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When young brothers George and Ira Gershwin are growing up on New York City's Lower East Side, their mother Rose saves enough money to buy a piano, so that Ira, the eldest, can take lessons. George becomes the student, however, when he demonstrates his natural musical abilities. Under the instruction of Professor Frank, George becomes progressively better at the piano. He first obtains a job as a pianist in a vaudeville theater and then in a music store, but his dream is to become a composer. One day singer Julie Adams comes into the store looking for music to use in an audition. George plays "Swanee," one of his own compositions, for her, but when his boss hears him, he loses his job. Later, George is offered a two-year contract at Harms, another music publisher, and Max Dreyfus, the company head, sells "Swanee" to Al Jolson, who makes it a hit. Despite Frank's warning against squandering his talents on popular music, George takes a job writing songs for the Broadway show Half Past Eight , starring Julie, but the show fails. After the success of George White's Scandals of 1921 , for which George writes the music, his career takes off, and together with Ira, who now writes lyrics, George composes a series of hit shows. After George writes "Blue Monday Blues," a song derived from Negro spirituals, which is not well received, conductor Paul Whiteman asks him to compose a serious piece based on the blues for a jazz concert he is planning, The result is Rhapsody in Blue , and upon hearing his prize pupil's composition being performed for a radio broadcast, Professor Frank dies. Later, when Walter Damrosch of the New York Symphony commissions a concerto from him, George goes to Paris to begin a serious study of music. There he meets wealthy painter Christine Gilbert, who introduces him to Maurice Ravel and other composers. The slightly older Christine and George return to the United States, causing a jealous Julie a great deal of pain. Realizing that George is more in love with his music than with her, Christine leaves George and, after composing another Broadway show, George returns to Paris and completes his concerto. George's father dies of leukemia after advising his son that he was wrong to separate from Julie. While living in Los Angeles, George begins to compose frantically. He wins a Pulitzer prize for the musical Of Thee I Sing and writes Porgy and Bess , an opera featuring black performers. Later, George experiences numbness and headaches. After he collapses during a rehearsal, Julie plans to come to California immediately. In New York, George's friend, Oscar Levant, then performs George's Concerto in F to great acclaim, but the occasion is saddened by the announcement of the composer's untimely death.