The 85th anniversary of the famous composer’s visit to Charleston to write the score of Porgy & Bess
(Left) Porgy & Bess’s world premiere; (Right) George Gershwin
Eighty-five years ago, George Gershwin, the ultimate urbanite, “went native”—shirtless, shaveless, and shoeless—on Folly, immersing himself in the lore and rhythms of the place to create the score for Porgy and Bess, an American operatic masterpiece. In 1926, Gershwin had stumbled on Dubose Heyward’s story, Porgy, of a goat cart beggar who finds love and loss. After considering an opera based on the medieval Jewish legend of the malicious spirit dybbuk or a “melting pot” story based in New York City, he knew instantly Porgy was it. In June 1934, Gershwin arrived for a six-week stay.
Folly then was a remote, one telephone, shack-lined shore where electricity and ice were considered luxuries. On a rented piano, Gershwin plucked notes as if divining them from the atmosphere, following up the tune he had created for Heyward’s lyric, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” The end result has been heard by millions. The Gershwin-Heyward opera reprises that momentous season at Folly and will be revived this September, with a production at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Photographs Courtesy of (Gerswhin) Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts & (Porgy & Bess) The Library of Congress