Downtown Signs 'Porgy and Bess' Composer George Gershwin's Catalog, Including Trove of Unreleased Songs

CBS via Getty Images
George Gershwin photographed on Sept. 1, 1934. 

Downtown Music Publishing has inked a new publishing administration and catalog marketing deal to represent the enduring work of songwriter George Gershwin.

The agreement made with the Godowsky family and Heyward Memorial Fund covers many of Gershwin's best-known compositions of the 1930s, from "They Can't Take That Away From Me" to "Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off," "Love Is Here to Stay," "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and the hit "Summertime" from 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. But it also gives Downtown management of more than 300 previously unpublished songs by Gershwin, including unused works from films like Shall We Dance and A Damsel in Distress, which have been largely unavailable to the public since their discovery in the 1980s. 

“The George Gershwin catalog, including his work on Porgy and Bess with DuBose and Dorthy Heyward, features not only some of the most iconic songs in the Great American Songbook, but represents the building blocks of popular music," said Justin Kalifowitz, CEO of parent company Downtown Music Holdings. "To be entrusted with these legendary works -- which remain as culturally relevant today as ever -- is a true honor and a testament to our team.” 

The announcement comes as Porgy and Bess, composed by Gershwin, his brother Ira Gershwin and the Heywards, is set for a major revival. The classic will open at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City in September 2019, marking the theater's first staging of the musical since 1990. Meanwhile, the show's "Summertime" has been recorded more than 25,000 times by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson.

“In thinking about the next home for these celebrated works, we wanted a focused, creative and energetic music publisher," added Jonathan Keidan, great-nephew of George Gershwin and Trustee for the Gershwin/Godowsky Trust. "Downtown understands both the importance of nurturing these American classics -- ensuring that they remain beloved and relevant today while also finding new ways to bring them to the next generation of Gershwin fans."

So far in 2019, Downtown has also secured a worldwide publishing deal with Shaggy and entered into a joint venture with independent publisher Cowboys & Pirates, while its parent company made plans to acquire AVL Digital Group, which includes businesses CD Baby, AdRev, DashGo and Soundrop.