This project examines the racial implications of George Gershwin‟s folk opera Porgy and Bess. This study specifically addresses the question: Did Porgy and Bess have a positive or negative impact on race relations between the African-American and white communities? To answer that question, this I have examined the perceptions that various groups expressed upon viewing the opera. In my research, I have studied the responses from black and white society in the United States, as well as the intentions of Gershwin himself. I discuss these responses in terms of the opera‟s immediate reception, through primary source documents, newspaper articles, and letters. Through Gershwin‟s own writings and the observations of his acquaintances, I demonstrate that he had the interests of the African American community in mind when he wrote Porgy and Bess. Since Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935, social movements such as the Civil Rights era have significantly affected race relations in the United States. From my unique position in history, have devoted a significant portion of my paper to discussing how the shift in thinking beginning that time period affected the reception of Porgy and Bess throughout the years. To identify this change in sentiment, my research draws upon a range of books and journal articles, in addition to the opinions of performers and critics over time. The results of this study indicate that Gershwin certainly wrote the opera with a high degree of respect and appreciation for African-American culture. His new approach to the black actor demonstrated a degree of respect practically non-existent in the prevailing entertainment of his day. That being said, critics have argued that there is 2 much left to be desired in the practical aspects of the opera. After all, they note, this “folk opera” was indeed written by a white man, with little true perspective on African-American, much less, Gullah culture. The concluding section discusses general principles that can be gleaned from a study of the paradox of Porgy and Bess, as well as some responses that will specifically benefit Christians seeking racial reconciliation.
Deemer, Carolyn, "Porgy and Bess: A Racial Paradox" (2010). B.A. in Music Senior Capstone Projects. 5.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.