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Porgy & Bess (1951)

Sony Classical
Masterworks Heritage MH2K 63322

Complete George Gershwin
Porgy & Bess (1951 Studio Recording)

Lawrence Winters
Camilla Williams
Inez Williams
Warren Coleman
Avon Long
J. Rosamond Johnson Chorus

Orchestra conducted by Lehman Engel
Produced by Goddard Lieberson

Digitally remastered from original sources

Lyrics by Du Bose Heyward and Ira Gershwin

Libretto by Du Bose Heyward (1951 Studio Recording)

Lawrence Winters - Porgy
Camilla Williams - Bess
Inez Matthews - Serena
Warren Coleman - Crown
Avon Long - Sportin’ Life
June McMechen - Clara

Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Lehman Engel

Digitally Mastered Mono Recording
Consists of previously released material.

Original Producer: Goddard Lieberson
Senior Executive Producer: Thomas Frost
Reissue Producer: Thomas Z. Shepard
Reissue Engineer: Robert Wolff

Project Director: Warren Wernick
Editors: Cynthia Elliott and Richard Haney – Jardine
Series Consultants: Dennis D. Rooney and Sedgwick Clark

This recording was mastered using 20-bit technology to maximize sound quality.

Art Direction: Allen Weinberg
Package Design: Mirko llic Corp.

© 1998 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
Originally released 1951 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.,
Sony Classical and Masterworks Heritage are trademarks of Sony Corporation

Distribution: Sony Music.

Total Time: Disc 1: 67’01, Disc 2: 62’41

Printed in Holland.
Warning: All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.


George Gershwin
(1898 – 1937)

Complete Opera in Three Acts
(Sung in English)

Porgy – Lawrence Winters
Bess – Camilla Williams
Serena – Inez Matthews
Sportin’ Life – Avon Long
Crown – Warren Coleman
Clara – June McMechen
Maria / Lily / Strawberry Woman – Helen Dowdy
Jake – Eddie Matthews
Mingo – William A. Glover
Robbins – Irving Washington
Peter – Harrison Cattenhead
Frazier – J. Rosamond Johnson
Annie – Sadie McGill
Jim – George Fisher
Undertaker – Hubert Dilworth
Nelson / Crab Man – Ray Yeats
Mr. Archdale – Robert Carroll
Detective – George Matthews
Policeman / Coroner – Peter Van Zant

Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Lehman Engel

Disc One:

Act 1, Scene 1:

1. Introduction – 1:01

2. Summertime - 2:32
(Clara, Jake, Sportin’ Life, Mingo, Serena, Robbins and Jim)

3. Seems Like These Bones - 3:42

4. What, that chile ain’t asleep yet?... (A Woman Is A Sometime Thing) -  2:17
(Jake, Mingo and Sportin’ Life)

5. Here comes de honey man - 4:41
(Peter, Lily, Maria, Jake, Mingo, Porgy, Sportin’ Life, Robbins, Jim and Serena)

6. Here comes Big Boy - 4:18
(Mingo, Jake, Jim, Crown, Robbins, Serena, Bess, Robbins, Porgy and Sportin’ Life)

7. Oh, little stars, little stars
- 2:38
(Porgy, Mingo, Jim, Crown, Robbins, Serena, Bess, Maria, Jake and Sportin’ Life)

8. Wake up an’ hit it out
- 3:32
(Bess, Crown, Sportin’ Life, Maria and Porgy)

Act 1, Scene 2:

9. Where is brudder Robbins? ... (Gone, Gone, Gone) - 2:51
(Chorus, Serena, Maria and Bess)

10. Come on, sister, come on, brother ... (Overflow) - 2:29
(Chorus, Jake, Peter, Serena, Maria and Porgy)

11. Um! a saucer-burying setup - 3:14
(Detective, Serena, Lily, Peter, Porgy, Policeman, Maria, Jake and Chorus)

12. My Man’s Gone Now
- 3:28
(Serena and Women’s Chorus)

13. How de saucer stan’ now, my sister? - 1:48
(Undertaker, Serena, Jake and Porgy)

14. Oh, the train is at the station … (Leavin’ for the Promise’ Lan’) - 1:37
(Bess and Chorus)


Act II, Scene 1:

