A Lost Gershwin Musical Has Been Found Nearly 100 Years After It Was Last Performed

A researcher found a box containing 800 pages from the composer’s first musical, “La, La, Lucille”

La, La, Lucille
The original publication of "Tee-Oodle-Um-Bum-Bo," a song from La, La, Lucille University of Michigan

Lost sheet music from George Gershwin’s first full-length musical has resurfaced nearly a century after it was last performed.

Jacob Kerzner, a researcher and musician at the University of Michigan, was searching through Amherst College’s Samuel French Collection last summer when he found a curious box labeled “La la [sic] Lucille,” according to a statement from the University of Michigan.

La, La, Lucille is a Gershwin musical that debuted on Broadway in 1919. Today, only fragments from the production survive: Eight piano/vocal selections were published, and four orchestrations were preserved in the Library of Congress. But the complete score, including the overture and orchestration, had long been considered lost.

La, La, Lucille Pages
Jacob Kerzner discovered 800 pages of Gershwin's long-lost musical in a box at Amherst College. Jacob Kerzner

That is, until Kerzner opened the box. Inside, he found some 800 pages of the original La, La, Lucille music, many of which were crumbling at the sides.

La, La, Lucille follows the misadventures of a married couple, John and Lucille Smith, as they navigate a surprise inheritance, a sham divorce and various romantic mishaps.

“[Gershwin] was just 20 years old writing this show,” Kerzner tells Hyperallergic’s Maya Pontone. “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.”

The last record of a full production of the musical was a regional show in May 1926. In honor of the find, students at the university’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance performed several of the songs, including “Somehow It Seldom Comes True” and “From Now On,” in February, which was the 100th anniversary of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was the first time the rediscovered songs had been recorded with full orchestration. 

“One of the wonderful things about finding this orchestration is being able to see some of these songs that we had only heard in piano form come to life,” says Kerzner in the statement. “We get to hear these fun flute lines that we hadn’t noticed. We get to warm up some of these ballads with strings, and we get to even see some of the changes in harmony that may not have been published in the piano-vocal.”

Somehow It Seldom Comes True (La, La, Lucille, 1919) // Jayce Ogren, conductor // Aquila Sol, voice

Scholars will continue examining the composer’s music as part of the University of Michigan’s Gershwin Initiative. The project’s goal is to eventually produce a critical edition for each of Gershwin’s works—including La, La, Lucille—complete with archival research and analysis. 

“To research the art of the Gershwins is to study the words and music that shaped and soon defined American popular culture,” says Mark Clague, interim executive director of the university’s Arts Initiative, in the statement.

He adds: “Part of the magic of the University of Michigan Gershwin Critical Edition is that we question received wisdom, test every assumption and assume that anything ‘lost’ is merely misplaced until we can find it.”

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