It Ain't Necessarily So

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{ \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"alto sax" \key bes \major \time 4/4 \partial 8
  g'8 | \times 2/3 {d''4 des''g'}\times 2/3 {c''4 ces'' g'} | bes'2~ bes'4
\addlyrics { It ain't ne -- ces -- sa -- ri -- ly so }

"It Ain't Necessarily So" is a popular song with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin. The song comes from the Gershwins' opera Porgy and Bess (1935) where it is sung by the character Sportin' Life, a drug dealer, who expresses his doubt about several statements in the Bible. The song's melody also functions as a theme for Sportin' Life's character.[1]


The song is controversial for casting doubt on the veracity of the Bible in its central lyrics: "It ain't necessarily so, It ain't necessarily so, The t'ings dat yo' li'ble, To read in de Bible, It ain't necessarily so."[citation needed]

The song was criticized by the composer Hall Johnson for depicting African Americans as unfaithful.[2]

Influence of Jewish blessings[edit]

The first and most direct example of influence occurs at the start of the song; the melody and phrasing is nearly identical to the blessing incanted before reading from the Torah. The words "It ain't necessarily so" stand in place of Bar'chu et adonai ham'vorach. This motif repeats multiple times in both, and both include a response from a congregation. While the phrasing of the melody in the blessing varies, it remains strictly in triplets in Gershwin's tune.[3] The song also seems to draw from the tonality of the Jewish prayer mode Adonai malakh (God is King) by emphasizing the minor tenth, the major third, and the minor seventh.[4]


The tap-dancer John W. Bubbles playing Sportin' Life in 1935

The role of Sportin' Life was created by John W. Bubbles. Other notable incarnations of the character include Avon Long[5] and Cab Calloway on stage and Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1959 film.

Early charted versions were by Leo Reisman (1935) and by Bing Crosby (1936).[6] The song was notably sung by Bobby Darin on his 1959 album That's All.

In 1960, Aretha Franklin recorded a cover on her debut studio album, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo for Columbia records.[7]

This song was also covered by a plethora of jazz musicians throughout the 1950s and '60s. In 1952, Oscar Peterson covered it on his album Oscar Peterson Plays George Gershwin. He also covered it as a duet in 1976 with Joe Pass on their album Porgy and Bess. The Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Orchestra recorded it in 1956 for Fantasy Records. In 1955, Ahmad Jamal released a cover on his album Ahmad Jamal Plays. Peggy Lee released a cover of it on her album Black Coffee in 1955. Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald covered it in their 1958 duet album Porgy and Bess. Lena Horne covered it in 1959 on her duet album with Harry Belafonte, Porgy and Bess. In 1959, Sammy Davis Jr. also released a studio version of the song on his album with Carmen McRae, Porgy and Bess. In 1960, Art Farmer and Benny Golson covered the song on their album Meet the Jazztet. Jazz organist Freddie Roach covered the tune in his 1963 album Good Move!. On her 1963 album Black Christ of the Andes, Mary Lou Williams made a cover of the song.[citation needed]

It was covered a number of times during the rock and roll era. The Honeycombs released a cover of it on their debut album, The Honeycombs in 1964. The next year, the song was a major Australian hit in 1965 for singer Normie Rowe, reaching number five on the Australian singles charts. Also in 1965, The Moody Blues covered the song for their album, The Magnificent Moodies. The Moody Blues' version is notable for the fact that it was their first recording with band member Ray Thomas singing the lead vocals.[citation needed]

Violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, close friend of George Gershwin, transcribed the song for violin in 1944.[8] He recorded this version on September 15, 1970, in ORTF Studio 102, Paris,[9] first appearing on the Heifetz on Television album from 1971.[10]

In 1984, the song was released as a single by UK band Bronski Beat with Jimmy Somerville on lead vocals. The song was taken from Bronski Beat's debut album, The Age of Consent and reached number 16 on the UK singles charts.[citation needed]

Other versions include Cher in 1994, Tina May in 1995,[11] Jamie Cullum in 2002, Sting, Brian Wilson on his 2010 Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin album and Hugh Laurie on his 2011 album Let Them Talk. In 2014, Spanish jazz singer Pedro Ruy-Blas [es] included the song on his album El Americano.[citation needed]

Cut verse[edit]

A verse was cut solely for the use of an encore. The lyrics were:

Way back in 5000 B.C.
Ole Adam an' Eve had to flee
Sure, dey did dat deed in
De Garden of Eden
But why chasterize you an' me?[12]

Other uses[edit]

In Nazi-occupied Denmark, the Danish underground interrupted the 1943 Nazi victory radio announcements with a recording of the song.[13]

The philosopher Hilary Putnam used the song as the title of a 1962 paper, later published in The Journal of Philosophy (59:22).[14]

Mad magazine's 1967 race issue featured a parody version with Martin Luther King Jr. singing, "It's not necessarily Stoke! It's not necessarily Stoke! No, him you can't trust in, Just ask Bayard Rustin. Oh it's not necessarily Stoke!", in reference to the civil-rights organiser Stokely Carmichael.[2]

American musician Larry Adler used the song as the title of his 1984 autobiography.[15]

The Jascha Heifetz violin version provided the music for Olympic gold medalist gymnast Natalia Lashchenova's gold medal–winning floor routine at the 1991 Summer Universiade.[16]


  1. ^ Hyland, William G. (2003). George Gershwin : A New Biography. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. ISBN 978-0275981112. OCLC 51861983.[page needed]
  2. ^ a b Ellen, Noonan (2014). The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1469617534. OCLC 897353385.[page needed]
  3. ^ Pollack, Howard; Gottlieb, Jack (2006-10-01). "Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish: How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood". American Music. 24 (3): 364. doi:10.2307/25046037. ISSN 0734-4392. JSTOR 25046037.
  4. ^ Howard, Pollack (2007). George Gershwin: His Life and Work. University of California Press. p. 46. ISBN 9780520933149. OCLC 609850115.
  5. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "It Ain't Necessarily So ("Porgy and Bess")". YouTube.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890–1954. Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 530. ISBN 978-0-89820-083-6.
  7. ^ Schneider, Wayne Joseph (1999). The Gershwin style : New Looks at the Music of George Gershwin. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195358155. OCLC 252640072.[page needed]
  8. ^ Arthur Vered (21 December 2010). "Heifetz Official Website Biography". Retrieved 2020-11-09.
  9. ^ Arthur Vered. "The RCA Heifetz discography". Retrieved 2020-11-09.
  10. ^ Heifetz on Television at Discogs
  11. ^ Dave Nathan. Tina May – It Ain't Necessarily So at AllMusic
  12. ^ Kick, Russ; Barton, Dorie; Coster, Nicolas; Summers, Nick (2008), Everything you know about God is wrong : the disinformation guide to religion (audio book), Phoenix Audio, ISBN 9781597772136, OCLC 260590088[time needed]
  13. ^ Rimler, Walter (2009). George Gershwin: An Intimate Portrait. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252034442. OCLC 265741730.[page needed]
  14. ^ Hilary, Putnam (1979). Philosophical Papers, Volume 1 : Mathematics, Matter and Method. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780511625268. OCLC 958554375.
  15. ^ Larry, Adler (1987) [1984]. It ain't necessarily so: An Autobiography. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0394623221. OCLC 15053203.
  16. ^ 1991 World University Games – Natalia Laschenova FX 9.862 on YouTube