“Of Thee I Sing”: Gershwin’s Wacky, Tuneful, Political Satire

Today is President’s Day in the U.S. Over the past few years, here at The Listeners’ Club, we’ve marked the occasion with musical portraits of WashingtonLincoln and even Richard Nixon. Today, let’s consider the fictitious presidential candidate John P. Wintergreen who runs on a “love” platform. He’s the goofy protagonist of the 1931 Pulizer-Prize-winning Broadway musical satire Of Thee I Sing, with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.

Wintergreen promises “to marry the winner of a beauty contest in Atlantic City and to woo her through all forty-eight states.” Outside New York’s Madison Square Garden, the crowd at a rally declares that Love is Sweeping the CountryBut then, in the ultimate political “flip-flop,” Wintergreen refuses to marry the selected winner, the beautiful Diana Devereaux, instead falling in love with Mary Turner, the “sensible” woman running the pageant.

Michael Tilson Thomas’ 1987 studio cast recording restored the scores for Of Thee I Sing and Let ‘Em Eat Cake, another nearly-forgotten Gershwin satire from the 1930s. Here is the title song from Of Thee I Sing with Larry Kert (best known for creating the role of Tony in the original Broadway production of West Side Story) and Maureen McGovern. The song’s introductory bars seem to give a subtle nod to An American in ParisI love the warm, weaving harmonies in the saxophones. It’s an iconically “American” Broadway sound, filled with nostalgia. Then there’s Gershwin’s melody, which seems to take flight, soaring in the bridge and then, at the last possible moment, sliding back into the “A” section.

Here is the Of Thee I Sing Overture from a 1977 recording Michael Tilson Thomas made during his tenure as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra:

Recordings

  • Gershwin: Of Thee I Sing/Let ‘Em Eat Cake, 1987 Studio Cast Recording, Michael Tilson Thomas iTunes
  • Gershwin: Overtures, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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