April 15 – Ferndale Library Presents: Exploring the Legacy of Porgy & Bess

April 15 – Ferndale Library Presents: Exploring the Legacy of Porgy & Bess

Ferndale, MI – Joshua James, local musician, songwriter, bandleader, and music instructor, is hosting a virtual program for the Ferndale Library on April 15; a multifaceted presentation and discussion on the celebrated (and heavily criticized) Gershwin opera, Porgy & Bess. Several facets of this opera have been debated since it debuted in the mid-1930s, including whether it is actually an “opera” or a “musical.” More than that, it has been considered a piece of art that perpetuates harmful stereotypes, especially of the Gullah people. Why, then, has it consistently been revived by a new production each succeeding decade? What is the legacy of Porgy & Bess?

George Gerswhin’s Porgy and Bess is viewed as a complicated masterpiece that has been both revered and reviled. Is it a sincere celebration of the Gullah culture and its African roots, or is there something much more slanderous in its intent? What should we take away from the narrative’s depictions of the Gullah people? What’s the historical context around Gerswhin’s composition? And what is it about Porgy and Bess that inspires continual revivals and reinterpretations each decade?

What about the songs, such as “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So”? These compositions fit inside an opera that blends gospel with folk music but has continually found new life from reinterpretations by a variety of jazz artists and singers. To this day, they remain iconic tunes that contemporary recording artists are consistently covering–so what is the essence of this opera’s influence upon 20th-century music?

And then, there are the new iterations of this story and these songs, not only on stages but also on film: Harry Belafonte was offered the lead role in a 1950s film adaptation but turned it down because he found the depiction of the Gullah people to be demeaning. So there is obviously a lot to unpack here when it comes to Porgy & Bess–both artists and audiences have seemed to have a love/hate relationship with it over the years.

James will lead us in a class that explores all of these questions, but our teacher also wants this to be a discussion! All fans of musicals, operas, jazz, and anyone who has seen any iteration of Porgy & Bess, be it on stage or film, are encouraged not only to attend but also to engage. Let’s learn, let’s talk, and let’s also listen to some music!

Thursday, April 15

6:30 pm

Via Zoom

Sign up: http://tiny.cc/operatalk

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