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Tuesday Tune: ‘Summertime’ From The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

September 3, 2013

Audra McDonald, NaTasha Yvette Williams and ensemble perform in the 2011 revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Photo by Michael J. Lutch.

“Summertime” is one of the most recorded songs in music history. It has been covered by artists spanning across many genres, including rock, country, R&B and opera. The song was first heard as the standout aria in George Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.

While I have never seen a production of Porgy and Bess, I have heard “Summertime” performed numerous times, from friends’ vocal recitals to the stage of “American Idol.”

The song has a timeless presence in the music industry. The fact that there are more than 33,000 “Summertime” recordings is astounding. The original recording features vocals by Abbie Mitchell with George Gershwin on piano. Listen to the original version below.

Audra McDonald recently appeared in the 2011 Broadway revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, in which she lent her congratulated pipes to the song. Listen to her version below.

I always find it entertaining when artists leave their typical genres and give songs their own flavor. Many artists have done so with “Summertime” and succeeded. I have listed some of my favorite covers below. Click the artist’s name to hear their version on YouTube.

  • Doc and Merle Watson add their bluegrass roots to the tune.
  • Fantasia performed it on “American Idol” in 2004 and received a standing ovation.
  • Norah Jones’ smooth, raspy vocals just sit well with the song.
  • Janis Joplin, with Big Brother & the Holding Company, released it on the 1968 album “Cheap Thrills.”
  • Billy Stewart released the most successful version in 1966, which reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • The Doors often performed it live, and it appears on their album “Live in Boston.”

You can hear the timeless song ring through Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center if you join us for The Gerhwins’ Porgy and Bess playing July 15-20, 2014. You can secure your seats now with a 2013-14 Duke Energy Broadway Lights Series Season Ticket. Click here for more information.

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