15. Oh, I’m a-goin’ out to the Blackfish banks … (It Take a Long Pull to Get There) - 2:10 (Jake)

16. Mus’ be you mens forgot about de picnic - 0:48
(Annie, Jake and Clara)

17. I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ - 2:39
(Porgy, Women’s Chorus, Serena and Maria)

18. Mornin’, Lawyer
- 4:10
(Maria, Frazier, Porgy, Bess, Chorus and Lily)

19. Dey’s a Buckra comin’ - 2:34
(Scipio, Annie, Serena, Archdale, Clara, Mingo, Jake, Porgy and Frazier)

20. Look out, dat’s a buzzard! (The Buzzard Song)
- 3:06 (Porgy, Chorus and Archdale)

21. ‘Lo, Bess. Goin’ to the picnic? - 2:34
(Sportin’ Life, Bess, Porgy and Jake)

22. Bess, you is my woman now - 4:46
(Porgy and Bess)

23. What’s de matter wid you, sister? - 2:21
(Maria, Bess and Porgy)

Total Time for Disc One: 67’01

Disc Two:

Act II, Scene 2:

1. Ha-da-da, ha-da-da
- 1:15

2. It Ain’t Necessarily So - 2:45
(Sportin’ Life and Chorus)

3. Hey there! Holt yo’ holt - 2:44

4. Oh, what you want wid Bess? - 1:51

5. Lemme go, hear dat boat - 1:21
(Bess and Crown)

Act II, Scene 3:

6. Honey, dat’s all de breakfast I got time for - 4:06
(Jake, Nelson, Jim, Maria, Peter, Bess, Porgy and Serena)

7. Oh, Doctor Jesus - 1:30
(Serena, Porgy, Peter and Lily)

8. Oh dey’s so fresh an’ fine … - 2:14
(Strawberry Woman, Crab Man, Porgy and Maria)

9. Now de time, oh, Gawd - 3:34
(Porgy and Bess)

10. If dere warn’t no Crown, Bess … (I Loves You, Porgy)
- 2:28 (Porgy and Bess)

11. Why you been out on that wharf so long, Clara? - 1:17 (Maria and Clara)

Act II, Scene 4:

12. Oh, de Lawd shake de Heavens (Summertime)
- 4:34
(Chorus, Porgy, Clara, Serena, Sportin’ Life, Peter, Maria, Lily, Mango and Bess)

13. You is a nice parcel of Christians - 2:34
(Crown, Serena, Bess and Porgy)

14. How ‘bout dis one, Big Frien’? (A Red-Headed Woman)
- 1:11 (Crown and Chorus)

15. Jake’s boat, in de river - 1:28
(Bess, Clara, Crown and Porgy)

Act III, Scene 1:

16. Clara, Clara - 3:44 (Chorus)

17. You low-lived skunk - 1:31
(Maria and Sportin’ Life)

18. Summertime - 3:08
(Bess and Porgy)

Act III, Scene 2:

19. Wait for us at the corner, Al - 3:30
(Detective, Annie, Serena, Coroner, Porgy and Policeman)

20. Oh, Gawd! They goin’ make him look on Crown’s face! - 1:29
(Bess and Sportin’ Life)

21. There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York
- 3:36 (Sportin’ Life and Bess)

Act III, Scene 3:

22. Good mornin’, sistuh! Good mornin’, brudder!
- 1:38 (Chorus)

23. It’s Porgy comin’ home - 4:12
(Mingo, Porgy, Chorus, Lily and Maria)

24. Oh, Bess, Oh, where’s my Bess - 2:31
(Porgy, Serena and Maria)

25. Bess is gone - 1:39 (Lily, Porgy, Serena, Mingo and Maria)

26. I’m on my way … (Oh, Lawd, I’m on My Way) - 1:40 (Porgy and Chorus)

Total Time for Disc 2: 62’41


Recorded at Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York on April 5 – 13, 1951.

