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The Man I Love

Written: 1924

Music by: George Gershwin

Words by: Ira Gershwin

Written for: Lady, Be Good!
(but not used in the show)

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On the Main Stage at Cafe Songbook

Ella Fitzgerald


"The Man I Love"

with Joe Pass (guitar), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Keeter Betts (bass), Bobby Durham (drums), Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Eddie Lockjaw Davis (tenor sax), and the Peter Herbolzheimer Rhythm Combination & Brass
Hamburg, Germany, 1974
(50 years after the song was written)


More Performances of "The Man I Love"
in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet
(Video credit)

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video before starting another.)

Cafe Songbook Reading Room

"The Man I Love"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Show Lady, Be Good! / Origins of the Song

book Cover: Ira Gershwin, "Lyrics on Several Occasions"
Ira Gershwin, Lyrics on Several Occasions
New York: Limelight Editions,1997 (originally published by Knoph, 1959)


Other songs written for Lady, Be Good currently included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook:

1. Fascinating Rhythm

2. Oh, Lady Be Good


For a complete listing of songs used in the original production of this show, see IBDB song list.




book cover: Edward Jablonskie, "Gershwin A Biography"
Edward Jablonski
A Biography,

New York: Doubleday, 1987
(paper bound edition shown)


Book cover: Alec Wilder, "America's Popular Song"
Alec Wilder, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.



Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart, "The Gershwin Years: George and Ira"
Edward Jablonski
and Lawrence D. Stewart,
The Gershwin Years --
George and Ira

New York: Doubleday, 1958






















































In 1932, Random House published George Gershwin's Song-Book, which was dedicated to Kay Swift. It contained eighteen songs arranged for piano by Gershwin himself: “Swanee,” “Nobody but You,” “Stairway to Paradise,” “Do It Again,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Oh, Lady, Be Good!,” “Somebody Loves Me,” “Sweet and Low-Down,” “That Certain Feeling,” “The Man I Love,” “Clap Yo' Hands,” “Do, Do, Do,” “My One and Only,” “'S Wonderful,” “Strike Up the Band,” “Liza,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “Who Cares?

Ira Gershwin chose to open his book Lyrics on Several Occasions, a series of reminiscences about his career as a lyricist, with a charming little narrative he called "Much Ado about 'The Man I Love'; or, Three Strikes and Out," which is in fact the backstory of how "The Man I Love" made good in a big way even though it was repeatedly dropped from the scores of shows in which it was, at various times, intended to be included.

Ira informs us that the refrainof "The Man I Love" began as as the introduction or verseto another, never completed song, a song that he can't even recall, a song written, according to George's notebooks, between April 4, and April 24, 1924. The music for this verse had, as the brothers both recognized, such an "insistent" quality about it that they agreed it should be used for something more than just an introduction. In other words, it was too good to be just a verse, so it was converted into a refrain, the main portion, for a completely new song that turned out to be "The Man I Love." (That this happened was proved when Michael Feinstein, working as an archivist for Ira Gershwin in 1982, found George's manuscripts for the song in a storage facility in Secaucus, NJ.)

Finally, a new verse was written and appended and "The Man I Love" was complete, ready to be included in a score for a show Ira and George were developing with producers Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedly for a Broadway debut in late 1924. At first this show bore the title, Black-Eyed Susan, but before opening in New York, Black-Eyed Susan had its title changed to Lady, Be Good! to connect the show's title more clearly to another song in the score, the much admired, "Oh, Lady, Be Good!"

During July and July and August 1924, George was in London to complete work on the score for Primrose, a show Aarons was producing for the London stage. In fact, George was staying with the producer and his wife at Aarons' flat. According to Gershwin biographer Edward Jablonski, one of Aaron's goals in coming to London, was to sign-up Fred and Adele Astaire to appear in Black-Eyed Susan. The Aarons flat was active with notable visitors that included various British composers and performers as well as Prince George (the Duke of Kent) and Otto Kahn (the American millionaire philanthropist and occasional backer of musicals). At some point Kahn was approached to put up funds for Black-Eyed Susan but turned down the chance on the ironic grounds that the show seemed to him too likely to succeed. Apparently he liked backing very needy long shots, but upon hearing "The Man I Love," no doubt played by George at some party, or, as some say, on shipboard while he and the composer were returning to New York, found the song irresistible and immediately pledged $10,000 to back Black Eyed Susan. Philip Furia quotes Kahn as sstating of "The Man I Love, "'This is the music of America. It will live as long as a Schubert Lieder'" (Art of the Lyricist, p. 42). The result was that Kahn wound up backing a winner for the first time, and not just any winner but a show, Lady, Be Good!, that made stars of Adele and Fred Astaire on Broadway, fulfilled George's teenage wish that he would write a Broadway show starring his long-time friend Fred Astaire, a show that changed the history of American musical theater, but, ironically, a show that did not include the song "The Man I Love," which was cut before the Broadway opening.

Despite "The Man I Love" being responsible in part for Lady, Be Good! getting its original financing and despite it later becoming an Americanstandard, it was indeed cut from the show -- along with seven others including the delightful "Will You Remember Me" -- during previews in Philadelphia. In a few of those previews, Ira recalls, "[Adele] Astaire sang the song charmingly and to an appreciative hand. But sweetness and simplicity in style do not make for the vociferous applause given dancing duets and novelty numbers" (Lyrics on Several Occasions, p. 5, paperback Ed.). Some commentators have suggested that producer Vinton Freedly felt the song slowed things down too much. Michael Feinstein speculates,

Perhaps the song was removed because the audience found it too dramatically weighty in the the context of this somewhat frothy and lighthearted musical. . . . . . . George was above all else a man of the theater and he'd do whatever it took to make the show work, even if it meant sacrificing a great song, the fate of which was not his immediate concern. However, it would take more than this setback to keep "The Man I Love" from the world (The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs, p. 54).

Another marvellous song that was cut from Lady, Be Good! (along with six others) was "Will You Remember Me?" which unlike "The Man I Love" has been largely forgotten. It was, however, momentarily revived in the 2012 Broadway show Nice Work If You Can Get It where it was performed by Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Broderick. Here is a lovely version by Michael Feinstein that includes the verse -- (from his album Nice Work If You Can Get It.)

According to Feinstein, the Gershwins seldom wrote a song without having the story of the musical in mind, and "The Man I Love" was no exception. Adele Astaire (Susie Trevor) sang it early in the first act. She and her brother Dick Trevor (played by Fred Astaire) have just been evicted from their apartment, and while standing downcast in the street she sees the man she is smitten with walk by -- prompting her to sing "The Man I Love." Because the song was cut after only a few preview performances, very little is known beyond Ira's remarks about Adele Astaire's performance; however, one can perhaps glean some idea of it from viewing a twenty-first century music-video performance that may hint at it. Whether by accident or design, the setting and feel of Kate Bush's 1994 music-video portrays the singer in the downcast mood Adele Astaire / Susie Trevor apparently manifested on stage. Although the black and white setting populated by Bush and her accompanying musicians is clearly not a realistic depiction of the 1928 New York City street on which Susie Trevor no longer has a place to live, in mood it is not far from it; and it reinforces the feeling of isolation and desolation the song, both lyric and music, evokes. Bush wears a black leather coat indicating she is outside in cold weather, a figure walks by her in the background (in the video, one of the musicians, Larry Adler), and she paces or stands forlorn as she sings. It is not difficult to believe that Bush's choreographed movements are reminiscent of Adele Astaire's, and as the lyric suggests, that she could use someone "big and strong" who can "build a little home just meant for two." If in fact, Bush dose channel Astaire here, it is also not too difficult to understand why the producers of Lady, Be Good! might not have wanted a scene and song, in Feinstein's words, "dramatically weighty in the the context of this somewhat frothy and lighthearted musical."

music-video with Kate Bush performing "The Man I Love"
soundtrack from the Larry Adler album
The Glory of Gershwin (1994) -- See below

It wasn't, however, as though the Gershwins and their colleagues who cut or at least acquiesced in the cutting of "The Man I Love" from Lady, Be Good! didn't appreciate the power of their song. They tried repeatedly to get "The Man I Love" into subsequent shows, mostly their own. As Ira recounted, in 1927 it was tried in the Gershwins' first version of Strike Up the Band, but the show failed before it ever got to Broadway. A note in the script of their 1926 show Oh, Kay! suggests it was considered for that show until the spot was filled by "Someone to Watch Over Me" (Pollack, p. 384). Then Florenz Ziegfeld wanted Broadway mega-star Marilyn Miller to sing "The Man I Love" in his new mega-production Rosalie, and wanted the Gershwins along with Sigmund Romberg and P. G. Wodehouse (See Jablonski pp. 147-149.), to do the rest of the score as well. Ira and George, as well as producer of Strike Up the Band, Edgar Selwyn, who was very fond of "The Man I Love," still hoped to revive Strike Up the Band, but in the face of the request from "the great" Ziegfeld and the fact of Marilyn Miller being the star (although as it turned out, she thought the song was too melancholy), consented to letting it be used in Rosalie. The show was a big hit, but again "The Man I Love" never made it to the opening. Ira writes that there was a lot of switching things around as they got ready to open, but whatever happened, the song "certainly wasn't in the show opening night" and "I can't recall Miss Miller ever even rehearsing it." In fact, with the exception of Adele Astaire's having performed it in those few Philadelphia previews of Lady, Be Good!, "The Man I Love" was never used in any Broadway show during the Gershwins' lifetimes. So how did it get to be a standard?

