Album: Porgy and Bess (1935)
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  • This soothing standard was featured in the folk opera Porgy and Bess, which started as a 1926 novel by DuBose Heyward called Porgy. The novel is about a Black community in Charleston, South Carolina, and it quickly became a top seller. A year later, with help from his wife, Dorothy, Heyward turned the book into a Broadway play (without music).

    George Gershwin, after reading the book and seeing the play, thought it would make a great stage production. Along with his brother Ira, Gershwin collaborated with Heyward and brought the novel to the stage as a musical in 1935. "Summertime" is the most famous song from the musical and appears four times in the production, most notably as a lullaby to help put a baby to sleep. The lullaby style became very popular and many children grew up hearing this song from their parents, but the variations of the song in the production helped demonstrate the song's versatility, leading to its recording in a wide range of styles and tempos.
  • DuBose Heyward wrote the libretto for Porgy and Bess, which included the lyrics for this song. George and Ira Gershwin, who were very popular composers by then, wrote the music. The Gershwins wrote several plays together and wrote many popular songs, including "I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me."
  • Porgy and Bess had a test run in Boston and opened at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway on October 10, 1935. The show had a disappointing stint in New York, lasting just 124 performances before closing in early 1936. The musical was performed in Russia in 1955 and made into a movie in 1959 starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr. and Diahann Carroll, who performed the song. After the movie came out, the Opera became much more popular and it continues to be performed as a stage production. George Gershwin didn't get to see his play become a big success - he died in 1937. The song's lyricist, DuBose Heyward, also never saw the song become a standard, as he died in 1940.
  • This is one of the most covered songs in history, with well over 2000 official recordings. The first popular cover was by Billie Holiday, who transformed it into a bluesy number. Janis Joplin's blues-rock version with Big Brother & the Holding Company is probably the best known, but other notable covers were recorded by Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Miles Davis, Ricky Nelson, John Coltrane, Julie London, Angelique Kidjo, and Frank Sinatra.

    The most successful version on the Hot 100 was R&B singer/keyboardist Billy Stewart's 1966 interpretation, which featured Maurice White (later of Earth, Wind & Fire) on drums. It spent seven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at #10.
  • Before writing the music for this song, George Gershwin rented a place in Folly Island, South Carolina, so he could soak up the local atmosphere for his composition. But he actually wrote the piece back home in New York. His friend Kay Halle recalled to theater historian Robert Kimball:

    "George and I had an arrangement with the man at the desk at the Elysee, where I lived, if I was out and George wanted to come in, he could always have the key to my room. One night I came in after a dinner about 11 o'clock, and as I walked up the stairway to my apartment, I heard the piano. I tiptoed in, George turned and saw me, and said, 'Sit down, I think I have the lullaby.' I knew he had been working hard to get the lullaby and that he had done several versions that didn't suit him. And so he sang in this high-wailing voice 'Summertime,' and it was exquisite. We looked at each other and the tears were just coursing down my cheeks and I just knew that this was going to be beloved by the world."

    The song is a great example of how an instrumental piece can convey a feeling and a sense of place - even without the lyrics, it still feels like the American South.

    The song is simple to play, with just six basic notes, which leads lots of room for extrapolation, something many of the jazz greats who recorded the song (including Miles Davis and Charlie Parker) exploited.
  • This was the first song The Beatles played with Ringo Starr. On October 15, 1960, they recorded at the Akustik Recording Studio, 57 Kirchenallee, Hamburg Germany. The place was an absolute shambles, at the back of a railway station. The main vocalist was Wally Eymond, aka Lou "Wally" Walters, who was guitarist for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Beatles drummer Pete Best wasn't there, so Eymond's bandmate Ringo Starr played. This was only a day or so after Stu Sutcliffe was brutally beaten, so he wasn't involved, although it's possible he was in attendance; Johnny Guitar and Ty Brian were also at the recording as observers only. They also recorded "September Song" and "Fever." Nine copies of the record were pressed. "Summertime" was the A side with "Fever" on the B side.
  • Janis Joplin performed this at the Woodstock festival in 1969. It was also the last song she sang in concert, as it was the last song in her set at her last show on August 12, 1970 at Harvard Stadium. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • Sublime's 1996 song "Doin' Time" is based on this.
  • Fantasia Barrino, winner of the third season of American Idol in 2004, performed this song twice on the show, introduced the song to a new audience.
  • The Zombies recorded this for their first album, which was released in 1965. A few years later, they released the song "Time Of The Season," which eventually became a huge hit. The lyric in that song, "What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich like me?" was inspired by a line in "Summertime": "Your daddy's rich and your mama's good looking."

Comments: 13

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 4th 1962, Ricky Nelson's covered version of "Summertime" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #95, the following week it was at #89 and that was also its last week on the chart...
    The A-side of the record, "Young World", fared a little bit better, it peaked at #5 {for 1 week} on April 15th, 1962 and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
    Between 1957 and 1973 he had fifty-three songs make the Top 100; seventeen made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, "Poor Little Fool" for two weeks in 1958 and "Travelin' Man" for two weeks in 1961...
    He just missed having four #1s when "Teenager's Romance" {1957} and "Stood Up" {1958} both peaked at #2 on the Top 100...
    R.I.P. Fredrick Hilliard Nelson {1940 - 1985}.
  • Jorge from Bronx, NyJanis of course is the best among rock vocalist,I believe she played and recorded with 3 great bands,Big Brother & The Holding Company,Blues Kozmic Band and Full Tilt Boogie,,,It doesn't matter what a raspy voice she had,she was great at her singing,,,many just sing,she interpret every song.
  • Meocyber from Alma, CoJanis owned this version! Has anybody ever thought BB & the hold company were one of the most underrated rock bands for their tight muscianship? They kicked ass.
  • Sara from Kenosha, United Kingdomi love janis joplin, you have no idea, her voice had got to be the most beautiful i have ever herd. And has anyone noticed on how she died wih her arms the way they were, to me she looks like an angel.may she rest in peace babe
  • Stefan from Campinas, Brazilis it correct that Janis performed it at the Woodstock festival with Jimi Hendrix on the guitar?
  • Wanda from Upstate , NyA very fine recording of Porgy and Bess songs was made by Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald--it also has Armstrong's fantastic trumpeteering; on it the two do a more standard version of this song, long, with fine trumpet too.
  • Mel from Riverbank, CaMy favorite version is by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong..
  • Linc from Beaumont, TxYou can see Janis memorabilia (including her car) in the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Southeast Texas and celebrate the Janis Joplin birthday bash in January.
  • Victoria from Memphis, TnMy favorite Janis Joplin song:)
  • Lew Quzmic from Moscow, Russia FederationGershwin is said to have based this song on a Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows), which he heard in a New York City performance by Oleksander Koshetz's Ukrainian National Chorus.
    (c) Wikipedia
    a 1980 version of the Ukrainian lullaby can be listened to at
  • Hans from Weteringbrug, NetherlandsAn international group of collectors of recordings of Summertime exists under the name The Summertime Collection. At 07-07-2007 hey know of almost 19,500 performances, of which about 13,325 have been recorded and of which 8,151 are in the collection of the group.
  • Nicole from Boston, MaThis song is just wonderful. Joplin's version was the first I heard, but I have to say I like Billie Holliday's version equally well. The lyrics are so simple that improvisation is easy. Probably will live on as a classic for years to come. ** Speaking of [i]Porgy and Bess[/i], is there a place to find some of the other songs from it? Just curious.
  • Clare from Dallas, Txher rendition is AMAZING. it made me cry when i first heard it because it was so beautiful.
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