Originally released 1951 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.


A Memory and A Tribute

It had a striking, multi-colored graphic on the cover, and the enclosing box was thick enough to hold a bound booklet and three gleaming black vinyl LPs with their shiny dark-blue labels. It exploded into my life in 1951, and it changed my life forever. There had never been a recording like this: the first “complete” recording of this staggeringly beautiful opera with a musical language all its own, magnificently performed and dramatically enhanced – introducing us to unfamiliar and richly conceived recitatives between the well-known songs, arias and ensembles.

The invention of the long-playing record had occurred only three years earlier, and its technical parameters were exploited here far beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. This recording was the landmark that has become the archetype against which all future “dramatic” recordings must be measured.

Goddard Lieberson had defined creative record producing for all of us who followed him. When he and Lehman Engel and their extraordinary cast produced this album, they succeeded in putting us so deeply inside Porgy and Bess that the illusion was created that there is no recording and equipment! It’s just Porgy and Bess and Crown and Sportin’ Life going through their lives as we, the listeners, are placed in the middle of them, inside the piece itself. Lieberson, Engel and Co. have brought us inside Catfish Row as the story, the music and the drama surround us.

In this year of the Gershwin centenary it is deeply moving to revisit this astonishing 1951 studio cast recording and to assist in bringing it to new life in CD form. It is the best way I know to pay tribute to the authors of Porgy and Bess, our greatest American opera, and to those creative pioneers of recording who made this production possible.

Thomas Z. Shepard

A Few Notes On This Recording

It was eleven o’clock at night – the end of a long, tiring day of recording, which had begun some twelve hours earlier – when the last notes of Porgy and Bess came through the loudspeaker to complete the first recording of that opera in its entirety. But many of us, tired as we were, only left the studio at two in the morning, unable to resist the pleasure of listening to the accumulated three hours of playbacks which were the product of ten morning and afternoon recording sessions.

I thought then of the millions of people who know Porgy and Bess only as the source of such wonderful songs as “Summertime,” “Oh, I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” or “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” For them, this opera must seem a large mural on which can be seen only a few of the central figures, tantalizingly indicating the riches of the whole. For the separate songs, beautiful, or entertaining, or persuasive as they may be, are but incomplete glimpses of a breathtaking panorama, a few fragments from a musical-dramatic work of a magnitude which has not yet, in my opinion, been correctly estimated or properly esteemed.

Lehman Engle (who does such a superb job as the conductor for this performance) and I had our first intimidation of what a rich mine we had struck when we went over the score step by step, many weeks before the actual recording had begun. It was during these meetings that we made timings, cuts and, more frequently, reinstatements … (For this recording includes certain sections that have usually been left out of stage performances, most notably the “Buzzard Song.” Ira Gershwin has told me that it was his brother George who insisted on cutting out fifteen minutes from the production during the Boston try-out, saying: “You won’t have a Porgy by the time we reach New York. No one can sing that much, eight performances a week!” It was a wise opinion. Even with deletions, the role of the crippled Porgy, sung practically throughout with the singer on his knees, requires tremendous physical stamina.)

It was also at these meetings that I decided on a course for which I must take full responsibility, since, to some, it may be considered a breach of faith with the music: I decided, from the outset, that Porgy and Bess, to be completely effective on records, must include not only the sounds of the music but the sounds of the drama; such sounds as a crapgame, a fight or footsteps, etc. The theory being that throughout, the sound-effects were to substitute for those stage actions which, when seen in the theatre, add tension to the poignant story that unfolds before us. It seemed to me then, and does even more so, now that I have heard the finished records, that through this device, nothing has been lost of the music, and much gained; for in an opera (and particularly in this case where we have the advantage of hearing it in our own language) we are not solely concerned with music, but with a series of dramatic incidents to which the music has added another emotional dimension.

