program notes by composition > P > Selections from Porgy and Bess

Selections from Porgy and Bess

George Gershwin

This “folk” opera with music by George Gershwin was first performed in 1935. It tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black beggar living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina, and his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of the stevedore Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, the drug dealer. It featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring artistic choice at the time. After an initially unpopular public reception, it became one of the best-known and most frequently performed American operas. A film followed in 1959. Selections include “Summertime,” “A Woman is a Sometime Thing,” “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’,” “Bess, You Is My Woman,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Picnic Parade,” and “Oh Lawd I'm on My Way."

George Gershwin (1898-1937) was a gifted writer of popular songs, musical comedies, a folk opera and other art music. Born Jacob Gershovitz in Brooklyn, he left high school to work on Tin Pan Alley as a song plugger. He found early success with “Swanee.” He teamed up with his older brother Ira as lyricist and wrote over a dozen successful musical comedies. He blended jazz and popular and classical music and was widely successful. He died at age 38 from a brain tumor.

Last updated on April 10, 2023 by Palatine Concert Band