“Summertime” was written in 1935 with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by DuBose Heyward. Heyward is also the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based.
Critics claim that “Summertime” is “without doubt... one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote... Gershwin’s highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of African-Americans in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century.”
One critic stated “‘Summertime’ is the best-known piece of music in the opera...” its “lyrics are rife with religious imagery...” and it”is not only a lullaby but a spiritual as well.”
Gershwin evan commented “I thinkp the music is so marvelous I don’t believe I wrote it.”
The wide spread success of “Summertime” may be due to its musical accessibility. The song is based on a pentatonic scale which, coupled with a slower harmonic progression, lends itself to a blues style. These elements allow artists to interpret the song “with a variety of tempos and styles”.
There are approximately 26,000 different recordings of “Summertime”. Some of the most notable recordings follow:
Billie Holiday, 1936; Holiday’s recording reached number 12 on the national pop charts
Louis Armstrong, 1957
Ella Fitzgerald, 1957
Same Cooks, 1961
Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, 1968
One of the most notable recording was by Billy Stewart in 1966 which became a Top 10 hit on both pop and R&B charts.
Porgy and Bess is one of the most performed American operas. Revivals occurred throughout the years, the most notable being in 1942 and 1953.
Lauren Morrow, MT-BC