William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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TODAY – AT 10:45 A.M. ET:  Happy birthday, Abe Lincoln.  Oh, you didn't know?  Let me explain.  At one time every American kid knew that Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th.  And, uh, it was 1809.  They knew that, too.

Then we created President's Day, combining Lincoln's and Washington's birthday.  It was convenient for the retailers and we didn't have to remember those pesky dates.  Also, who cares about those dead white men? 

But it was on this day that Abraham Lincoln was actually born.  America will have to wait for President's Day for the sales.  Open all night.

February 12th is important for another reason.  It was on this day in 1924 that George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" was premiered at Aeolian Hall, on 42nd Street, in New York.  The orchestra was led by Paul Whiteman.  Gershwin was at the piano.  It was a major event in the jazz age, a classical piece with jazz rhythms, and it secured Gershwin's place as a serious composer.  "Rhapsody in Blue" is now a standard part of the repertoire of American symphony orchestras. 

It is remarkable to think about it, but 70 years ago in our country teenagers were dancing to the music of George Gershwin, and, yes, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, and Cole Porter.  And they heard lyrics written by poets like Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II.  Compare please to the junk that kids are given today – songs with an overlay of violence and raw sex, in which women are referred to by the most vile terms. 

The great American songbook of the golden age of Gershwin still lives, but you have to work to find it.  Today's "culture" is different, and degenerate.

George Gershwin died much too young.  He succumbed to a brain tumor at age 38, in 1937, the same week Amelia Earhart disappeared in the Pacific.  But on that February 12th in 1924 he made musical history and became immortal.  His work lives on.  I doubt if too many will say that in 70 years about most of the popular "composers" writing today.

February 12, 2013