George Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn in 1898, the second of four children from a close-knit immigrant family. He began his musical career as a song-plugger on Tin Pan Alley, but was soon writing his own pieces. Gershwin's first published song, When You Want ‘Em, You Can't Get ‘Em, demonstrated innovative new techniques, but only earned him five dollars. Soon after, however, he met a young lyricist named Irving Ceaser. Together they composed a number of songs including Swanee, which sold more than a million copies.
In the same year as Swanee, Gershwin collaborated with Arthur L. Jackson and Buddy De Sylva on his first complete Broadway musical, La, La Lucille. Over the course of the next four years, Gershwin wrote forty-five songs; among them were Somebody Loves Me and Stairway to Paradise, as well as a twenty-five-minute opera, Blue Monday. Composed in five days, the piece contained many musical clichés, but it also offered hints of developments to come.
In 1924, George collaborated with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, on a musical comedy Lady Be Good. It included such standards as Fascinating Rhythm and The Man I Love. It was the beginning of a partnership that would continue for the rest of the composer's life. Together they wrote many more successful musicals including Oh Kay! and Funny Face, staring Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. While continuing to compose popular music for the stage, Gershwin began to lead a double life, trying to make his mark as a serious composer.