The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess: Race, Culture, and America's Most Famous Opera

The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess: Race, Culture, and America's Most Famous Opera

by Ellen Noonan

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Created by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward and sung by generations of black performers, Porgy and Bess has been both embraced and reviled since its debut in 1935. In this comprehensive account, Ellen Noonan examines the opera's long history of invention and reinvention as a barometer of twentieth-century American expectations about race, culture, and the struggle for equality. In its surprising endurance lies a myriad of local, national, and international stories.
For black performers and commentators, Porgy and Bess was a nexus for debates about cultural representation and racial uplift. White producers, critics, and even audiences spun revealing racial narratives around the show, initially in an attempt to demonstrate its authenticity and later to keep it from becoming discredited or irrelevant. Expertly weaving together the wide-ranging debates over the original novel, Porgy, and its adaptations on stage and film with a history of its intimate ties to Charleston, The Strange Career of "Porgy and Bess" uncovers the complexities behind one of our nation's most long-lived cultural touchstones.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807837337
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 12/10/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 440
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Ellen Noonan is a historian, educator, and media producer at the American Social History Project, the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 A Romance of Negro Life: Porgy, 1925 13

Interlude. Charleston, 1680-1900 53

Chapter 2 A Chocolate-Covered Lithograph Strip: Porgy, 1927 73

Interlude. Charleston, 1920-1940 125

Chapter 3 Gershwin's Idea of What a Negro Opera Should Be: Porgy and Bess, 1935 143

Chapter 4 Neither the Measure of America nor That of the Negro: Porgy and Bess, 1952-1956 185

Interlude. Charleston, 1940-1969 235

Chapter 5 Forget Any Version You May Have Seen Before: Porgy and Bess, 1959-2012 259

Epilogue. Charleston, 1970-2005 305

Notes 313

Bibliography 399

Index 413

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From the Publisher

Ellen Noonan digs deep into the production and reception history of what has been called 'the most contradictory cultural symbol ever created in the Western world.' In this richly detailed book, Porgy and Bess becomes a prism refracting myriad triumphs and tragedies, collusions and fissures, in the American history of race, region, and culture. It is about white fantasy and black jobs, the slippery intersection of cultural and political representation, the problems of canonization, and, ultimately, the distorted feedback loop between the imaginary Catfish Row and the realities of everyday life for African Americans in Charleston. I was on the edge of my seat until the curtain call.--Karl Hagstrom Miller, University of Texas

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