Watch the premiere of Women of Color on Broadway, Inc.'s “Summertime” music video in honor of Black History Month, sponsored by MAC Cosmetics, above.
“Summertime,” with its unforgettable soaring melody, immediately launches audiences into the world of George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The opera-musical, which premiered on October 10, 1935 at Alvin Theatre, follows the lives of the titular characters and other residents of the all-Black neighborhood of Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. Both Ira Gershwin and the author of the original 1925 novel DuBose Heyward (who also was a co-writer of the 1927 play adaptation with Dorothy Heyward) wrote Porgy and Bess' libretto, with the lyrics of “Summertime” deriving from the original text.
Quickly becoming a standout from the score, “Summertime” soon inspired covers from Black artists—the first of which to reach the charts was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1936. Popular renditions also came from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Pearl Bailey, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, and Miles Davis, just to name a few. The song would continue to see interpretations from artists of all genres, like Janis Joplin and even Sublime, an American rock and ska punk band. According to Guinness World Records, it is the most recorded song in history, with over 67,000 recordings.
To celebrate Black History Month, Women of Color on Broadway (WOCoB), is bringing their “interpretation of the classic lullaby through a fusion of opera, jazz, and spoken word.” Watch the premiere of WOCoB’s “Summertime” music video, directed by Alexia Sielo, above, which “incorporates a dance montage reflecting the interdependent mother-daughter relationship that is the backbone of African-American culture.”
WOCoB, an organization that gave Playbill readers a glimpse into their programs through a profile and Instagram takeover in 2020, focuses on uplifting women of African, Latin, Indigenous, and Asian descent who are pursuing a career in musical theatre. This “Summertime” project is to support their L.I.W.I.C education program, "an online platform developed to expand the network of women of color ages 18-24” through a digital library, interview, workshop, internships, and career center.
“This lullaby ‘Summertime’ is to celebrate the legacy of Anne Brown as the first Bess in the 1935 production,” says Victoria Velazquez, who co-founded WOCoB with her sister Alexia Sielo in 2018.
As the original Bess, Brown worked with Gershwin on the development of the character, and the composer continued to add material for the soprano. This led to the eventual inclusion of “and Bess” to the work’s original title, Porgy. According to the New York Times, Brown also urged Gershwin to write a reprise of “Summertime” for Bess to sing. While Porgy and Bess would go on to be revived seven times on Broadway (plus the recent production at the Metropolitan Opera), Brown would be the only Bess Gershwin knew, as he died in 1937.
WOCoB’s "Summertime" music video features a cast of Ayanna Fowler, Barbara Douglas, JoVonna Parks, Krystina Burton, Peyton Innocent, and Samara Joy McLendon. The Broadway Sinfonietta, an all female-identifying, majority women-of-color orchestral collective, is the music video’s orchestra. Macy Schmidt serves as the orchestrator and music director, with Katie Kresek and Frederique Gnaman on violins, Tia Allen on the viola, Susan Mandel on the cello, Elizabeth Steiner on the harp, Alex Eckhardt on bass, and Elena Bonomo on drums.