"Summertime" is an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.
The song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard, described as "without doubt... one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote....Gershwin's highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of African-Americans in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century." Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has characterized Heyward's lyrics for "Summertime" and "My Man's Gone Now" as "the best lyrics in the musical theater". The song is recognized as one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music, with more than 33,000 covers by groups and solo performers.
Porgy and Bess
Gershwin began composing the song in December 1933, attempting to create his own spiritual in the style of the African American folk music of the period. Gershwin had completed setting DuBose Heyward's poem to music by February 1934, and spent the next 20 months completing and orchestrating the score of the opera.
The song is sung multiple times throughout Porgy and Bess, first by Clara in Act I as a lullaby and soon after as counterpoint to the craps game scene, in Act II in a reprise by Clara, and in Act III by Bess, singing to Clara's baby.
It was recorded for the first time by Abbie Mitchell on 19 July 1935, with George Gershwin playing the piano and conducting the orchestra (on: George Gershwin Conducts Excerpts from Porgy & Bess, Mark 56 667).
Musicologist K. J. McElrath wrote of the song:
"Gershwin was remarkably successful in his intent to have this sound like a folk song. This is reinforced by his extensive use of the pentatonic scale (C-D-E-G-A) in the context of the A minor tonality and a slow-moving harmonic progression that suggests a “blues.” Because of these factors, this tune has been a favorite of jazz performers for decades and can be done in a variety of tempos and styles."
Heyward’s inspiration for the lyrics was the southern folk spiritual-lullaby All My Trials, of which he had Clara sing a snippet in his play Porgy. While in his own description, Gershwin did not use any previously composed spirituals in his opera, Summertime is often considered an adaptation of the Afro-American spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, which ended the play version of Porgy. Alternatively, the song has been proposed as an amalgamation of that spiritual and the South-Russian Yiddish lullaby Pipi-pipipee. The Ukrainian-Canadian composer and singer Alexis Kochan has suggested that some part of Gershwin's inspiration may have come from having heard the Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows) at a New York City performance by Oleksander Koshetz's Ukrainian National Chorus in 1929 (or 1926).
There are over 25,000 recordings of "Summertime". In September 1936, a recording by Billie Holiday was the first to hit the US pop charts, reaching #12. Other notable recordings include those by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in 1957, Sam Cooke also in 1957, Gene Vincent and Miles Davis in 1958, John Coltrane in 1961, The Marcels in 1961, Andy Williams in 1962 as the B-Side to his single "Don't You Believe It", The Tornadoes in 1964, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company on the 1968 album Cheap Thrills, Al Green on the 1969 album Green is Blues as well as The Zombies. The most commercially successful version was by Billy Stewart, who reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966.
The Doors occasionally performed this song on stage as a medley in the middle of "Light My Fire", which can be heard on Live in Boston. English singer-songwriter Nick Drake recorded the song in 1967 or 1968, and it is included on the posthumous anthology Tanworth In Arden. The Fun Boy Three released their version in July 1982. In 1998, Morcheeba and Hubert Laws recorded the song for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody.
- "Summertime" at ASCAP
- Description of song by Robert Cummings at Allmusic.com
- A Century of Creativity: DuBose and Dorothy Heyward
- "The Summertime Connection". Retrieved 20 April 2012.
- Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: his life and work, University of California Press, 2006, p.589
- William Hyland, George Gershwin: a new biography, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, p.171
- "Summertime" at JazzStandards.com
- Edward Jablonski, Lawrence Delbert Stewart, The Gershwin years: George and Ira, Da Capo Press, 1996, ISBN 0-306-80739-4, p.202
- Jeffrey Paul Melnick, A Right to Sing the Blues, Harvard University Press 1999, ISBN 0-674-76976-7, pp. 129-133
- Samuel A. Floyd Jr., ed. (1990). Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays. New York: Westport. ISBN 0-313-26546-1., p. 22
- Rosenberg, Deena (1991). Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin. Penguin Books USA. ISBN 0-525-93356-5., p. 281
- Jack Gottlieb, 'Funny, it doesn't sound Jewish, SUNY Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8444-1130-2, pp. 42-43. The author displays the three songs aligned to each other.
- Helen Smindak DATELINE NEW YORK: Kochan and Kytasty delve deeply into musical past, The Ukrainian Weekly, 24 May 1998
- Joe Nocera (January 21, 2012). "Variations on an Explosive Theme". The New York Times.
- Summertime Connection list
- "A Languid Look Back To Gershwin's 'Summertime'", NPR Music, October 23, 2008
- The site of The Summertime Connection with a list of all covers
- A second site of TSC with texts in different languages