After "The Man I Love" didn't show up in Rosalie, Max Dreyfus, the Gershwins' music publisher, still believed in the song and offered George and Ira a deal to publish it but at cut rate royalties. Ira writes, "Dreyfus told us,"

If we cut our sheet-music royalty a cent each (production sheet music generally paid six cents: three cents each for music and lyric) some money could be afforded for exploitation. We cut, he exploited, and the song began to be heard quite a bit and sold fairly well--within six months about one hundred thousand copies, plus several good recordings.

As they say, the rest is history. That history of "The Man I Love," as a song published independently of any show, actually began with George Gershwin's friend Lady Edwina Mountbatten, who having heard George play it at a party, asked for an autographed copy of the sheet music (published for the preview in Philadelphia) and took it back to London in 1925, where she had her favorite band, The Berkeley Square Orchestra, include it in their repertoire. Along with them playing it at various gigs, Eva Gauthier, the soprano who had sung a group of Gershwin songs for the first time in a classical concert at Aeolian Hall in New York in 1923, claims to have given the song its premier performance in Derby, England, in 1925. Whoever may have played it first, these several performances were enough to have it catch on and before long the song was being played and sung around Britain and in Paris. As a result, "The Man I Love" became popular in Europe before it was known to an American audience. Popularity in The States had to wait for Helen Morgan's live night club performances became quite the thing in New York. Somewhat oddly, Morgan never recorded the song; nevertheless, George Gershwin, on his radio show, credited her with making the song popular stating, "The Man I Love" was sung in New York by an artist who has been almost directly responsible for its American success. I refer to that remarkable personality, Helen Morgan" (See The Gershwin Years, p. 44). By 1928 recordings had been made by Sophie Tucker, Marion Harris and Paul Whiteman, all of which made the charts.

It was also in 1928 that Bennett Cerf, head of the newly formed Random House, requested that George provide a group of his best songs to be published as George Gershwin's Songbook, a project finally realized in 1932. George believed, "'The Man I Love' was worthy of a place in any score I might write" but when it was withdrawn from show after show, he speculated that "it just lacked that thing so far as theater presentation was concerned" (See The Gershwin Years, pp. 43-44). Its publication in George Gershwin's Songbook in some sense gave it the stamp of legitimacy it lacked as a result of never having been used in a Gershwin show. By the time Ira was writing his Lyrics on Several Occasions in 1959, the song was still going strong after almost thirty years. Always the ironist, Ira concluded his little essay by noting that Strike Up the Band, much revised, was remounted in 1929 by its original producer and great fan of "The Man I Love," Edgar Selwyn, but because the song had become so popular on its own, it couldn't possibly be used in the show -- thus precluding "a probable fourth ousting" (Lyrics on Several Occasions, pp. 4-7, paperback Ed.; Ira's entire essay is reprinted in Robert Kimball, Ed. The Complete Lyrics Of Ira Gershwin, New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 1993; reprinted as paperback by Da Capo Press, 1998. Alec Wilder also recounts this history in abbreviated step by step fashion, pp. 129-130, hardcover Ed.).

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Critics Corner

Howard Pollack

George Gershwin: His Life and Work
Berkeley: Univ. of California Press

Howard Pollack explains that Gershwin kept music notebooks from the very beginning of his career in which he recorded "musical ideas." These "ideas" were usually dated to day, month and year, and he returned to them later for use in current projects. The musical idea for "The Man I Love" as found in his notebooks can be identified in an early score for Lady, Be Good! (1924), just as others turn up in Oh, Kay! (1926), and subsequent shows. Pollack emphasizes that Gershwin "distinguished ideas for songs ('tunes') from those for more extended pieces ('themes') to the point of keeping them in separate notebooks." This is important because it "challenges the common notion of the composer's concert works as [merely] a collection of tunes" (Pollack, p. 178, credits this last observation to Susan Neimoyer).

Pollack, contrary to some to other critics, approved of Ira Gershwin's use of inverted word order in his lyrics as a way of projecting " a distinctive whimsy," noting the device's origins as coming in part from classic British poetry, Yiddish syntax, and American slang"; whereas Philip Furia felt this penchant of Ira's "'marred some of his finest lyrics'" and Ned Rorem did not like its use in "The Man I Love": e.g. "and so all else above" (Pollack, p. 287).


book cover: George Gershwin: "An Intimate Portrait" by Walter Rimler
Walter Rimler
George Gershwin:
An Intimate Portrait

Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 2009

Book cover Wilfred Sheed "The House That George: Built"
Wilfred Sheed, The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty, New York: Random House, 2007 (paper-bound ED. 2008 shown)



book cover: Gerald Mast "Can't Help Singin'"
Gerald Mast. Can't Help Singin' The American Musical on Stage and Screen. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1987.



Merle Armitage, Ed.,
George Gershwin.
New York: Da Capo Press,
1938 (repr. 1995 with a new introduction by Edward Jablonski) [An anthology of remembrances collected after George Gershwin's death]


Issac Goldberg: George Gershwin A Study in American Music
Issac Goldberg
George Gershwin: A Study in American Music
Originally published, 1931
Reprinted and updated by
Ungar Publishin Co. 1958.