Speaking of language, particular attention has been paid to diction, and our cast has achieved, I believe, a triumph in clarity of speech. It was not a simple task; there are many extremely difficult vocal passages, contrapuntal sections and choral interludes, in which clear diction is nearly impossible, but more often than not, such instances are in passages in which the words are lease important to the meaning of the story. Our two leads, Larry Winters as Porgy and Camilla Williams as Bess, were recruited from the New York City Center Opera, and from the moment of their first appearance before the microphone, we were immediately gratified with our choice. Others of the singers have been in many stage productions of Porgy and Bess, some in the original 1935 company, so we were not without advisors on the traditions that have already built up in the short life of this opera. The chorus, which had been trained by J. Rosamond Johnson, was also the source of some of the smaller roles, and in this respect, it sometimes seemed wise to use singers with untrained voices to add yet another note of reality in the delineation of Catfish Row. The orchestra is a superb collection of the finest musicians that New York and its vicinity has to offer – we counted no less than seven concert – masters among the first violins! – and their cooperation and enthusiasm were an immeasurable contribution.

Sometimes, happily, times change; and with the times, ethical values. It seemed proper, when we turned to this production of Porgy and Bess, to eliminate certain words in the lyric which, in racial terms, had proven offensive, and the first person to join enthusiastically in the making of these changes was Ira Gershwin himself, who has supplied new lyrics when the seemed desirable. He has also been most helpful in discussions concerning details of production, and, of course, most helpful of all in having joined his own genius for words with the art of Du Bose Heyward, and the musical genius of his late brother, to create an American opera which must soon be acknowledged its rightful place among the great operas of the world – and it is our hope that this recording will help the push in that direction.

Goddard Lieberson
From the original LP, OSL 162, released in 1951.


This play, in three acts and nine scenes, presents the story of Porgy, a crippled black beggar, and his woman Bess. The scene is laid in Catfish Row, a former mansion of the aristocracy but now a black tenement on the waterfront of Charleston, South Carolina. The time is the recent past.

Act One

Scene One
At the rise of the curtain, there is dancing, a mother sings a lullaby to her baby, and among the men a crap game is in progress. Robbins enters the game while his wife Serena begs him not to play. Jake the fisherman takes the baby from his wife, Clara, and sings to it. Peter, the honey man, enters calling his wares. Porgy enters, driving his goat cart. He is accused of loving Bess, the woman of the great stevedore Crown, but denies it. Crown and Bess arrive and join the crap game. Crown is drunk and quarrelsome. In a fit of rage he attacks Robbins. They fight, and Crown kills Robbins with his ‘cotton hook.” While Serena, the wife of the murdered man, mourns over the body, Crown escapes. Sportin’ Life attempts to seduce Bess to go to New York with him, but she refuses and seeks sanctuary in Porgy’s room.

Scene Two
Serena’s room. The body of the murdered man lies upon the bed, and upon his breast rests a large saucer. The people sing a spiritual and urge each other to put money in the saucer for the burial. Porgy and Bess arrive and contribute. A detective arrives and tell Serena that if the body is not buried by the following day, it will be taken away and given to the medical students. The detective arrests Peter as a witness to the killing and departs. The black undertaker enters and agrees to bury the body for what little money they have. Overjoyed, they all express their relief in song.

Act Two

Scene One
It is morning. Fishermen are working at their tackle. Porgy, in his window, sings to Bess. Sportin’ Life enters to peddle “happy dust,” and Maria, the keeper of the cook shop, administers merited punishment. Frazier, a black lawyer, enters and sells Bess a divorce from Crown so that she can marry Porgy. Mr. Archdale, a white lawyer, comes to tell Porgy that Peter will be let out of jail. He then reprimands Frazier for selling fake divorces. A buzzard flies over the court, which is an ill omen. Sportin’ Life now tries to persuade Bess to take “happy dust,” but Porgy grabs him, almost breaking his arm, and drives him away. Porgy and Bess sing of their love for each other. This is the day of the lodge picnic, and now the band enters to lead the procession. Everyone swarms off to the picnic, Maria urges Bess to go, and after a moment’s hesitation she accepts. Porgy is left alone but happy in Catfish Row.

