Thursday, October 06, 2022

'Summertime' Aria With Its Magical Blues Transformation Becomes Forever: By S.L.

A 'Porgy and Bess' movie poster: Composed in 1934, 'Summertime' was one of George Gershwin's most famous and covered songs from the opera. Blog contributor and lecturer friend S.L. fills her lungs and exhales...

Thanks S.L. for your lovely lovely feel of this opera and blues classic.


I am sure most people who heard "Summertime" for the first time would be captivated by the song. I truly was and it remains an all-time favourite of mine. 

The version I had listened to was likely Ella Fitzgerald's and Louis Armstrong's jazz version. It starts with lush symphonic sounds, then Armstrong interjects with his blaring trumpet solo and finally Ella Fitzgerald enters singing in her rich, silky, clear voice. For a young child, it was "WOW!"

'Porgy and Bess': 'Summertime': Clara [Paula Ingram] 
Sung by Harolyn Blackwell. YouTube Video by amadeusvideolog.

The song started out as the aria for the opening scene of America's iconic opera, "Porgy and Bess". Gershwin based the composition on the African-American spiritual. In the opening scene, Clara sings it as a lullaby to her baby.

The song is a study in contrast and irony. The pace of the music is slow, quiet in one part and soaring in another. It begins evocative of the season but the languid atmosphere hides the harsh reality of Clara and her baby's lives. She tries to escape it for a while by complimenting baby on his good fortune of having fine parents. She ends her lullaby in the soaring notes of her hope for a different and better future and life for him. A mother's inextinguishable love and hope. One hears melancholy, defiance, consolation and desperate hope all in the song.

Summertime - the season - is also my favourite. The days are long and the living is easy. If you own a cabin by a lake and a canoe, cast a line and the fish will be biting. Start a BBQ and conversations with friends. Summertime living, but a millions miles away from Catfish Row.


Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin 
with their rendition of 'Summertime'. 
Thanks to YouTube and Оксана Новосад
3.5 million viewers.

Begging your indulgence, Andy.

I just wonder how many people, except for classical and opera aficionados, have heard "Summertime" sung as an aria. 

I certainly listened to Ella Fitzgerald's "Summertime" and definitely know "Porgy and Bess" being an opera. But I didn't know that "Summertime" was the opening song of the opening scene. That is until I did my reading up and discovered how one aria from an opera transformed into the multitudinous covers that exist in all genres of music. 

So thanks to you, Andy, I re-listened to the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong duet version, as well as her solo performance, Leontyne Price, Renée Fleming, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Billy Stewart, Chaka Khan, Nora Jones, Herbie Mann, Simon Gale, The Zombies, Sublime, even Lana del Ray and finally, the genius composer himself, George Gershwin on piano. 

There is a rendition in every genre of music, in voice and instrumental. And the amusing thing is fans of the genre, or singer or band will stake that their idol's version is the best. ☺️

So I say to you, Andy, sincerely and gratefully, thank you for letting me re-visit "Summertime" and in so doing, led me to sample its delightful variations. 🙏🙂

An original composition by S.L.

Click on 'Comments' below this post to read them.

Mahalia Jackson: Live sings 'Summertime'
YouTube Video from gevinque.

Ricky Nelson performs 'Summertime' 
YouTube video from: jesmelric
Thanks to Prof. Steve Farram for the information.

Image: Google.


SL (AUTHOR) said...

Thank you Andrew for your encouragement, and for opening the doors to great music for me. Because you share, I got to learn lots more.

You had also put in a lot of effort too in your post. In your search for performances of "Summertime", did you come across this one by Mahalia Jackson? She had sung the song two ways -- solely "Summertime", like you posted, and secondly, also incorporating "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child". According to musicologists, Gershwin's aria bears a close resemblance in tune to this African-American spiritual.

Have a listen. I am sure you will find it delightful.


Very nicely written. Now I can sing it with the right expressions it deserves. "Summertime and the living is easy...."


SL’s article is a good example of the enduring qualities of works in classics in music. And as successive generations of musicians are carving a niche for themselves in this space, their careers would definitely bode well to take a leaf from the masters. In their search for their own voices, they add another layer of emotion and experience to the rich musical history, ringing out as loud as Armstrong’s note and as smooth and silky as Fitzgerald’s rendition of a piece so full of character and history.

Meanwhile here in our garden city, we will have to keep on creating and producing our own arias and our own musical identity. We must make room for this creative energy so that a truly Singapore tradition can eventually emerge. We have a long way to go to build the musical richness that we can be proud of, and we have a diverse culture and musical roots we can fall back on, and more than that; we have the drive and desire to do so. It is inevitable - we are SINGaporeans after all 😀


Keep up the good work.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks to all who wrote in immediately to provide views on SL's post. The author and I appreciate feedback and if anyone so wishes, he/she is welcome to write...


I can only say the Aretha Franklin and Louis Armstrong version of 'Summertime' is good.


Jimmy Yap and Eliza sang their own rendition of SUMMERTIME during the 55 Anniversary of the Silver Strings Concert at RELC in 2019...


Very interesting article from SL!

Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin are at the top of my list to listen to but in this PORGY AND BESS version Clara sings it hauntingly. Pure beauty!

You asked if I sang the song, yes, in 1978 at the Ion Bar at Apollo Hotel; I remember having to do it about 5 times a night due to the repeated requests with the band, Sonny Bala and the Moonglows!

If Cedric [drummer] is reading this I hope he can remember and vouch for it cos he had to play it about 5 times a night with the band!! Come to think of it, back then whenever we get requests, we will perform it again no matter how many times we had already done it.




Who's the singer at ION Bar? We had so many singers as we were the backing band for them!


Oh okay!
Irene Yap!
I remember now!
Yes, those were the good old days!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Another thank you note to all friends and readers for creating a conversation at our coffee house blog.

SL has certainly picked the right topic for this week's chat.
And as Summertime leaves us for cooler weather, the chill winds will not dampen our spirits to discuss music from the past...

Many many thanks.

EDDY ENG said...

I don't know who is SL but she certainly writes with much grace and sensitivity. I suggest you listen to Jimmy Yap and his partner Eliza singing the same song. This duo's vocals gave the depth and contrast in an easy and free-spirited manner.


Thanks for asking my comments Andy. I have grown up on EBB TIDE, SUMMERTIME, DEEP PURPLE, MOONLIGHT IN VERMONT and MISTY and the emotions felt by the composers have left their mark on every one who sings, plays or even hears them. Paintings with the music brush upon the souls of us mere mortals. I play many of these classics and I am transported to another time and place. True emotions with every note.

EDDY ENG said...

Both of you gave a superb rendition. Audience can feel summer in the air.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, SL, for your musings on Summertime.
Songs from Porgy and Bess have been recorded endless times, and rightly so. Did anyone record Summertime in Singapore in the 1960s? I am not sure. I have an instrumental version on a Hala Hala A Go GO EP on the Squirrel label by a band called The Blue Beats. I also have a version in Mandarin by Nancy Sit from HK. And there is a version by Australian crooner Barry Crocker recorded in Indonesia with Band Arulan. I don't have that one, unfortunately. Not from the region, but a 1960s version I like is done in rockin' style by Rick Nelson.


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Steve,


Thank you on behalf of SL. You're still continuing with your unique collection of SEAsian vinyl records. I may have to look at my collection too because the bands look familiar.

Thank you also for the Indonesian version with Band Arulan and Barry Crocker.

Yes, Rick Nelson! I forgot all about him.

If any one has spare copies, do write in.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

The RICK NELSON 'LIVE' version of SUMMERTIME has been added.
Thanks to Dr. Steve Farram from Darwin, Australia.



FL said...

It seems that many popular sentimental melodies were originally a slow ballad. Somehow, as years go by, some artistes decided to sing in up and fast tempo ! Summertime is one of them !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, it's true. Slow ballads and arias too become pop hits when the tempo is increased.
Thanks for visiting again. You've always been a true blue 60s music fan; and knowledgeable.


Bob Morris Killough
I play it a lot on my sax, but I prefer backing a good, bluesy singer with this song.

Andy Young
Bob Morris Killough, hi. Yes, a bluesy singer like Joss Stone perhaps? 🙂 Nice if you could post a video for this article. Thanks for the feedback and 'likes' on the comments.

Andy Young
Thanks guys for the approval. Comments are really welcome. SUMMERTIME is a perennial favourite, so dish it out.

Andy Young
Hi Agnes, you're the early bird. Thanks. You must know this song. 🙂

Andy Young
Appreciate the LIKES for this post. Thank you all.

Andy Young
Thanks to all the nice readers who LIKE this post and Bonnie who loves it.

Andy Young
Thank you Jose.


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