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Category Archives: Race and American Culture

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 […]

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’,” […]

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 […]

“A House of Many Mansions”: Undine Smith Moore and the Fight for Black Music

“Black music is a house of many mansions. Blacks have many musics and some of them relate in an extremely universal way to the human condition,” said Undine Smith Moore, who believed strongly in the power of Black music to reveal the innermost parts of the human heart, mind, body, and soul. This post is a celebration of her life as a Black woman in America, a legacy of bravery and persistence that lives on through her music. Known to many as the “Dean of Black Women Composers,” Undine Smith Moore (1904–1989) forged a remarkable career in composition and music […]

Rhythm Changes: Expanded Scope and Educational Mission for the Gershwin Initiative

As students, musicians, professionals, scholars, and human beings, we at the Gershwin Initiative / American Music Institute are committed to engaging and honoring marginalized voices within American musical cultures. To that end, we will enlarge our educational mission and platform to use our work as a vehicle for learning about, amplifying, and celebrating diverse musical voices. This will be reflected through expanded digital content here on our research blog and social media feeds, with a focus on the work of BIPOC creators and performers. The Gershwin Initiative’s focus is on preserving and celebrating the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin […]