This song was introduced by Bobby Arnst in Rosalie at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City on January 10, 1926. It had been written for Adele Astaire and Jack Buchanan in Funny Face but was dropped from that show.
During the Philadelphia tryout of Funny Face, a music publisher phoned Ira and asked if he would remove “How Long Hass This Been Going On?” from the show. His concern was that the public would confuse it with a song of the same title that he had recently purchased (song titles cannot be copyrighted). The Gershwins, he figured, would be willing to do him the favor since their “How Long” was getting a lukewarm reception. Shortly thereafter, the brothers did drop this song, but only after it was decided that “He Loves and She Loves” would do better in its spot. The next year they put it into Rosalie but it did not become popular for another ten years.
The first four bars of the verse (“'Neath the stars at bazaars”) create a sense of vulnerability. They are answered by a four-bar phrase (“five or ten dollars I'd collect”) which, because of its higher register and altered chords, creates a sense of urgency. Vulnerability and urgency continue to vie until the ambiguous sound of a diminished chord—an extraordinary touch—leads us into the refrain.
In the refrain the melody rises (“I could cry”) and then it falls (“salty tears”) and then it rises again (“Where have I”) and then it falls again (“all these years”) and the listener is left with the impression of a complaint followed by resignation followed by complaint and then more resignation. All this is to ambiguous harmony which, though in G, rarely visits that tonal center. When, in the release (“Oh, I feel that I could melt”), the singer begins with a B-natural over a C-chord, there is a sense of peace and stillness—a blissful contrast to the sadness and restlessness of the refrain's beginning and end. Among the wonderful lines in the lyric are “That divine rendezvous” and “I know how Columbus felt finding another world!”
Frances Gershwin, sister of the writers, released a version in the 1970s. Lee Wiley's recording was made on November 15, 1939. Peggy Lee recorded it with Benny Goodman and His Orchestra on November 13, 1941. There was a 1941 recording by the Benny Goodman Sextet.