George Gershwin Completes Porgy And Bess

On September 2, 1935, George Gershwin signed his name to the completed orchestral score of the opera, Porgy and Bess.

The composer called the 700-page score his masterpiece and never ceased to marvel that he had created it. Many critics consider Porgy and Bess to be the first and finest American opera.

In February 1934, George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward began their collaboration on a libretto, songs, and music for DuBose Heyward's novel, Porgy, about the African-American Gullah culture of South Carolina. During the summer of 1934, George Gershwin spent several weeks on Folly Island off the coast of Charleston, where the Heywards owned a beach cottage. There, they observed customs of the local people and listened to their music. Gershwin joined in their "shouting" which involved rhythms created by hands and feet as accompaniment to the spirituals.

Porgy and Bess is an opera, first performed in 1935, with music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. It was based on DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy and the play of the same name as the opera which he co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward. All three works deal with African American life in the fictitious Catfish Row (based on the real-life Cabbage Row) in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s.

Originally conceived by Gershwin as an "American folk opera", Porgy and Bess premiered in New York in the fall of 1935 and featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring and visionary artistic choice at the time. Gershwin chose African American Eva Jessye as the choral director for the opera. Incorporating a wealth of blues and jazz idioms into the classical art form of opera, Gershwin considered it his finest work.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high”

— "Summertime," Porgy and Bess