Porgy and Bess


Click on the title for info on the song.

Studio Cast Recordings

Recordings listed here were done in the studio specifically to release as recordings. They do not represent cast recordings of a particular production.

Compilation (1935)
Todd Duncan, Mabel Mercer, Cy Walter
Studio Cast (1935)
Lawrence Tibbett, Helen Jepson, Alexander Smallens, Nathaniel Shilkret
Studio Cast (1938)
Anne Ziegler, Webster Booth, Carroll Gibbons
Studio Cast (1950)
Risë Stevens, Robert Merrill, Robert Shaw Chorale
Studio Cast (1950)
performers unknown
Studio Cast (1950)
Avon Long, LeVern Hutcherson, Margaret Tynes
Studio Cast (complete score) (1951)
Lawrence Winters, Camilla Williams, Inez Matthews, Avon Long, Warren Coleman
Studio Cast (1951)
performers unknown
Studio Cast (1951)
performers unknown
RCA Show Time Cast (1953)
Cab Calloway, Helen Thigpen, Leslie Scott
Studio Cast (1956)
Mel Tormé, Frances Faye, Betty Roche, George Kirby, Johnny Hartman
Studio Cast (1957)
Lawrence Winters, Isabelle Lucas, Ray Ellington, Barbara Elsy, Pauline Stevens
Studio Cast (1957)
Martha Flowers, Irving Barnes, Leesa Forster, Joe Attles, Lorenzo Fuller
Studio Cast (jazz version) (1957)
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
Studio Cast (jazz version) (1958)
Rebecca Hall, Carnegie Burruss, Barbara DeCosta, Johnnie Brown
Studio Cast (1958)
Broc Peters, Margaret Tynes, Miriam Burton, Charles Colman, William Dillard
Studio Cast (1959)
Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne
Studio Cast (1959)
Hill Bowen
Studio Cast (1959)
Bill Reeve, Norma Zimmer, Bill Lee (i), Marni Nixon, Earl Wilkie
Studio Cast (1959)
Fern Susan, Janice Lynn, Gordon Sidney, George Atwell, Paul Francine
Studio Cast (1959)
Sammy Davis, Jr., Carmen McRae
Studio Cast (1960)
Martha Flowers, Don Shirley Trio
Studio Cast (1963)
Georgia Brown, Mike Sammes Singers
Studio Cast (1965)
Inia Te Wiata, Isabelle Lucas
Studio Cast (jazz version) (1976)
Cleo Laine, Ray Charles (ii), Reverand James Cleveland Singers
Studio Cast (complete score) (1976)
Willard White, Leona Mitchell, McHenry Boatwright, Florence Quivar, Francois Clemmons
Studio Cast (1980)
Benjamin Matthews, Claudia Lindsey, Ettore Stratta
Studio Cast (1984)
Simon Estes, Roberta Alexander, Diane Curry, Berlin Radio Chorus
Studio Cast (jazz version) (8888)
Diahann Carroll, André Previn
Studio Cast (8888)
Alexandrina Milcheva-Nonova, Nikolav Smochevski, Ivan Konsoulov, Milen Paounov
Studio Cast (8888)
Avon Long, Urylee Leonardos, Valentine Pringle, Anna Motto, Billie Daniels

Demos & Pre-Production Recordings

  • No demos listed.


Original Authors

Lyrics (additional)...

Later Contributors

This list represents writers who contributed to revisions, etc. following the original production.
Book (revisions)...
Music (adaptation)...

GENRE: Folk Opera

Video & Audio

These are all of the videos that we feature on Ovrtur for this show.

See full list


Source Material

Based on the play Porgy by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward.


Bess, a woman with a disreputable history, tries to break free from her brutish lover Crown after he becomes wanted for murder. The only person willing to overlook her past and offer her shelter is the crippled Porgy. Their relationship is threatened by the disapproval of the townspeople, the presence of her old drug supplier Sportin' Life, and the threatened return of Crown.

Trivia & History


  • Catfish row is based on the real-life Cabbage Row in Charleston, SC.
  • The work was not accepted as a legitimate opera in the United States until the 1976 Houston Grand production, which established the work as Gershwin's masterpiece. It is now considered to be part of the standard operatic repertoire.
  • Ira Gershwin stipulated that only Blacks be permitted to play the lead roles in productions in the United States and, before his death refused several requests for the work to be staged with all-white casts.
  • The US Postal Service issued a commemorative 29-cent postage stamp on 7/14/1993 in recognition of the work's significance.
  • In 2001, Porgy & Bess became the official opera of South Carolina.
  • Several European productions featured all-white casts, including the 1943 Copenhagen production, Zurich in 1945 and 1950, and again in Copenhagen in 1946.

George Gershwin read the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward in 1926 and immediately saw musical possibilities. He wrote to Heyward about the idea of adapting the novel as a folk opera. Heyward was interested but scheduling prevented work beginning on the opera.

In 1927, Heyward and his wife Dorothy adapted as a play, incorporating spirituals. It was produced by the Theatre Guild and ran for 367 performances (for more information, see the IBDB entry for this play). The play generated interested in musicalizing the work, including interest from Al Jolson.

Heyward, however, focused on Gershwin's idea. And, in the fall of 1933, the two men signed a contract with the Theatre Guild to work on the project. The following summer, they went to Folly Beach, South Carolina to get a feel for the locale and the music. They worked most of the summer there with Gershwin drawing much inspiration from the James Island Gullah community, which maintained some African musical traditions. Ira Gershwin provided additional lyrics (notably for "It Ain't Necessarily So". However, Heyward wrote the libretto and the bulk of the lyrics (including "Summer Time").

From the beginning of its life, Porgy & Bess has drawn criticism from Black actors and Blacks in general. Even members of the original cast had concerns about their characters. Several productions in the 1930s were cancelled due to similar concerns.

Many have felt that the characters in the work play into racial stereotypes. The characters live in poverty, take drugs and solve their problems with violence rather than rational thought. The dialect has also been considered racist, showing Blacks as uneducated and barely able to speak English.

In the 1960s, the criticism of the work escalated during a time in American history when racism became an even greater hot-button issue.

Over time the work has gained respect both artistically and racially, having launched the careers of several opera stars.

See more

Alternate Titles

  • The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (revival title)

Related Shows

  • No related shows.

Copyright ©2017 ovrtur.com