This song was introduced by Walter Catlett in Lady, Be Good! At the Liberty Theatre in New York City on December 1, 1924.
Gershwin accompanied Marguerite d' Alvarez when she sang this song at the Roosevelt Hotel on December 4, 1925.
The composer's piano transcription appeared in George Gershwin's Songbook, published in September, 1932.
In Lady, Be Good! A lawyer played by Catlett sings this to a woman whose help he needs in a real estate scam.
The verse (“Listen to my tale of woe”) bears a a familial resemblance to that of “Somebody Loves Me” (“When this world began”). Both make good use of the same device: a note-for-note repetition of the melody but with a change of key. In “Somebody Loves Me” the notes are backed first by E-minor and then by G. Here the keys are E-minor (“Listen to my tale of woe”) and then E-major (I could blossom out I know”). This verse has subtler harmony than the one in “Somebody Loves Me.” Shades of feeling are created by passing tones, suspensions and artfully chosen bass notes.
The refrain (“Oh, sweet and lovely lady, be good!”) can also be compared to its counterpart in “Somebody Loves Me” in that both quickly catch the ear with a blue note. This time, however, the blue note is in the harmony, not the melody—it is the B-flat in the C9 chord under the word “lovely.”
Like two later Gershwin songs, “Of Thee I Sing” and “I've Got a Crush on you,” this one has succeeded both as a rhythm number and as a slow ballad. Maybe the fact that the verse is marked Allegretto grazioso, while the refrain is marked Slow (gracefully) has led to the double life. In any event, when sung as a ballad, the release (“Oh, please have some pity”) has great urgency.
Walter Catlett did not record this song but two other members of the original cast of Oh, Lady Be Good! did: Cliff Edwards and Fred Astaire (Astaire's recordings were made many years later). George Gershwin was particularly fond of a 1936 record made by the Benny Goodman Trio. It is done up-tempo and can be heard on YouTube at:
A recording by Ella Fitzgerald, made as part of her multi-volume Gershwin songbook series, is superb. She sings the song as a ballad and includes the verse. TouTube has it at: