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Porgy and Bess

Wayne Shirley’s edition of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess will enjoy a full-length performance by the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and the University Musical Society, on Saturday, February 17, 2018. With a book by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, additional lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and with music by George Gershwin, Porgy and Bess has long been considered one of the great American operas. (See the UMS website for information on attending this event.)

As a response to this performance, we will be holding a multi-day academic symposium on the opera that not only will provide an historical and contextual overview of the work and its place in the Gershwins’ oeuvre, but that will also address the issues of cultural appropriation and representation that surround it. The events in the symposium are free and open to the public—and are detailed below.


You may still attend the event, but be aware that it is very full—standing room only. The event will be live-streamed at Search for “Porgy and Bess.” Video of the full event will be available on the Gershwin Initiative YouTube channel after the event.

Please email any questions to Jessica Getman at


The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess:
A Symposium
Friday, February 16th, 9AM–5PM
Saturday, February 17th, 2PM–4:30PM
Gallery, Hatcher Graduate Library

“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: A Symposium” is a multi-day event that specifically engages with issues of race, representation, activism, and appropriation in this opera. Friday presents a full day of performances and panel discussions on the context of the work, its characters, its reception, and its impact on the careers of singers of color, with a keynote lecture by Dr. Kyra Gaunt. Our performances and discussions continue on Saturday with a recital of songs from the opera’s period, and a panel of related student papers. This symposium prepares audiences for the Saturday evening performance of the opera produced by the UMS and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance in Hill Auditorium. Registration is required for Friday’s events.


9:00 Coffee and Registration

9:30 Welcome

9:40 Reflections on Porgy and Bess

Bill Barkhymer, Bill Bolcom, Richard Crawford, Marc George Gershwin, Joan Morris, Michael Strunsky, Wayne Shirley (moderated by Jessica Getman)

11:00 Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess
        by Igor Frolov
(Cara Schlecker and Cole Anderson); break

11:30 The Problem of Porgy and Bess

Naomi André, Mark Clague, Angela Dillard, Elizabeth James, Daniel Washington (moderated by Willie Sullivan)

12:30 Keynote Lunch [Michigan League, Hussey Room]

1:00 Keynote Speaker: Kyra Gaunt
“Too Decent to Understan'”: Witnessin’ Musical Appropriation from the Traditionally Broken-Hearted

2:00 Presentations by Early Career Professionals [back in Gallery]

Lenora Green-Turner—Gullah Diction: Diction Suggestions for Performances of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess
Lena Leson—”I’m On My Way to a Heav’nly Lan’”: Porgy and Bess and American Religious Export to the USSR
(moderated by Mark Clague)

3:00 Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ Porgy and Bess (selections)
        (Ellen Rowe and the University Jazz Bands); break

3:45 Singing Porgy and Bess

Janai Brugger, Norman Garrett, Chauncey Packer, Willis Patterson, Morris Robinson, Karen Slack, Reginald Smith, Jr., Rehanna Thelwell, Talise Trevigne, Daniel Washington (moderated by Naomi André)


2:00 Margaret Bonds’ Dream Portraits (Olivia Johnson and Nicholas Roehler)

2:15 Presentations by Early Career Professionals

Allison Chu and Ellen Sauer—”I Am a Little Early for Him:” Premonitions of Porgy
Andrew S. Kohler—What Does Bess Want?: Women’s Agency and Subjugation in Porgy and Bess
Kelly Bixby—Porgy and Bess in the Twenty-First Century: Perspectives from Contemporary Performers
Austin Stewart—”Taste and Adaptability”: An Examination of Opera and Racial Uplift in the American Old West
(moderated by Jessica Getman)

4:00 Vocal Recital: Music of African American Composers from the Period of Porgy and Bess

From the African American Art Song Course (Music 410/510) taught by Louise Toppin, DMA. Kathryn Goodson, DMA, pianist.

4:45 Final Remarks by George Shirley

Kaleidoscope: A Student Arts Festival
Friday, February 16th, 5:30PM–7PM
Hill Auditorium

Join us for cultural sharing between groups from across campus, including performances of Southeast Asian dance, Korean Pop, Black Gospel, spoken word, and more. How do we share and borrow from one another, and where are the lines between representation, glorification, appreciation, and appropriation? We will have food, performances by students, and, most importantly, an open and safe dialogue about cultural appropriation in the arts, moderated by Morgan Breon.

Pre-Show Talk: Porgy and Bess
Saturday, February 17th, 6:30PM
Hill Auditorium Mezzanine Lobby

An introduction to the opera by Naomi André (Associate Professor of Women’s Studies & Afroamerican and African Studies) and Jessica Getman (Managing Editor of the U-M George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition).

Talking about Porgy and Bess: A Post-Performance Discussion
Sunday, February 18th, 2PM–4PM
Gallery, Hatcher Graduate Library

A forum for discussing the UMS/SMTD performance of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” led by the Porgy and Bess Symposium Planning Committee, including Naomi André, Mark Clague, Jessica Getman, Elizabeth James, and Willie Sullivan.