Porgy and Bess: the entire masterpiece

Porgy and Bess 1959 poster

Porgy and Bess early poster

The entire original Gershwin opera performed by the Berlin Philharmonic.

One of the essential pieces of American music that went on to play a big role in jazz – plus notes about the amazing back story. So much to say about this piece…

Here’s some history, you may not know. This was Gershwin’s second opera. The first one he wrote was taken over by a producer and performed in blackface. Gershwin was FURIOUS! Not well known today, but back in the day in addition to “blackface”, there was also a thing called “jewface” in the entertainment business. Gershwin, being a Jew, was sensitive and aware what an insult “blackface” was. Gershwin produced “Porgy and Bess” himself – it premiered in 1935 – to insure that black artists played all the roles. The original production was not popular and he lost a small fortune on it. He never lived to see its success.

Two important stories:

1. When the opera premiered in Washington DC, the city was still segregated. Gershwin told the theater owners – “NO WAY! Either the audience is integrated or we’re not doing the show.” He won and that racist city of Washington DC had its first integrated audience way back in 1935.

2. When the Nazis invaded Denmark, they banned jazz and other what they called “degenerate” music. The Dane’s went ahead and put on a clandestine performance of “Porgy and Bess” anyway.

But wait, it gets better…

When the Nazis were broadcasting their propaganda on the Danish airwaves, a portable clandestine radio station would jam the broadcasts and play… “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the opera.

These stories – and more – courtesy of Richie Gerber. Go here for more:


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