Well, this performance is sultry and hot. Eighty years ago this week, a traveling production of George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess was playing in Chicago as part of a two-month, four-city tour following the show’s four-month opening run on Broadway (which began October 10, 1935). Porgy and Bess was a sensation, especially the moving aria “Summertime,” with its lyrics by DuBose Heyward, author of the book (Porgy) on which the opera was based. The first recording of the song dates back to a few months before the opera opened, and featured Gershwin on piano and conducting an orchestra behind a singer named Abbie Mitchell. In the fall of 1936, once the opera had established its reputation, Billie Holiday recorded the song and it made it all the way to #12 on the pop charts. Since then it has been recorded more than 25,000 times, in almost every musical setting imaginable.
Rafferty’s exquisite, rhythmic “Summertime,” which he plays on a custom guitar made by Andrei Kibin, emphasizes the song’s jazz character, while also letting its beautiful melody “sing.”