"The Man I Love" as Link between Gershwin's Songs and His Concert Music as well as Modernist Music More Generally.

George Gershwin's works are often divided into two categories: his songs and his concert pieces or more broadly his popular compositions and his "serious" ones, the latter category including along with the orchestral compositions like Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, The Cuban Overture, and An American in Paris, etc., his opera Porgy and Bess, in which are found several songs that later became popular. Walter Rimler suggests that the two categories come together in the song "The Man I Love," when he writes that the song is "obviously the handiwork of the man who had composed Rhapsody in Blue (p. 12). Rimler also quotes British composer John Ireland saying to a friend about "The Man I Love," "That, my boy, is a masterpiece -- a masterpiece, do you hear? This man Gershwin beats the lot of us!" And by "us" he meant contemporary British serious composers.

Howard Pollack speaks to the inspiration of classical music in "The Man I Love" when he cites pianist-composer Percy Granger from the introduction to his arrangement of "The Man I Love," tellingly noting correspondences between Gershwin's song and Grieg's Violin Sonata no. 3, while at once adding, "None of this detracts from Gershwin's immense and indisputable originality" as well as "his genius [which is] deeply rooted in the traditions of classical, cosmopolitan music" (Pollack, p. 29).

Wilfred Sheed sees "The Man I Love" as a candidate not only for the link between Gershwin's songs and his concert pieces, calling the song's theme a lightly disguised version of the theme from Rhapsody in Blue, both pieces having been written during the same year, but points out the error of the ways of music critics who were calling Gershwin's serious music nothing more than a pastiche of his songs. Sheed wryly notes that while those critics who "were guarding all the entrances to make sure Gershwin didn't smuggle any of his dirtyTin Pan Alleytricks into the classical shrine, George was busy smuggling the sophistication and resourcefulness of 'good music' out the exits and into Broadway musicals and thence onto the street." Furthermore, he cites "The Man I Love" as a "landmark" for "locating a single pipeline between Carnegie Hall and Broadway" (pp. 59-60, hardcover Ed.). Finally, Sheed reports that as the Twenties progressed, his orchestral pieces became more "slap-dash" while "the songs were his real self" (p. 65).

To assuage any doubt about the close relationship between "The Man I Love" and the Rhapsody, Deena Rosenberg informs us that "the song's refrain is almost identical to the first motif played by the solo piano toward the start of Rhapsody in Blue, which recurs throughout the work, and, in fact, concludes it" (Rosenberg, p. 65). Sheed follows this pipeline further than just the connection between Gershwin's song and his concert piece suggesting that the classical sophistication that Gershwin brought to popular music in the twenties can be felt in songs such as Rodgers' and Hart's "Manhattan," Carmichael's "Riverboat Shuffle," and Kern's "hippest [song], to date" "Who," all of which found homes on the new [italics ours] Tin Pan Alley, as at least partly redesigned by Gershwin." For Sheed, Gershwin, with possibly just one song, "The Man I Love," had shown other key songwriters of the Twenties that "sophistication sells." (Sheet, pp. 58-60, hardcover Ed.). That sophistication was recognized by Maurice Ravel, who upon visiting New York in 1927, not only wanted to meet Gershwin but to hear him play his Rhapsody in Blue as well as his song "The Man I Love," which in fact came about when Gershwin played it for him at a party given by Eva Gauthier, the French soprano whose repertoire included classical songs as well as a group of Gershwin's (Armitage, p. 199, paperback Ed.).

Even before Sheed's comments, critic Gerald Mast suggests that Gershwin derived the "longing and loneliness" heard in "The Man I Love" from the "orchestral blueness" of Rhapsody in Blue, written essentially at the same time as the song, pointing out how that longing and loneliness in the song "float on its blue notes," blue notes originally written for the rhythmic patterns of the rhapsody. In other words, the song inherits its blueness from the concert piece.

Albert Heink Sendrey, in an essay included in a memorial tribute volume published just after the premature death of George Gershwin in 1938, cleverly compares and contrasts the music of Gershwin to that of modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg that implicitly suggests the connection between Gershwin's songs and the classical repertoire. Sendrey creates a metaphor based on the differences between the two composers' tennis games -- having just watched the two of them compete on the court at the house on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills that George and Ira shared during the mid to late 1930s. Sendrey begins by marvelling at the fact that he has just experienced "a memorable and spectacular sight":

There they were, separated by a mere net, perhaps the two greatest and certainly the most discussed musicians of this decade. On one side the younger one who had succeeded in making a respectable woman out of that little hussy, Jazz; whose music was written in a spirit of modest gratitude to those masters who had cleared the ground on which his great talent enabled him to build; who had taken the common barber-shop chord and transfigured it into melodies of rare beauty, into a ballad that has never been surpassed in simplicity of line and elegance of structure, the immortal "Man I Love"; who has elevated this inconspicuous minor seventh sitting on a major triad into the heights of everlasting music, making it his very own characteristic, the earmark of American music, which generations after us will associate with him as clearly as we do the chord of the major ninth with Debussy, the flattened sixth with Brahms, the sliding semitonic bass with Delius" (Armitage, p. 103, paperback Ed.).

Isaac Goldberg, Gershwin's friend and first biographer, writing while the composer was still alive, sees the influence of Gershwin's songs on his classically informed concert pieces not as a denigration of the latter but as a validation and "glorification" of the former: "So that when George sat him down to compose the Preludes, his fingers were still itching with the rhythms and the curves of "Someone to Watch Over Me" [as well as other songs of his] . . . . It was not that he was trying to apply jazz to the classical forms so much as that he desired to show, by practical example, that it had a validity of its own." (Goldberg, pp. 221-222, paperback Ed.).

Finally, David Ewen assesses Gershwin's view of himself as a composer of both popular and classical music. Gershwin acknowledged, according to Ewen, that his technical competency was "deplorably inadequate." As a result of this awareness, he frequently thought he should give up practicing the popular music trade and devote himself to studying "serious music." It was not unusual for him to conclude that he just didn't amount to anything more than aTin Pan Alleytunesmith, or, at best, a composer of songs for Broadway shows, no matter how "charming" and "ingenious" they might be. Ewen recalls a conversation he had with Gershwin in which he told him that he (Ewen) believed that "The Man I Love" was "the greatest song composed by an American. Ewen writes, "He thanked me quietly and then added (it was impossible not to recognize his sincerely!) that he would gladly exchange his wealth and fame if he could possess the ability to compose songs like the Ave Maria or Stãndchen of Franz Schubert instead of Tin Pan Alley successes" (Armitage, p. 205-206).

book cover: Ira Gershwin The Art of the Lyricist by Philip Furia
Philip Furia
Ira Gershwin:
The Art of the Lyricist

New York, Oxford Univ. Press

Philip Furia begins his extensive commentary on "The Man I Love" by making the claim that it is "the one song [that] demonstrates each brother's full mastery of his art, and their ability to fuse them together" (p.139). For Furia, one key to the Gershwins' enormously successful collaboration on this song was Ira's ability to discern the musical idea present in George's composition, "to find words that would make articulate the emotional meanings in George's moving, but abstract, patterns of sound." (p. 39).

The Astaires Fred and Adele by Kathleen Riley
Kathleen Riley
The Astaires: Fred & Adele
New York: Oxford UP, 2012

Kathleen Riley quotes comments made by financier and arts patron Otto Kahn (See above.) on Gershwin's compositions in a speech given at a reception after the premier of An American in Paris at Carnegie Hall in 1928. Kahn who had become a financial backer of Lady Be Good! on the strength of "The Man I Love" compared Gershwin to Lindberg stating that both had a "'Parsifalesque' outlook on life" as well as seeing both men as "emblematic of the intrepid brilliance of a generation." Nevertheless, Kahn noted, that "as a young American composer, Gershwin lacked a galvanizing legacy of sorrow . . . ." Riley, however, suggests that Gershwin's work was indeed informed by a wellspring of sorrow:

Yet what must have attracted Kahn to a song like "The Man I Love" was not its Parsifalesque optimism but its note of intolerable loneliness, the spiritual maturation and soulful stirring implicit in its darker harmony. This darkness perhaps ultimately derived from Gershwin's personal European heritage (as the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants) and his studies in European music, but perhaps more consciously and immediately from his understanding of the angst peculiar to his own century, his own young nation (Riley, p. 101).

book cover: Deena Rosenberg, "Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin"
Deena Rosenberg
Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin,
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991, 1997
(soft cover Ed.)



Edmund Wilson: "I Dream of Daisy"
Edmund Wilson
I Thought of Daisy,
originally published 1929
(this edition published by Univ. of Iowa Press, 2001, with preface and afterword by Neale Reinitz),

Deena Rosenberg notes, with some irony, that "The Man I Love" was actually integratedinto the plot of Lady, Be Good!. even though it was not used in the show, at least not in the version that made it to Broadway. She writes, "The Gershwin brothers rarely wrote a song without a theatrical context in mind," and in the case of "The Man I Love" crafted the song to fit Adele's character in the story." She goes on to say, "The Man I Love" is the first of many Gershwin songs that were written for a character in a plot that would not otherwise exist -- but which work outside their original contexts as intrinsic dramatic vignettes" (Rosenberg, p. 66).

The connections between "The Man I Love" and Rhapsody in Blue with regard to the relationship between Gershwin's popular songs and his concert pieces has been noted above. Deena Rosenberg takes the relationship between the song and the rhapsody a step further by illustrating how the two are both an impetus to and a reflection of the movement toward modernity in the America of the 1920s. Rosenberg quotes Gershwin's friend, playwright S. N. Berman who wrote, "He [George] told me once that he wanted to write for young girls sitting on fire escapes on hot summer nights in New York and dreaming of love." Rosenberg sees "The Man I love" as not only a fulfillment of this desire of Gershwin's but as a prime example of "the New York idiom -- rhythmic, poignant, and blue - - that George had just discovered in Rhapsody in Blue." Furthermore, Rosenberg suggests, "this idiom was a revelation to Ira no less than to George; it prompted him to write in a new manner too." Until they wrote "The Man I Love," "the Gershwins' ballads lacked the edge of modernity." And most tellingly, Rosenberg finds the elements of this cultural-artistic edge spelled out in a passage from a novel of the time, I Thought of Daisy by Edmund Wilson, in which the protagonist speculates about a popular song (most likely a fictional equivalent to "The Man I Love") written by a songwriter many readers took to be a fictional version of George Gershwin. The protagonist asks himself,

Where had he [the songwriter] got it? -- from the sounds of the streets? The taxis creaking to a stop? The interrogatory squeak of a streetcar? Some distant and obscure city sound in which a plaintive high note, bitten sharp, follows a lower note, strongly changed and solidly based? Or had he got it from Schoenberg or Stravinsky? -- or simply from his own nostalgia, among the dark cells and raspings of New York, from those orchestras and open squares which his parents had left behind? -- or from the cadence, half-chanted and despairing, of the tongue which his father had known, but which the child had forgotten and was never to know again?

After pointing out that the song in Wilson's novel is "of the metropolitan melting pot," Rosenberg quotes Wilson's hero's conclusion,

But the relations between Schoenberg, the taxi brakes and the synagogue baffled further speculation. And in any case, what charmed and surprised him, in this as in all works of art, was no mere combination of elements, however picturesque or novel, but some distinctive individual quality which the artist himself supplied.

Rosenberg herself concludes that the "melodic fragment shared by "The Man I Love" and Rhapsody in Blue was not invented by George" but was common to many popular songs of the that time, "but it took George's ingenious use of blue notes, his provocative harmonies to transform an ordinary bit of musical vernacular into Rhapsody in Blue. It took George and Ira to make it into "The Man I Love."

Deena Rosenberg ends her discussion of "The Man I Love" by asserting that the song's primary significance is not that it stands alone because of its uniqueness but that it is a progenitor not just of later songs by the Gershwins but those of an entire generation. It is also the first great song written for the then newest form of musical theater, "the American musical." Rosenberg calls it a "germinal" song a "breakthrough." Finally it is seminal in the collaborative career of the brothers: "The Man I Love" was the point for Rosenberg at which the Gershwins discovered their symbiotic gifts and ability to make a song intrinsically dramatic through the wedding of music and lyric. With it, they discovered their voice (Rosenberg, pp. 70-73, paperback Ed.).

book cover: Michael Feinstein, "The Gershwins and Me A Personal History in Twelve Songs"
Michael Feinstein (with Ian Jackman), The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.

"The Man I Love" and "The Girl I Love"

Philip Furia in his book on the lyrics of Ira Gershwin points out that a problem embedded in Ira's lyric for "The Man I Love" is that he made it, here and there, inflexibly unisex; that is, difficult to adapt for performers of both sexes. This is important for lyricists to do to insure "maximum exposure" for their songs allowing the lyric of a song intended to be sung in a show by a cast member of one gender to be be easily adapted so it can be sung by a member of the opposite sex on recordings, on the radio, etc. For example, there is no problem changing "the man I love" to "the girl I love"; however, Furia notes Ira himself knew that a line like "and she's big and strong -- the girl I love" would present difficulties (Furia pp. 42-43).

When Michael Feinstein, during his tenure as archivist for Ira Gershwin, discovered in the songwriter's files a song entitled "The Girl I Love" with words written by Ira to enable the "The Man I Love" to be sung by a male singer, he showed it to the lyricist expecting his boss to be as excited by the find as he was, but Ira instantly tore it up saying he did not want nor did the song need to be tampered with. He viewed changing the original lyric as "sacrilege," even though he had apparently made the changes himself. Feinstein goes on to explain that Ira's attempt to destroy the evidence of the existence of "The Girl I Love" was, however, foiled. Some years later he found a script for the Gershwin show Strike up the Band (1927) that contained the lyric for "The Girl I Love." When Feinstein showed it to Ira on this later occasion, the songwriter had changed his mind and liked it, and after Feinstein sang it for him, Ira even gave him permission to use it in his club act. In fact, in 1985 Feinstein recorded "The Girl I Love" on his first album Pure Gershwin. (The Gershwins and Me, p. 62).


