My Man's Gone Now
Sung in the original production by Ruby Elzy, it has been covered by many female singers, notably Ella Fitzgerald (Porgy & Bess album), Leontyne Price, Audra McDonald (who would later sing the part of Bess), Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, and Shirley Horn, among others.
In the opera
In the opera, the aria is sung by Serena, the grieving widow, at her husband Robbins's wake. He has been murdered by Crown, a drunken stevedore, during a crap game played in the courtyard of Catfish Row. She sings that she will no longer hear his footsteps coming up stairs and that "ol man sorrow" will be her companion from now on, telling her she is old. The aria's music and lyrics refer to popular African American spiritual songs and are accompanied by melodic wails which are picked up by the chorus.
Leontyne Price, who regularly played Bess, once said in a Masterclass that it was important to express the “cultural context that is captured in the music.” Speaking to an aspiring singer, she said that the song's distinctive sighing refrains must be “like moaning in church.”
Nina Simone's version was captured when she sang it impromptu at a recording session. According to her biographer Nadine Cohodas, "Ray Hall, the engineer, had come out of the control room. But as soon as he heard Nina and then heard the bass player catch her groove, he hustled back to run a tape. '“From somewhere', Davis said of the bewitching moment, 'she called up the stamina to deliver with even more intensity and spirit a rare, perfect performance in one take, which could not possibly be improved'."
Stephen Sondheim has expressed his deep admiration for the Dubose Heyward's lyrics, writing that, along with Summertime, it creates a distinctive "informal, uneducated diction and a stream of consciousness" that defines the verbal style of the characters.
Deryck Cooke in The Language of Music refers to the song as an example of "substituting the minor for the major third in the descending 5-3-1 progression, we have a phrase which has been much used to express an 'incoming' painful emotion, in a context of finality: acceptance of, or yielding to grief; discouragement and depression; passive suffering; and the despair connected with death." Gershwin uses it to express "the despair of Serena... as she laments that her murdered husband will never come home to her again--'My man's gone now'."
- Philip Furia, Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996, p.116.
- Maurice Peress, Dvořák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America's Music and Its African American Roots, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004, p.70
- Nadine Cohodas, Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC., 2002, p.198.
- Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998, p.301.
- Joanne Lesley Gordon, Art Isn't Easy: The Achievement of Stephen Sondheim, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, IL., 1990, p.13
- Deryck Cooke, The Language of Music, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1963 p.133