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Dear Dorothy

Check out this letter from George Gershwin to Dorothy Heyward! It offers us a window into the working relationships between George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and literary couple Dorothy and DuBose Heyward.

The famous collaboration between the Gershwins and librettist DuBose Heyward resulted in the creation of one of the best known American operas, Porgy and Bess, whose production forged lasting professional and personal relationships between the three men. George, Ira, and DuBose regularly kept in touch, exchanging new lyrics, novel-to-stage adjustments, and production ideas. DuBose’s wife Dorothy Heyward, herself a playwright, was also a part of this circle and frequently consulted throughout Porgy’s journey from novel to opera. 

While in New York circa 1936, George wrote a letter to an under-the weather Dorothy, playfully chastising her for being unable to enjoy the “beautiful country butter” he had sent sometime before mailing the letter—and promising to send more. After signing off with “Bestest, George Gershwin,” he concludes with a sketch of a few short measures of “Summertime,” the opening—and, arguably, most recognizable—song of Porgy and Bess.


Dear Dorothy,

Just heard that you were not feeling well. Hope it is nothing more than a good case of spring fever.

I’ll bet you never got to taste that beautiful country butter I sent. Get well quickly and I [sic] send you some more.

George Gershwin

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(A little music helps sometimes)

Read more about Dorothy’s presence in the Gershwins’ world here in our biography of DuBose Heyward, author of Porgy and librettist for Porgy and Bess.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Music Division. Many thanks to archivist Ray White.
IMG_9930 [22810430].jpgFrances Sobolak is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan pursuing a Linguistics major and Music minor. She joined the Gershwin Initiative team in the fall of her sophomore year through the university’s undergraduate research opportunity program.

  • Alan Durman on March 17, 2016

    What a lovely letter! I love ‘bestest’ & the quote at the end.
    Thanks for posting

    • Jessica Getman on March 18, 2016

      Thanks, Alan! This was one of those letters that was too good not to share.

  • Harlan Greene on May 30, 2021

    I do think this is a mistake and this letter was not written to Dorothy Heyward. This comment comes from the archivist who worked on her papers and who is writing her biography

    • Gershwin Blog Team on June 11, 2021

      Harlan, thanks so much for your comment. We’ll all be excited to read your biography of the incredible Dorothy Heyward! Is there anything in particular that makes you think this wasn’t written to her, but rather a different Dorothy?

      • harlan greene on November 14, 2021

        Dorothy wrote her autobiography — unpublished. She records all her interactions with Gershwin and all her correspondence is in an archives. How could this have been separated from her papers? She was constantly ill — never with anything to be “spring fever”. No butter sent her… obviously another Dorothy.

        • Gershwin Blog Team on November 15, 2021

          Hi, Harlan. I didn’t personally view this letter at the Library of Congress so it may well have been written to another Dorothy—though I do think “spring fever” was meant to be a joke. As an archivist, I am sure you know all too well how difficult cataloguing every scrap of correspondence and artistic inspiration can be! Thank you for engaging with this material so deeply.

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