In his book The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs, Feinstein writes that he believes Ira Gershwin's lyric for "The Girl I Love," is stronger than the original because it is "a more enlightened, if less exciting, view of a relationship than waiting winsomely for a man on a steed to come rescue you." Feinstein quotes such lines from Ira's alternate lyric as "our hopes and fears we'll share" as a superior basis for yielding a good relationship than the being saved by the knight-in-shining-armor bit of the original version. (p. 63).

Michael Feinstein notes that soon after he found the manuscript for "The Girl I Love," and before he himself recorded it, he offered it to Tony Bennett. Feinstein writes, Bennett "mysteriously chose instead to change the original lyric himself and sing it in the third person as "The Man She Loves," a clumsy and self-conscious choice, I thought" (Feinstein The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs, p. 62). Obviously, in the performance on the video below, Bennett returns to something closer to what Feinstein offered him, though still not exactly as Ira Gershwin wrote it. To hear Ira Gershwin's lyric for "The Girl I Love," listen to Feinstein's version on his album Pure Gershwin.

Tony Bennett sings "The Girl I Love"
(a version of Ira Gershwins secondary lyric for "The Man I Love")
available in both live and studio versions of the 1994 album
Tony Bennett MTV Unplugged.

Amazon iTunes

Feinstein also relates Ira Gershwin's response to the original lyric being sung by a man to a man:

Ira worked with gay people and was very comfortable with them, but he never thought his songs might be sung by one man to another. One day I played Ira a recording of "The Man I Love" performed by The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, and I knew by his reactions he'd never considered the possibility. It's an extremely full-bodied rendition . . . . and Ira was squirming all the way through it. I laughed about it afterward but could see it upset him (p. 65).

Note: The performance Feinstein refers to can be found on the CD album shown below as part of a medley of Gershwin songs. The performance on the video below features soloist Calvin Robinson with the The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. in the concert "My Big Fat Gay Wedding," Saturday, February 16, 2013 at Lisner Auditorium, George Washington University, Washington DC.

San Francisco Gay Men's ChorusTours America '81

Amazon iTunes

The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. featuring
Calvin Robinson

(Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)

book cover: "The Jazz Standards" by Ted Gioia
Ted Gioia
The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire
New York:
Oxford University Press, 2012

Gioia quotes British music critic Wilfrid Mellers extolling "The Man I Love" as the "most moving pop song of our time," and then goes on to comment that Gershwin managed this by combining a "quite simple" melodic form in which the "phrases merely move up and down a half or full step before concluding up a minor third." Then he adds that the core effectiveness of Gershwin's composition derives from the contrast of this oft repeated melodic device with the "constant movement in the song's harmonies," which emphasizes Gershwin's use of blue notes, in this case the "use of the flat seven in the vocal line . . . that transforms what might otherwise sound like a folkish nineteenth century melody into a consummate Jazz Age lament" (pp. 256-257).
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Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read the lyrics to "The Man I Love" as sung by Ella Fitzgerald on the 1959 album, The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, as well as on the album:
Oh Lady Be Good: Best of the Gershwin Songbook. (Both contain her 1959 studio version with Nelson Riddle arrangement on which Ella does not include the verse.)

Amazon iTunes

Ira Gershwin dedicated the lyric for "The Man I Love" to Adele Astaire the only singer who was to perform it in the show Lady, Be Good! As a result of it being cut she sang it only in a couple of preview performances. (See above, for more on this.) Astaire, of course, included the verse, whereas most singers since have dropped it; however, several performers, whose renditions you can listen to on this Cafe Songbook page, have kept it in: Marion Harris, Sophie Tucker, Sarah Vaughan, and the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington DC.

The verse has a bit of a moon/spoon/June quality to it but is saved from being such by the singer's sly put-downs of her own illusions: When the singer says that every night she "dream[s] a little dream" under the "mellow moon," she pokes fun at herself by adding:

And of course Prince Charming is the theme: / The He / For me

It's the "of course" and "the theme" not to mention the sarcastically clipped syntax of "The He / For Me" that let's us know the singer is onto her own story book fantasies, a state of mind not typically found in a moon/June lyric. She knows full well this is the kind of dream that "seldom comes true," even though she can't help letting herself believe, as the lyric segues into the refrain, that "Someday he'll come along."

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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("The Man I Love" page)


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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"The Man I Love"

(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)

Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)

Marion Harris
album: The Complete Victor Releases

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Track also available on the album
Fascinating Rhythm - The Broadway Gershwin 1919-1933

Notes: Marion Harris sings the verseon her recording.
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video before starting another.)

Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
(vocal by Vaughn De Leath)
album: Paul Whiteman #11

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: The Whiteman recording of "The Man I Love" features a vocal by radio singer Vaughn De Leath (See YouTube "about" for extensive notes on her and Whiteman), very nice tenor sax solos by Freddie Trumbauer and an arrangement by Ferde Grofé. Grofé was also the arranger of Whiteman's premier performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in 1924, and allusions to it can be heard here, especially in the introductory and closing sections.

