Burt Bacharach and the Gershwins

February 10, 2023

George Gershwin Gershwin Events Ira Gershwin Library of Congress

On May 8, 2012, the composer Burt Bacharach and his long-time lyricist partner, Hal David, were awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by President Barack Obama at the conclusion of a star-studded concert at the White House.

The President, in his brief introductory speech, compared the honorees to George and Ira Gershwin: men who were “never … limited to one genre, or one generation.” Although loath to hear comparisons between himself and George Gershwin (“I could have never even carried that man’s music case,” Bacharach wrote in his 2013 memoir, Anyone Who Had a Heart), Bacharach’s musical restlessness matched that of the composer of the Rhapsody in Blue, while the quality of his prodigious – and extremely popular – song catalogue matched that of George and Ira.

Bacharach’s death, on February 8, 2023, at the age of 94, ends a chapter in Gershwin history that began in the 1960s, after the composer married actress Angie Dickinson, a close friend of Ira Gershwin and his wife Lee. While Bacharach refrained from participating in the weekly poker games at the Gershwin house that his wife gleefully attended, he admitted to an occasional appearance at the end of the evening – if only to sample the “great corn rye bread.”

The American popular song took sometimes startling new turns in the hands of Burt Bacharach; turns which George Gershwin would certainly have welcomed as another stage in the progress of musical thinking. Bacharach’s death is a loss for all who appreciate the Great American Songbook in all its forms.

The families of George and Ira Gershwin extend their sympathies to the entire Bacharach family.

Photograph by Olaf Heine, from the program for the 2012 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize