear it to shreds.

Gerswhin’s subsequent works met with similar hostility, with critics calling An American in Paris “dull, patchy, thin, vulgar, long-winded and inane” and saying of Porgy and Bess “you wonder how the composer … could stoop to such easy and such needless conquests.”

Gershwin seems to have ignored this feedback and continued about his work, an approach that paid off. The Guardian calculated that he was the highest-earning composer of all time. He’s been posthumously awarded an Academy Award, a Congressional Gold Medal, and a special Pulitzer Prize. And Porgy and Bess, that “needless” composition, is now the official state opera of South Carolina.