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.