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The Intersection of Science, Art, Music & Humanities

Gershwin's Summertime

Sunday, July 30, 2017

As possibly even more distractions and hotter August nights approach—I have a smouldering need to listen to “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s innovative folk opera, Porgy and Bess.


This song, like so many Gershwin tunes, has proven amazingly adaptable to different musical genres and interpretations. 


Ella Fitzgerald turned the aria into a pensive, lilting reflection on one of my favorite words: possibilities. “One of these mornings you’re going to rise up singing, then you’ll spread your wings, and you’ll take to the sky."


Billie Holiday placed the emphasis on “Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good lookin',” in her sultry Dixieland rendition. Janice Joplin’s throaty cover, backed by a blues-psychedelic arrangement, built toward a powerful climax that left her fans screaming for more. 


In Porgy and Bess, this opening song is a lullaby sung by Clara to her baby, “So hush little baby, don’t you cry.”


We chose to feature Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s version in today’s Biosyntrx stop at the Sunday Morning Intersection of Science, Art, Music, History and Humanities. 


When Porgy and Bess was first produced in 1935, it drew a boatload of criticism. Many thought that a four-hour opera was simply, too long. Others argued that Gershwin’s attempt to blend the old and the new, the classic and the popular, was unsuccessful. 


The most troubling criticism of Porgy and Bess was that it was racist—just a 20th-century minstrel show that invited white audiences to stare at stereotyped representations of African American life.

The song, “I Got Plenty O' Nuttin',” seemed to celebrate poverty as a source of happiness, which was as rightfully insulting then as it is now.    


Apparently Gershwin was surprised by the response. He said that he was inspired by the music and spirit of the people he found in the poor Charleston neighborhood he visited while researching the opera.  


Edwin DuBose Heyward, the author best known for his 1925 novel, Porgy and Bess, claimed that he saw, "the primitive Negro as the inheritor of a source of delight that I would give much to possess."

Heyward and his playwright wife Dorothy adapted his book as the 1927 play of the same name, and also worked with George Gershwin to adapt the work into the 1935 opera. 


Given today's times, it still doesn’t look like the controversy surrounding Porgy and Bess will go away anytime soon because the opera can still tap into ongoing tensions surrounding poverty, racism, sexism, and representation in America. 


Our sincere intention is to acknowledge the work of Heyward, Gershwin, Armstrong and Fitzgerald, as well as upcoming hot August nights with a musical gem within the work. 


Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff


Here is Janice Joplin's version of "Summertime" for all my Filmore lovin' friends. 



Biosyntrx strongly believes that appreciation, exploration and commitment to science, art, music, history, and humanities add significantly to the global greater good and are important parts of the intellectual whole.