Gershwin: An Autograph to Treasure

On July 10th, Nico de Villiers and James Orford will be playing the original two-piano version of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and in chatting to a friend about our performance, LCS soprano Penny Champion was told an anecdote straight from New York, New York.

‘Aunt Irene’ travelled to America in 1936 and dined with a small party in the iconic Rainbow Room in New York’s Rockefeller Center. The party was made up of Irene, Mamie and Reggie Beaumont-Thomas, the hosts Tillie Jacie and her husband, and none other than George Gershwin himself – with a lady friend!

George was happy to sign the restaurant menu for Irene, and Tillie added the following dedication at the top left of the menu: “To Rene – a swell girl who I know loves America – Fondly, Tillie Jacie”.

When, much later, her niece asked Irene what Gershwin was like, the reply was that he “was pleasant” but that the girl he was with was badly dressed! This may have been fellow composer Kay Swift, with whom Gershwin was having a long-standing affair; Gershwin had named his musical Oh, Kay! after her.

Sadly, George was to die the following year, aged only 38.

Penny’s friend was staying with friends in New York some sixty years after her aunt’s encounter, and they went to the Rainbow Room bar for champagne cocktails, taking the 1936 autographed menu with them.

Unsurprisingly, the staff were fascinated by the story!

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Tickets for next week’s Transatlantic Rhapsodies concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall are available from the Southbank Centre.

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