Long-Lost Gershwin Sheet Music Discovered After Nearly a Century

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It’s been just shy of a century since American composer George Gershwin’s first complete musical La, La, Lucille held its last official production. After debuting on Broadway in May 1919, the show briefly toured throughout the northeast United States and had a month-long run in California in late 1920. Its last production was a regional performance in Brockton, Massachusetts, six years later, and after Gershwin’s premature death in 1937, the whereabouts of the show’s sheet music — save for four orchestral scores at the Library of Congress and eight piano-vocal selections that had been previously published — remained unknown.

After nearly a century, this mystery finally came to an end last August, when University of Michigan (UM) researcher Jacob Kerzner unexpectedly stumbled upon a long-forgotten box filled with around 800 documents while he was browsing Amherst College’s Samuel French Collection.

The original 1919 publication of “Tee-Oodle-Um-Bum-Bo” from La, La, Lucille

“The first few dozen pages of this box actually have nothing to do with La, La, Lucille, so it was a slow burn to make the discovery,” Kerzner told Hyperallergic. But the box ended up containing the musical’s full orchestral score, including parts for trumpet, trombone, percussion, bass, piano, flute, and the cello, making the show performable for the first time since 1926.

“[Gershwin] was just 20 years old writing this show,” Kerzner explained about the musical, which follows the story of a couple who engages in a fake infidelity to gain a $2 million inheritance from a deceased family member.

“It feels like Gershwin just beginning to learn what makes a hit song, and just beginning to play around with some of his adventurous harmonies and syncopated rhythms,” Kerzner detailed.

Despite the wealth of material from the long-lost show that was uncovered, there are still a few missing parts preventing its completion. Some instrumental parts appear to have been marked with last-minute edits, several songs come in multiple keys, and some songs are missing a few instrumentals, according to Kerzner’s blog post on the discovery. 

The original cast of the George Gershwin musical La, La, Lucille in costume at the Criterion Theatre on Broadway in New York, c. 1919, left to right: Clarence Harvey, Alfred Hall, Eleanor Daniels, John Hazzard, and Janet Velie (photo by Gabriel Hackett/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

“It will eventually be our job to do our best to restore, report, or assess what to do with these small missing pieces,” Kerzer said, referencing his work in UM’s Gershwin Initiative. The ongoing research project aims to closely document and reexamine Gershwin’s plethora of musical compositions, including Porgy and Bess (1935) and Of Thee I Sing (1931), through the publication of new, definitive editions of each work, including critical commentary, analysis, and research. In 2023, the initiative published its critical version of Rhapsody in Blue, in time for its centennial this month.

The initiative also aims to incorporate the musicals into university courses for students, as well as reproduce the shows on campus. Although La, La, Lucille is far from ready for production, students from UM’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance performed several of the songs for the first time in decades, available to watch on YouTube.

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