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Gershwin Award Winners

In recognition of George and Ira Gershwin’s contributions to American music and in honor of their gift to UCLA, the UCLA Student Alumni Association established the annual George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement in 1988.

About the Gershwins 

World-renowned songwriters George and Ira Gershwin were born in New York City in the closing decade of the 19th century. George, the composer, and Ira, the lyricist, began developing their craft as teenagers. Their first Broadway song came in 1918 with “The Real American Folk Song is a Rag” in the show Ladies First. A few years later, the brothers helped launch the career of Fred Astaire in one of their first hit Broadway shows Lady, Be Good. In the 10 years that followed, George and Ira wrote a dozen more musicals including Girl Crazy and Of Thee I Sing, the first musical to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

The Gershwins came to Hollywood in the mid-1930s to work on films, but the move was shortly followed by George’s untimely death at the age of 38. Following his brother’s death, Ira continued to work, setting new lyrics to many of George’s old melodies and collaborating with other composers on numerous musicals. He lived to be 86.

In less than two decades, George and Ira Gershwin fashioned 14 musicals, four films and the landmark opera Porgy and Bess, solidifying their place among the great American songwriters. In 1936, George and Ira Gershwin adapted the title tune from their musical Strike Up the Band as a new Bruin fight song for the growing University, “Strike Up the Band for UCLA.”

2010s Recipients 


Linkin Park

Ziggy Marley


Ziggy Marley


The Who: Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey

2015: Anthony Kiedis

Musician, founder of Red Hot Chili Peppers

2014: Alanis Morissette


2013: MC Hammer

Musician, serial entrepreneur and humanitarian.

2012: Bruce Lundvall

President & CEO of Blue Note Label

2011: Brian Wilson

Writer, Producer and Co-founder of the Beach Boys

2000s Recipients 

2009: Julie Andrews

“For me, singing has always been about the lyrics, and the ability to evoke images from words and melodies. Ira and George Gershwin were quite simply masters of their craft, which makes this honor so much more heartfelt.” More Info »

2008: Lionel Richie

“What you all are doing on this stage is dreaming. What you are doing in this audience is dreaming. What got me to where I am is dreaming.” More Info »

2007: Quincy Jones

“There’s an old saying that a friend is someone who knows a song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words. My heart is filled with that song tonight and I know I must be surrounded by friends.” More Info »

2006: Burt Bacharach

“I did have the pleasure of meeting and spending a little time with Ira Gershwin…It’s a great honor. I thank you very much.” More Info »

2005: Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds

“We have so much richness in our music and we need to be proud of that. I am so proud of UCLA for continuing the music – for still fighting for it. You inspire me to put on the gloves and fight more for it. We have to keep music alive so I thank you all for your contribution.” More Info »

2004: James Taylor

“I want to thank the Student Alumni Association and the UCLA Alumni Association for this fine and flattering honor. I am sure the Gershwin brothers are rolling over in their graves right now. Be that as it may, they can’t do anything about it.” More Info »

2003 - k.d. Lang

“It is a vocalist’s dream to be ushered into the same paragraph as the Gershwins; so I am truly honored. I thank you so much, and I wish that all the singers and all the great talent we saw tonight have the great pleasure of singing Gershwin in their lifetimes.” More Info »

2002 - Stevie Wonder

“I am very happy to receive this wonderful George and Ira Gershwin Award… as much as I have received awards, this is very, very special, because it is from you – the students and the staff and faculty of UCLA.” More Info »

2001 - Clive Davis

“I am very touched to come among you. To see the spontaneity, the enthusiasm of each of you is very touching and it makes me feel very good and special.” More Info »

2000 - Frank Sinatra

“It is such a pleasure for me to accept this honor on my father’s behalf so his memory will live on.” More Info »

1990s Recipients 

1999 - Diane Warren

“Just the fact that my name can be mentioned in the same breath as George and Ira Gershwin is mind-blowing. It really means a lot. This is great. Thank you very much.” More Info »

1998 - John Lee Hooker

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be here with the young and the old school kids. I can’t thank you enough.” More Info »

1997 - Randy Newman

“Anything with George Gershwin’s name on it is to be treasured by me. It’s a big thrill for me to come back [to UCLA] and get this award.” More Info »

1996 - Tom Petty

“I’m very honored to receive this and to be invited here by UCLA. Tonight, I’m really grateful to receive this award. I do appreciate [George and Ira Gershwin’s] work.” More Info »

1995 - Bernadette Peters

“I’m so proud to be included amongst people like Angela Lansbury, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. It takes my breath away.” More Info »

1994 - Mel Torme

“[George and Ira Gershwin] were two of the greatest tunesmiths and lyricists that ever graced this country. The songs they wrote were indelible, unforgettable, lasting, standard songs; and I am really proud to not only accept this award, but to be a part of a community that sings the Gershwin tunes.” More Info »

1993 - Natalie Cole

“To that name, Gershwin, is attached words like timeless, incomparable, elegant and wonderful.” More Info »

1992 - Debbie Allen

“Tonight is a great evening of self-expression and joy, and that’s who I feel that I am. I feel like I belong to UCLA. I am inspired and challenged by you and by this award.” More Info »

1991 - Ray Charles

“Throughout my musical career I have always been such an admirer of George and Ira Gershwin, because they were doing the kind of music that I came up with. This is such an honor for me, especially coming from UCLA.” More Info »

1990 - Sarah Vaughan (Quincy Jones, accepting)

“The George and Ira Gershwin Award is exactly the appropriate honor to this giant of a lady and an artist who gave so much to our musical culture. This is just what she deserves.” More Info »

1980s Recipients 

1989 - Ella Fitzgerald

“I’ve listened to the show here tonight, and the talent is so great. That’s our future, and it makes me very proud. I’d like to thank you for this honor of the Gershwin Award.” More Info »

1988 - Angela Lansbury

“The music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin are synonymous with excellence. Their music haunted and inspired me as a young student and continues to do so to this day.” More Info »