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video before starting another.)

Sophie Tucker
album: Red Hot Mama

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Miss Tucker sings the verse on the album above.
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video before starting another.)

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Benny Goodman
album: Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Goodman recorded the "The Man I Love" throughout his career with a wide range of ensembles. On the above live recording he is on clarinet, Teddy Wilson on piano, Gene Krupa on drums and Lionel Hampton on vibes. Before the 1938 concert, Goodman had revived the song after its initial late twenties burst of popularity with a quartet recording in 1937. The 1937 quartet (same personnel as above) studio recording is available on the album The Essential Benny Goodman.as well as other albums.

studio version included in album referenced just above (as well as other compilations, e.g. Linoel Hampton Big Band)

Amazon iTunes

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video before starting another.)

Billie Holiday
(with Lester Young)
album: Musical Romance

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Recorded, December 13, 1939 for Vocalion records, The recording features Lester Young on tenor sax joined by Buck Clayton and Harry Sweets Edison, trumpet; Earl Warren and Jack Washington, alto sax; Joe Sullivan, piano; Freddy Green, guitar; Walter Page, bass; and Joe Jones, drums. The album is a successful attempt to anthologize the romantic songs on which Billie and Young collaborated.
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video before starting another.)

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Coleman Hawkins
album: Introduction to Coleman Hawkins

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Ted Gioia writes of this performance that it was as important in jazz circles as Benny Goodman's quartet's version and includes Hawkins "constructing a harmonically expansive solo that ranks among the finest sax improvisations of the era" (p.256).
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Lee Wiley
album: Follow Your Heart
(and other albums)

same track as on album referenced above and below

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Follow Your Heart is a 2 CD album of original recordings remastered, available either as a CD set or single MP3s from Amazon or similar from iTunes. On this track, Lee is accompanied by Eddie Condon and his orchestra. Also available on the four CD set Complete Golden Years Studio Sessions, which includes Manhattan Nights, the album on which Wiley's rendition of the song was originally included.
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Lester Young Trio
album: Lester Young Trio

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: The Lester Young Trio consists of Young on tenor sax, Nat King Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums.
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Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, et. al.
album: Miles Davis an
the Modern Jazz Giants

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Man I Love" 1954 studio performance (recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ Dec. 24, 1954). Miles Davis (trumpet); John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); Milt Jackson (vibraphone); Red Garland, Thelonious Monk (piano); Paul Chambers, Percy Heath (bass); Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Clarke (drums).
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Sarah Vaughan

Album: Sarah Vaughan Sings
George Gershwin
(CD: 1998)

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: A 2-CD set that includes the original 2 volumes of Sarah Vaughn Sings George Gershwin in their entirety as well as previously unreleased material. Recorded in New York during March and April 1957, digitally remastered using 24-bit technology. Personnel includes: Sarah Vaughan (vocals); Jimmy Jones (piano); Hal Mooney And His Orchestra.

". . . Sarah came into the studio unrehearsed and didn't even know many of the songs. She really created the album on the spot. It all has a wonderful feel to it, aided by Hal Mooney's evocative arrangements and Mercury's loving engineering. A gem forever." (from an Amazon customer review). Sarah sings the verse on this track.
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Barbra Streisand
album: Back to Broadway

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Back to Broadway is the sequel to Streisand's 1989 The Broadway Album. The selections range from Gershwin to Andrew Lloyd Weber and Stephen Sondheim.
Video: same track as on album above
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video before starting another.)

Etta James
album: Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday

Amazon iTunes

Notes: soul inflected arrangement by Cedar Walton; personnel includes Walton on piano, Red Holloway on tenor and alto sax. James won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for this album. The track is also available on the album The Essential Etta James and other compilations.

Amazon iTunes

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Kate Bush and Larry Adler
album: The Glory of Gershwin

Amazon iTunes

Notes: The album is a Gershwin anthology produced in honor of Larry Adler's 80th birthday. Adler was a long time friend of the Gershwin brothers. The album features tracks of Gershwin favorites with various vocalists all performing with Larry Adler on Harmonica. The performance on the video above is a live version of the Bush/Adler recording.
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Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell
album: Gershwin's World

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Hancock's stated aim for Gershwin's World is to get inside the pieces, illustrating their essence rather than knocking off rote versions of these standards." In that vein, Joni Mitchell changes genres and "makes a case for a potential career as a jazz vocalist in her performance on 'The Man I Love' and 'Summertime'" (from CD Universe product description).
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Kate McGarry
album: Girl Talk

Video note: There is no video in this video, but no matter, the audio is there -- same track as on the album referenced above.

Amazon iTunes

Notes: McGarry combines her usual adept jazz inflections with post-punk/new wave sounds in this rendering of "The Man I Love." Album personnel: Kate McGarry (vocals); Keith Ganz (guitar); Gary Versace (piano, organ); Clarence Penn (drums, percussion).
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