“Summertime” – It’s Meaning

Too many women of every race sing the most well-known song from the opera “Porgy and Bess“,  “Summertime” with no understanding that George Gershwin wrote it for a BLACK WOMAN SLAVE holding a white child telling him/her that everything is gonna be alright cause ‘your daddy’s rich and your MAMA’S GOOD LOOKIN”, while she’s breast feeding this child and cannot even FEED her own chillun’ or her chillun’ have been sold to the plantation owner 100 miles away and she may never see them again.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow and there’s absolutely nothing to be done about it. What’s your opinion? And please don’t tell me to just let it go!!! It’s an abomination and I must express my disgust.

Watch this video.

Responses:

I’ll bet most people don’t know this.  I didn’t.  I tried to research it to put on my Facebook page to enlighten people but could not find anything about why DuBose Heyward wrote the lyrics.  If you have a reference send it to me so I can disseminate it to our Conductors for them to circulate.  We are so ignorant of our history and that is done deliberately on the part of whites.  I remember reading the book, Black History, Lost, Stolen or Strayed. White folks know that without knowledge of our history, we are at a disadvantage.

HB

In response to HB:

Dianne Reeves made a seething comment about this song in her rendition of it. I heard her sing it live in Montreux, Switzerland, in the 1990s. That’s when my mind was opened to the true meaning of the song.  In this video does it sound like she’s singing a lullabye? Certainly, her reference to Oshun, the Yoraba Orisha has NOTHING to do with Gershwin’s interpretation.

We have to make certain assumptions about the song “Summertime” written by George Gershwin for the Broadway play or opera “Porgy and Bess” with lyrics by DuBose Heyward. If it’s a lullabye sung by a black woman, during slavery time, or shortly thereafter, there is NO WAY she is singing about her own husband being RICH. She must be referring to a white child’s father. And, of course, “your Ma is good lookin'” written by a white man was not referring to a black woman because the standard for good looking women was, of course, a white woman.

Heyward’s inspiration for the lyrics was the southern folk spiritual-lullaby All My Trials, of which he had Clara sing a snippet in his playPorgy.[8][9] While in his own description, Gershwin did not use any previously composed spirituals in his opera, Summertime is often considered an adaptation of the Afro-American spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, which ended the play version ofPorgy.[9][10][11] Alternatively, the song has been proposed as an amalgamation of that spiritual and the South-Russian Yiddish lullabyPipi-pipipee.[12] The Ukrainian-Canadian composer and singer Alexis Kochan has suggested that some part of Gershwin’s inspiration may have come from having heard the Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows) at a New York City performance by Oleksander Koshetz’s Ukrainian National Chorus in 1929 (or 1926). [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summertime_(song)]

Did you see this article about the opera?
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Summertime-for-George-Gershwin.html?c=y&page=2

It is my contention that other people cannot tell MY story. Likewise, this reporter, Dan Sax, said “its depiction of black life by…white men” was met with “African-American opposition” (p. 2)
_____________________________

I agree with you. I cringe when black women sing it without understanding the role. This particular version is not memorable. Maybe this is an issue you could take up from a point of view of history, and find a way to make it an area for discussion in the hopefully global atmosphere of your upcoming conference. You are an organization that deals with the history of women in the business..This is an extension of that history–and remember these other “races” singing this piece probably don’t even know that Gershwin left behind instructions that the role in the play must never be sung by anyone other than a black woman.  That may be a fragment of a fact–it could be that the entire cast has to be black–I’m not sure. In a workshop, that little detail you mention is a part of understanding what you should know in order to put the song ‘over’. I’m the wrong one to ask you to “let it go”. It’s part of the education process to discuss this with our younger sisters, and you do know two young black sisters brought “Porgy and Bess” back to Broadway just this past year, Susan Lori Parks and Dierdre Murray, playwright and musician,respectively. So the issue is timely.

BHB

To BHB:  Thanks for the words of enlightenment and encouragement. Truth is Light and it will set you FREE!

JC

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3 responses to ““Summertime” – It’s Meaning

  1. I have performed this song for years and yes I have had questions about Summertime’s meaning. The original performance from the opera is very sorrowful. I now think of all the times I performed the song joyfully. It certainly gives me food for thought.

    • This is THE most requested song, especially from white audience members. I really think they KNOW what it means and just want to be reminded of the “good ole days” when they thought they ruled. The truth is that the black woman raised their children and that is why they are in such psychological turmoil today. We need to stop biting our tongue and SPEAK TRUTH because this Summertime, the livin’ ain’t easy. Fish is too expensive and ain’t nothin’ made of cotton no more. It’s all polyester.

  2. You know, I always thought the lyrics to Summertime were describing a Black mother’s hopes and dreams for her Black child. I saw her as comforting the child with her belief that a Black man could be rich and a Black woman could be beautiful, and that the child could have wings to fly. However, given the time in which this was written and the author’s likely perspective on things, the thoughts expressed in your post and the comments are making a lot of sense. I will never be able to listen to this song again without seeing it in the light you have proposed. Let there be no doubt, however. In my opinion, it is a beautiful song and will remain, always, a classic. It becomes even more rich when we understand its true meaning and the depth of its relevance to American history.

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