Summertime: Hot Tune

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Friday, June 18, 2010

George Gershwin’s opera "Porgy and Bess" opened in New York 75 years ago, with an overture and then its first song, "Summertime." As the first day of summer approaches, Sara Fishko considers the this edition of The Fishko Files.

George Gershwin composed "Summertime" for the 1935 opera "Porgy and Bess," and Dubose Heyward wrote the lyrics. Part of the curiosity of "Summertime" is in its simple composition. The song consists of just six notes. If you're playing "Summertime" in the key of A minor, for example, the notes are: E, C, D, B, G, A

Here are a handful of the many different performances of "Summertime."


Janis Joplin

Miles Davis

Kathleen Battle

Ella Fitzgerald

Paul Robeson

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross

Billie Holiday


Mix Engineer: Wayne Shulmister

Web materials: Laura Mayer

Produced by:

Sara Fishko

Comments [11]


I liked to know what idiot got the audio and video on Kathleen Battle so badly out of sync. It looks utterly ridiculous and makes you want to stop watching. In other words, the video is worse than nothing.

Jan. 28 2012 05:52 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from

"Fresh Air" on WNYC-FM, 3 to 4 PM today, June 29th, celebrated the Centennial of lyrics and song and musicals composer FRANK LOESSER! Without the slightest doubt, he was the most versatile lyricist to other composers, William Schuman, Hoagy Carmichael, Burton Lane, Jule Styne, Alfred Newman, Frederick Hollander, and Arthur Schwartz. And he wrote the words AND music to his own musicals: "Where's Charley", "Guys and Dolls", "The Most Happy Fella", Greenwillow, and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". His words and music songs not in musicals: "Spring will be a Little Late this Year", "On a Slow Boat to China", "Baby, it's Cold Outside" and "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition". His music scoring for the film "Hans Christian Anderson" starring Danny Kaye had "Anywhere I Wander", "Wonderful Copenhagen" "Inch Worm" and "Thumbelina". In over 60 films he contributed the lyrics to other composers songs. I rehearsed with him "Most Happy Fella" for its first revival at the New York City Center, Abba Boggin conducting. Frank told me that I was one of the few singers that he had heard that he would not have to scold to sing loud enough with a beautiful, text-clear sound to be heard, without a mike, to the back row of the theater. I had already sung two of my four main hall Carnegie Hall solo concerts. At one of the rehearsals, he put down his cigarette, and I replaced it with a #2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil with the eraser end where the filter end of the cigarette had been, without his being aware of the switch. When he put the pencil to his lips, he shouted "You're trying to kill me" with a smile on his face. I said, "Frank, the pencil won't erase you like the cigarette might". He understood. He was a chain smoker. Born in New York City on June 29, 1910, he died there on July 26, 1969 at age 59, of lung cancer. Irving Berlin lived to age 100, who knows what we would be celebrating in masterpieces had Frank lived to HIS CENTENNIAL!!! Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor Website:

Jun. 29 2010 08:46 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane. Boonton, NJ from

TODD DUNCAN, the original PORGY , sat next to me at the Metropolitan Opera National Company's shindig at the Science Museum in WASHINGTON, DC in 1966. As a member of the "Met" ONC, I was interested jn how Mr.Duncan auditioned for Gershwin. He told me that he was a classically-trained singer and that he sang opera arias for Gershwin. Gershwin told him that he would hear from him. Unlike Broadway producers telling auditionees: "Don't call us, we'll call you!," Gershwin meant what he told Mr. Duncan. A first!!!

Jun. 20 2010 07:52 PM
Michael F. Harrison from Whitehouse Station, NJ

Terriffic piece, Sara. You bring a great sensibility to your work. Your tease with Janice here was especially artful. I was asking myself, who is she going to set above. Tactfully, no one. And then just when it looked like you were going to close with Janice--and by so doing suggest maybe--in dropped Battle. Masterful. Of course, Ella...always Billie...Janice is surprisingly strong, even in this group. Just wonderful. So when are you going to do a piece on "Solitude"?
Highest Regards.

Jun. 19 2010 12:04 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Boonton, NJ from

From a performer's point of view the recordings of Leontyne Price, Kathleen Battle, Ella Fitzerald, and Paul Robeson made the most of the potential of "Summertime." Paul Robeson sang it without embellishmen. The magnificent timbre of his distinctive voice and his sincerity distinguished him as the great artist and humanitarian that he was. Congratulations to Sara Fishko, Laura Mayer and Wayne Schulmister for this wonderful documentary.
Kenneth Bennett Lane, opera composer: "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"
Website:, where one may download my singing, a Wagnerian heldentenor, at "Recorded Selections" 37 complete selections from my 4 main hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium, of Carnegie Hall solo concerts.

Jun. 19 2010 11:05 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Boonton, NJ from

Gershwin, himself, declared that "Summertime" was HIS favorite composition. One can hear why.
Verdi, rehearsing for the first performance of "Rigoletto" would not permit anyone not in the production to attend the rehearsals and admonished the performers, singers and orchestra, not to hum or sing the "La Donna e Mobile," sensing its simple catchy melody would be performed by others hearing it the first time. In those days, before producers released songs from films before their premieres to seduce audiences, the secrecy preserved the valuable commodity. Today at the Daress Theater in Boonton, the site of the comedian George Burns professional debut, I will participate as a guest for my accompanist's, Jennifer Cece Bellon's, students recotal, singing "Summertime" Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. Website:

Jun. 19 2010 08:22 AM
gene from Middle Village, Queens, NY

Totally awesome selection. Miles could do no wrong, even when he turned his back on you, which he was wont to do. The harmonies in the repeating harmonic/melodic figure in the background are excruciatingly beautiful. That same figure borrowed by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross was beautifully done, too.

Jun. 19 2010 12:57 AM
Nancy Dwyer Chapman from Bronxville, NY

I heard this piece and kept saying, "I like that one best - Miles! But.. Ella! But, Kathleen Battle! Robeson! Wow, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross!" It brought tears to my eyes because the music was so wonderful and the various interpretations were ALL so extraordinary. Each transcends time; they are evergreen and ever fresh. What a fabulous introduction to SUMMER - "Summertime," the 6 note melody by George Gershwin.

Thank you, Sara Fishko, for yet another thought-provoking, carefully researched and compellingly presented piece. The Fishko Files are a treasure.

Jun. 18 2010 09:36 AM
Dave Bibby

Great piece on "Summertime". I was smiling during my morning drive to work. It was a great way to start a Friday.

Jun. 18 2010 09:28 AM
Steve Messina

Good story on "Summertime," but I can't believe you left out Billy Stewart's remarkable version from 1966:

Jun. 18 2010 08:18 AM
dyanne from Long Island

Delightful. What a wonderful way to wake up in the morning. Smart, well researched, always interesting; the only way this could be improved is by having more.

Jun. 18 2010 08:14 AM

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