Porgy and Bess  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Porgy and Bess is an opera, first performed in 1935, with music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward, and lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. It was based on DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy and subsequent play of the same title, which he co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward. All three works deal with African-American life in the fictitious Catfish Row (based on the area of Cabbage Row) in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s.

Originally conceived by George Gershwin as an "American folk opera", Porgy and Bess premiered in New York in the fall of 1935 and featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring artistic choice at the time. Gershwin chose the African-American musician Eva Jessye as the choral director for the opera.

The work was not widely accepted in the United States as a legitimate opera until 1976, when the Houston Grand Opera production of Gershwin's complete score established it as an artistic triumph. Nine years later, the Metropolitan Opera of New York gave their first performance of the work. This production was also broadcast as part of the ongoing Saturday afternoon live Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. The work is now considered part of the standard operatic repertoire and is regularly performed internationally. Despite this success, the opera has been controversial; some critics from the outset have considered it a racist portrayal of African Americans.

The song "Summertime" is the best-known selection from Porgy and Bess. Other popular and frequently recorded songs from the opera include "It Ain't Necessarily So", "Bess, You Is My Woman Now", "I Loves You Porgy" and "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'". The opera is admired for Gershwin's innovative synthesis of European orchestral techniques with American jazz and folk music idioms.

Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black beggar living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, the drug dealer. Where the earlier novel and stage-play differ, the opera generally follows the stage-play.


Porgy and Bess contains many songs that have become popular in their own right, becoming standards in jazz and blues in addition to their original operatic setting.

Some of the most popular songs are:

  • "Summertime", act 1, scene 1
  • "A Woman is a Sometime Thing", act 1, scene 1
  • "My Man's Gone Now", act 1, scene 2
  • "It Take a Long Pull to Get There", act 2, scene 1
  • "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'", act 2, scene 1
  • "Buzzard Keep on Flyin'", act 2, scene 1
  • "Bess, You Is My Woman Now", act 2, scene 1
  • "Oh, I Can't Sit Down," act 2, scene 1
  • "It Ain't Necessarily So", act 2, scene 2
  • "What you want wid Bess", act 2, scene 2
  • "Oh, Doctor Jesus", act 2, scene 3
  • "I Loves You, Porgy", act 2, scene 3
  • "A Red-Haired Woman", act 2, scene 4
  • "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York", act 3, scene 2
  • "Bess, O Where's My Bess?", act 3, scene 3
  • "O Lawd, I'm On My Way", act 3, scene 3

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Porgy and Bess" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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