Gersh­win’s Rhap­sody in Blue

Anna Har­well Celen­za; JoAnn E. Kitchel, illus.
  • Review
October 26, 2011

Jew­ish immi­grants from East­ern Europe arrived in the Unit­ed States as learn­ers of Amer­i­can cul­ture and with­in a gen­er­a­tion became its cre­ators. In print, on stage and screen, on radio and in the world of music, their chil­dren cre­at­ed now icon­ic works which con­scious­ly or uncon­scious­ly meld­ed their Jew­ish roots and Amer­i­can expe­ri­ences. A prime exam­ple is George Gershwin’s Rhap­sody in Blue, a work that con­tains ele­ments of Jew­ish, rag­time and blues music. The con­cer­to is a liv­ing exam­ple of how a melt­ing pot soci­ety” led to the devel­op­ment of a unique­ly Amer­i­can art form. 

Through invent­ed dia­logue, the author recon­structs Gershwin’s thought process­es as he begins to envi­sion the music and then cre­ates the work. The only men­tion of Gershwin’s Jew­ish her­itage are ref­er­ences to klezmer music — e.g. the klezmer band at Ira’s bar mitz­vah” — but the term is not defined. The terms rag­time” or blues” are also not explained. In life, Gersh­win was very much influ­enced not only by the Jew­ish music of his youth but also by his expo­sure to African Amer­i­can music. 

The book offers a very well writ­ten and illus­trat­ed glimpse into the cre­ative process of a musi­cal genius and could serve to open fur­ther dis­cus­sion with young read­ers on the con­tri­bu­tions of Jews to Amer­i­can music. 

A CD of Rhap­sody in Blue (from an orig­i­nal piano roll played by Gersh­win him­self) accom­pa­nies the book. For ages 8 – 10.

Discussion Questions