The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song
If the Gershwins have come to symbolize an era, their music and lyrics transcend it. The proliferating performances and recordings of their music testify to its enduring popularity, and George and Ira continue to be the subjects of popular as well as scholarly study. Yet, however well known their music and their life stories may be, the materials found in the George and Ira Gershwin Collection housed in the Music Division of the Library of Congress remain an invaluable resource for research. The Gershwin Collection is the world's preeminent body of primary-source materials for the study of the life and work of the Gershwins, providing not only biographical information and a record of the brothers' compositional processes but also a compelling and immediate sense of the brothers' distinctive personalities.
Chief in importance in the collection are the music (including orchestrations, piano-vocal scores, and sketches), lyric sheets, and librettos, much of which is in the handwriting of the Gershwins. Also in the collection is a wealth of correspondence providing a firsthand view of the brothers' daily lives, creative processes, and personalities. Pictorial materials include many photographs of George, Ira, and members of their family and circle of friends, as well as paintings and drawings by both George and Ira. Legal and financial papers, thirty-four scrapbooks, programs, posters, scores from George's music library, and scripts for radio broadcasts all add up to an unparalleled resource for the study of the Gershwins and their milieu.
The Gershwin Collection began in 1939, two years after George's death, with an exchange of letters between Ira Gershwin and Harold Spivacke, then chief of the Music Division. The first item Ira gave to the Library was George's sketch for "The Crapshooter's Song" from Porgy and Bess, along with the promise that he would "dig up something more satisfactory." In 1953 came the manuscripts of the large-scale works, including Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, and the Concerto in F from the estate of Rose Gershwin. These were followed by many generous gifts from other family members and friends. In 1987, Ira's widow, Leonore, donated the remaining music manuscripts and lyric sheets from her home. Until her death in 1991, she continued purchasing items for the collection, and today her generous bequest continues to support acquisitions and programs that extend the legacy of the Gershwin brothers.
In 1985, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded posthumously to George and Ira Gershwin for their "outstanding and invaluable contributions to American music, theatre, and culture." The medal, designed and executed by Edgar Z. Steever and Charles Y. Martin, both sculptors and engravers at the U.S. Mint, features both brothers in profile. On the back is the now-famous inscription Ira wrote in the Librarian of Congress's guest book in 1966; quoting from his Pulitzer Prize-winning show Of Thee I Sing, he wrote, "Shining star and inspiration, worthy of a mighty nation-and I do mean the LOC [Library of Congress]."
In commemoration of George and Ira Gershwin's dedication to American song and culture and the generous efforts of their families to preserve and perpetuate that heritage, the Library of Congress has named its Prize for Popular Song after these two prolific artists. The medal that will be awarded annually to a person of similar stature in American popular music is adapted from the design of their Congressional Gold Medal.