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'Summertime': Cover to Cover

Thursday, March 01, 2012

It’s still officially winter… but we're all about “Summertime” today. As “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” continues its run on Broadway, we look at the oft-covered popular song from the opera, “Summertime.” New York Times columnist Joe Nocera joins us to talk about some of the many versions of the song that have been released since the opera was first performed in 1935. Plus, singer Kat Edmonson joins us to perform her recent take on the classic.

The Zombies perform "Summertime"on the variety show Shindig! in 1965


Kat Edmonson and Joe Nocera

Comments [15]

Tom Dale Keever from Manhattan

I am very glad that John and Joe got around to Doc Watson's version of "Summertime." Doc and Merle also did it as an instrumental. When I saw them at the Olympia in Paris in 1979 I was sitting with the family of Pierre Bensusan, who had opened for them. I translated for them what Doc said when he introduced the song at the beginning of their set - "When I hear a guitar played like that I'm not sure I should even come out here. I'm not a natural born guitar player like Pierre, but I like to pick and grin and we'll dedicate this first song to Pierre." I don't know if Doc ever recorded the instrumental version, but I'm sure everyone who heard it at the Olympia still remembers it.

Mar. 01 2012 10:28 PM

The late great Anne Brown put the "Bess" in "Porgy and Bess" - the opera's original working name was "Porgy". Anne Brown was a student at Julliard when she learned Gershwin was writing his opera. She contacted him for an audition, hoping to land a minor role. She landed Bess. She and George Gershwin became good friends. After classes she would go to his place and sing the different parts as he played the piano. Because Ms. Brown fell in love with Summertime and wanted to sing it, Gershwin wrote it into the opera for Bess to sing.
It should also be noted that George Gershwin stipulated that the opera "Porgy and Bess" should be staged only with black singers, so in the years when black American operatic singers had to go abroad to get work (a time, sadly, that has returned), they could at least count on work whenever "Porgy and Bess" was produced.

Mar. 01 2012 07:59 PM
Alex Asher from Brooklyn

The reason that this song is so malleable and applicable to so many artists is that it is a BLUES. The Blues is fundamentally American and is the thread that ties our music together. Neither Jazz, Rock, R&B, Hip Hop, American Old Time Music, Bluegrass Music, Country Music, Gospel Music nor any other American music would exist without the Blues and the influence of African music. The Blues' characteristic harmonic structures and melodic traits are classic and have functioned with great impact in American music forever.

Further, Summertime is one of the only blues songs to be utilized on the Broadway Stage and to enter the American Songbook through this route. Most likely it is the very first Blues to appear on Broadway. This combined with the fact that the lyrics are extremely potent makes it an ideal song to cross over throughout American music genres.


Alex Asher
Professional Musician and previous performer on Soundcheck

Mar. 01 2012 03:38 PM
Tejus Shah

The hip-hop version is by a band called Sublime. It's a classic in the hip-hop world. Kat Edmonson was fantastic by the way.

Mar. 01 2012 02:51 PM

David Grisman version -- with Jerry Garcia !!!!

Mar. 01 2012 02:50 PM
Lillie from New York, NY

Always loved the Sublime cover, "Doin' Time." Keep hoping Sound Check will play it ...

Mar. 01 2012 02:48 PM
Adrian from Boston

The "Hip Hop" Version is by Sublime. I love it too!

Mar. 01 2012 02:47 PM
Jenna from UWS

Fantasia Barrino's American Idol rendition was shockingly incredible. So far from what we usually hear on that show and she just sent chills out over the airwaves.

Mar. 01 2012 02:41 PM
MeGo from Downtown Manhattan

What an interesting and delightful voice Kat Edmonson has! Thank you so much for the performance!

Mar. 01 2012 02:36 PM
Linda Griggs from LES

"the cotton is high"

My grandmother had to pick cotton. She said the advantage of "high cotton" is you don't have bend over to far to pick it.

Mar. 01 2012 02:35 PM
Jack from lower east side

Thanks for playing the Janis Jopin clip. That's my summertime favorite

Mar. 01 2012 02:27 PM
Len Maniace

Sorry, forgot the link. And even though it's instrumental, it still manages to say a lot.

Mar. 01 2012 02:24 PM
Len Maniace from Jackson Heights

So many wonderful versions. An often-overlooked gem by by Booker T & the MGs - slow, gathering and ominous, almost like the approach of a summer thunderstorm.

Mar. 01 2012 02:22 PM
Sixtus from Long Island City

There's an excellent BBC documentary covering the history of Summertime available on YouTube.

Mar. 01 2012 02:18 PM
Andrew from Brooklyn, NY

For me, Nina Simone has the best rendition of Summertime. I can't listen to this song over and over again. :)

Mar. 01 2012 02:16 PM

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