Scene Two
The picnic party is now upon Kittiwah Island, indulging in secular dancing against the church’s orders. Sportin’ Life sings and dances, and is interrupted by the entrance of Serena, who calls them all sinners and sends them to the boat. Left along, Bess now hears Crown’s voice. He comes from the wood, breaks down her resistance and forces her to stay on the island with him.

Scene Three
They have returned to Catfish Row, and it is a few days later. Jake tells Clara goodbye, and the fishermen leave. Bess’s voice can be heard from Porgy’s room, and she is evidently delirious. Serena leads a prayer for Bess’s recovery. Several street vendors enter crying their wares. Bess, responding to the prayer, recovers and joins Porgy on the door step. She confesses that she has promised to join Crown when he comes out of hiding, but finally breaks down, confesses her love for Porgy and asks him to protect her from Crown. He assures her that he will and that she is safe with him. There is the ominous sound of the hurricane bell. Clara, thinking of Jake who is at sea, stands listening, then screams and falls in a faint. With a great noise, the storm falls upon Catfish Row.

Scene Four
The people gather in Serena’s room. They are singing and praying, while outside the storm rages. Porgy and Bess sit together. They feel sure that Crown could not have survived the storm on the island. Clara is watching at the window for some sign of the fishermen. The door bursts open and Crown enters. He taunts them with their fear and jibes at Porgy. They all begin singing in order to drown out his blasphemy. The storm rises to a terrific pitch, and Jake’s boat, now a wreck, is seen from the window. Clara gives her baby to Bess to keep for her and rushes into the storm to find her husband. Crown, taunting the men for their cowardice, rushes out to help her. As he goes, he shouts at Bess that he will come back to get her.

Act Three

Scene One
It is night at Catfish Row. In one of the rooms the women are singing a mournful spiritual for their dead in the storm. Maria is at her table, and Sportin’ Life slips in and goes to her. He intimates that Crown is still alive. From Porgy’s room comes the sound of Bess’s voice singing to the baby.  The court is now quiet and deserted. Crown appears in the great gateway and sneaks toward Porgy’s room. Porgy catches him as he is about to enter and with his powerful hands strangles him to death.

Scene Two
The following morning the detective, the coroner and the police enter. In a determined effort to discover Crown’s murderer, they interrogate the residents of Catfish Row. The coroner demands that Porgy accompany him to identify Crown’s body at the inquest. Filled with superstitious terror at the thought of looking on his victim’s face, Porgy refuses and is dragged away. Bess, weeping and distressed, is approached by Sportin’ Life, who tries again to persuade her to go away with him. He offers her “happy dust,” which she spurns. Sportin’ Life then leaves the little package of dope on the step to tempt her. After he is gone, she can no longer resist; she opens the door, picks up the package and carries it into her room.

Scene Three
It is now a week later, and Porgy is returning from jail. He had refused to look on Crown and was locked up for contempt of court. He is in high spirits and has brought presents for all of his friends. They stand around him, sad and embarrassed, but he does not notice, so engrossed is he with the presents that he has brought for Bess and the baby. Then he calls Bess and she does not answer. Serena is holding a baby, which he now recognizes as the one that had been given to Bess by Clara. He pleads with them, and they tell him that Bess, thinking him locked up forever, and having been seduced by Sportin’ Life, has gone off to New York. He asks how far it is to the great city, and when he is told that it is a thousand miles away, he calls for his goat and cart. His friends try to dissuade him, but he tells them that wherever she is he will find her. Then he drives out of Catfish Row on his search.

From the original LP

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