21 October 2008

George Gershwin: 28th Street Vet or Not?

In the recent barrage of press concerning the fate of the former Tin Pan Alley buildings at 47-55 W. 28th Street, there has been some debate as to whether George Gershwin began his career as a song plugger at Jerome H. Remick & Co when the music publisher was on that street, or later when Remick moved uptown.

David Freeland, a music writer who's writing a book that partly concerns Tin Pan Alley, told the Times' City Room that he "believes Gershwin did not work at the company until after it had moved uptown."

A regular reader wrote into Lost City calling this assertion balderdash, and pointed to the Warner Chappell Music website. Warner absorbed Remick long ago, and publishes a history of the publishing house on the site. Part of it runs thusly:

In 1914 Jerome H. Remick and Company, now in a brownstone walk-up on West 28th Street, began hiring song pluggers to sell their tunes to performers.

However, there was always a musical salesman left on the premises to demonstrate songs in the shop and George Gershwin, becoming that type demonstrator, entered the song plugging field when he joined Remick in 1914. While at Remick, Gershwin composed many songs, hoping they would be published. He left Remick shortly after they finally published one entitled "Rialto Ripples" in 1917, with a lyric by Will Donaldson.

Of course, this is text from a promotional website and could be willfully inaccurate. However, it would be no skin off Warner's nose to say Gershwin worked with Remick uptown, as opposed to on 28th Street; Warner could claim Gershwin as part of its legacy either way. Then again, maybe Freeland has uncovered some new bit of history.

Anyway, it's all somewhat immaterial to the argument at hand, because Remick was at 45 W. 28th Street, which is not one of the threatened buildings.

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