Unpublished until now (see below), this 1918 George Gershwin song from the flop of a show called Half Past Eight is another early example of Gershwin’s chinoiserie or Asian-influenced songs. Similar Gershwin songs include “Limehouse Nights,” “Poppyland,” “Yan-Kee,” and “In the Heart of a Geisha.” When viewed within this context, it’s a bit less lamentable that this lyric has gone missing. Evidently it was written by the producer of the show, Edward B. Perkins, who had no previous lyric writing track record and wrote lyrics to only one show after that, again one of his own productions.
It’s striking how simple the vocal line is throughout much of this song with many whole and half notes being sung. While Gershwin is recognized by the flurry of notes in Rhapsody in Blue, the opening to Porgy and Bess, and his many dazzling piano rolls, he didn’t feel the need to always compose in a frenetic style. Since we do not have an orchestrated arrangement of “Hong Kong,” we can only judge from this piano score that this was a leisurely-paced song with lyrics that may have extolled the wonder of finding love in exotic old Hong Kong.
Download a PDF of the fake-book style sheet music to “Hong Kong” here: Hong Kong