George Gershwin’s “American folk opera” Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935 and has been the subject of interest—and controversy—throughout most of its existence. Based on the book Porgy, written by Dubose Heyward, the opera has spawned numerous sound and video recordings. Most of the operatic recordings, including the 1959 film production that has not been re-issued in the United States in 50 years, are housed in Burling Library’s Listening Room.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of Porgy and Bess, student assistants and staff from the Listening Room have created presentations of their research on the opera. The themes and presenters are:

"Bess" Over the Years: Focus on Four Women who Changed Opera

Susan Kikuchi ‘11

Introduces four of the women who have played Bess over the years: Anne Brown, Etta Moten, Leontyne Price, and Grace Bumbry. Includes some brief biographical notes, with a focus on each woman's experience performing as Bess.

The Controversial Porgy and Bess Film

Daniel Agostino ‘13

Details the controversy and deception in the Samuel Goldwyn film production of Porgy and Bess and the reaction to its 1959 release.

Controversies Using an All-Black Cast

Heather Kubicek ‘12

Relates the reasoning for the use of an all-black singing cast and the way some have responded to the opera because of that choice.

Costuming in Porgy and Bess

Maureen Kennedy ‘11

Costume design motifs in Porgy and Bess. Incorporates over 50 years of costuming, as well as various reviews of the opera and interviews with various actresses and costume designers.

Dubose Heyward: a Biography

Kanatip (Pun) Winichakul ‘13

Focuses on Edwin Dubose Heyward, the author of the original novel, Porgy, and the influences in his life that brought the story from the pages of a novel to the opera stage

George Gershwin: a Biography

Thanh Nguyen ‘13

A mini-biography from the composer’s early life as a musician through his involvement in the creation of Porgy and Bess.

Gullah: The Language of Porgy and Bess

Kelly Zucker ‘13

Gullah is spoken by African American people living in coastal U.S. regions of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and northeast Florida. Porgy and Bess takes place in South Carolina, and the spoken conversation of the opera is Gullah.

The Initial Reactions to Porgy and Bess

Kathryn Hardy ‘13

When Porgy and Bess was first performed at the Alvin Theater in 1935, there were controversial responses to the opera. Drama critics and opera critics found it impossible to define this new sort of folk-opera, while the African American community was undecided whether the opera was a positive step forward for the community.

The Porgys

Brooke Yoder ‘12

In addition to Gershwin's fantastic score, the actors who made the music come alive played an essential part in its success. The history of the men who have played Porgy from its private beginnings at Carnegie Hall to its grand opening at the Metropolitan Opera House is detailed.

75 Years of Porgy and Bess in the Listening Room

Kathleen Murphy-Geiss ‘11

Descriptions and reviews of all sound recordings (both CD and LP) of Gerswhin’s Porgy and Bess housed in the Listening Room. Brief cast list, call number, and reviews all included.

Should Porgy and Bess Be Integrated?

Randye Jones

Comments from a survey of singers, voice teachers, opera directors and others regarding questions of whether casting of singing roles for staged productions in the U.S. should be opened


Paulina Panek ‘13

“Summertime” is the most famous song from Porgy and Bess. Focuses of this project are the circumstances it was written and later recorded versions of this song. Most posters are on display in the Listening Room and on Burling’s first floor, where a selection of related books and recording covers are also on display.

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