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Posts By: Gershwin Blog Team

Language in Porgy and Bess: The Challenge of Representing Gullah

Following Heather L. Hodges’s fantastic guest post about the Gullah Geechee culture that the Gershwins and Heywards portray in Porgy and Bess, we turn to one of the opera’s most contended aspects: its treatment of the Gullah language. In this post, our managing editor, Andrew S. Kohler, explores how the work’s text came to be so far removed from Gullah, and how future performances may approach the inconsistent libretto so as to give Gullah culture and language the respect they are due. The language of Porgy and Bess is a far cry from that of the Gullah community of Charleston […]

“I Heard the Angels Singing”: Listening to Gullah Geechee People Who Inspired Porgy and Bess

 To kick off our new series, The Past and Present of Porgy and Bess, we’re pleased to welcome guest contributor and expert on Gullah Geechee culture, Heather L. Hodges. In this post, Heather tells the deeply researched story of a staged Gullah Geechee musical performance that George Gershwin heard during his 1934 trip to South Carolina. She explains that understanding Gullah Geechee musical traditions and learning about the people who have kept them alive is critical to how audiences, producers, and performers approach Porgy and Bess today.    Biographies of George Gershwin and historical accounts of the composition of Porgy […]

The Greens of Summers: The Gershwins and The Invention of Kodachrome

In this post, discover the origins of one of the first successful color photography processing methods—and its surprising connection to the Gershwin family! While most of the Gershwin family’s accomplishments are related to music, a member of this prolific family is also credited with one of the most significant photographic developments of the 20th century. Leopold Godowsky Jr.—George’s brother-in-law and the husband of the youngest Gershwin sibling Frances (Frankie) Gershwin Godowsky—invented Kodachrome, one of the most famous light-sensitive products in the world, with lifelong friend Leopold Mannes. Godowsky (1900–1983) and Mannes (1899–1964) became friends while attending the Riverdale School in […]

Introducing a New Series: The Past and Future of Porgy and Bess

Despite being among the most prominent operas of the twentieth century, and perhaps the Gershwin brothers’ most monumental achievement, Porgy and Bess occupies an uneasy place in US musical history. In this series, Managing Editor Andrew S. Kohler, Ph.D. and blog team leader Kai West explore the opera’s complex and at times problematic representations of race, gender, disability, and class, connecting Porgy and Bess to today’s conversations about social justice. The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (1935), a collaboration with DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, contains many of the Gershwins’ most beloved numbers: “My Man’s Gone Now,” “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’,” […]

The Ghost in the Machine: Decoding Gershwin in His Piano Rolls

George Gershwin’s work creating rolls for player piano remains a source of curiosity among scholars and enthusiasts alike. But the more we search for evidence of Gershwin’s individuality and style in this lost technology, the more questions arise about the role of the composer as a visible author of music within the culture of 1910–20s music consumption, and whether during his lifetime these musical artifacts were even perceived as “recordings” at all. By Sarah Sisk “In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble,” but the songs of Tin Pan Alley have taken on a timeless aspect: a continuous ripple […]

Dr. Eva Jessye: The Grand Dame in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Dr. Eva Jessye had a special relationship to the University of Michigan and to the city of Ann Arbor. Join blog team member Sophia Janevic as she spends a day in Jessye’s archive, currently housed at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, and speculates on what its materials can tell us about Dr. Jessye’s vibrant life. This is the final installment of a 3-part series on Dr. Eva Jessye. In part 1, we explored Jessye’s early life and her achievements as a choral director and composer, while part 2 chronicled Jessye’s work as the longtime choral director of The […]

Dr. Eva Jessye: The Grand Dame of Porgy and Bess

Dr. Eva Jessye’s work in the premiere production and subsequent revivals of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess helped launch her choir to worldwide fame, and contributed to Jessye’s enduring legacy as “The Grande Dame of Black Music.” This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Dr. Eva Jessye. In part 1, we explored Jessye’s early life and her achievements as a choral director and composer. Our next and final installment will discuss Jessye’s career in academia and the Eva Jessye Collection here at the University of Michigan. “I saw this notice in the Film Daily looking for a black […]

Dr. Eva Jessye: Make Way for the Dame

Composer, singer, and actress Dr. Eva Jessye was the first Black woman to earn international distinction as the director of a professional choral group, the Eva Jessye Choir. Inspired by her heritage, Jessye also arranged and composed spirituals and worked to increase appreciation for them. This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Dr. Eva Jessye in which we explore the life and legacy of the “Grande Dame of Black Music.” Part 2 will chronicle Jessye’s work as the longtime choral director of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, while Part 3 will discuss Jessye’s career in academia and the […]

“Rhythm Changes” Update and Forthcoming Series on Dr. Eva Jessye

In June, we announced some “rhythm changes” here at the Gershwin Initiative/American Music Institute — namely an enlargement of our educational mission to amplify and celebrate BIPOC creators and performers in the field of American music, and to confront issues of appropriation, advocacy, and representation in the works of George and Ira Gershwin. Toward this expanded mission, recent blog posts by our undergraduate researchers have highlighted Ella Fitzgerald’s recordings of the Gershwin Songbook; profiled composer Undine Smith Moore; and critically considered Gershwin’s Blue Monday (1922), an operatic blackface sketch for a musical revue often cited as a prototype for The […]

Jazz Opera? Problems of Genre in Blue Monday

While it was never particularly successful, George Gershwin’s 1922 one-act “jazz-opera” Blue Monday played an important role in bridging the gap between his popular style and classical compositions. This post—the final installment of our three-part series devoted to Blue Monday—explores just what a “jazz-opera” might be and delves deeper into the cultural implications of these stylistic elements in Gershwin’s work. Content Warning: This post contains a quotation of an offensive racial slur. As discussed in the initial post of this series, George Gershwin’s Blue Monday was cut from the George White Scandals of 1922 after opening night. Still, this short […]

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