Library of Congress honors iconic Rhapsody in Blue on 100th anniversary

(A 2020 performance of “Rhapsody in Blue” by the U.S. Air Force Band) 

This month marks the 100th anniversary of an iconic piece of American music — George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The unique blend of jazz and classical music themes debuted in New York City on Feb. 12, 1924.

On Monday night, the U.S. Air Force Band with pianist Simone Dinnerstein performed the piece at a sold out concert at the Library of Congress in D.C.

“George was 25 years old. He was a young man, he was up-and-coming, successful as a Broadway song writer, but he had not really hit his stride. 1924 was the year when he did, all of a sudden,” said Raymond White, senior music specialist and curator of the Library of Congress’ George and Ira Gershwin collection.

“This work … becomes enormously popular very, very quickly, and for the last 100 years it’s made its way around the world in concert halls and recordings,”

“Orchestras all over the place are giving performances of this work this season and that tells you something about it by itself,” White said.

White said the piece endures because it’s appealing.

“It really is easy to listen to and easy to like … it has an opening phrase, that starts with the clarinet and it’s awfully recognizable. It’s music can tap your toe to and it’s easy to embrace as a concert listener,” said White.

Is it jazz or symphonic music?

“Well, it’s somewhere in the middle. It definitely has jazz elements in it. George’s original manuscript says it’s for jazz band and piano solo,” White said.

There are two exhibit cases in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress devoted to Rhapsody in Blue.

The exhibit includes materials demonstrating the piece over the past 100 years, books about the piece, arrangements for other instruments and ways “Rhapsody in Blue” has become culturally iconic.

The building also houses the George and Ira Gershwin Gallery which includes handwritten lyric sheets, photographs, correspondence, publicity materials and financial documents. The collection also has 31 scrapbooks detailing the lives of the Gershwins as reported in the press.

Listen to the Library of Congress’ tribute below.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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