American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

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

Published May 15, 2012

Ellen Noonan, American Social History Project
Interviewed by Andrea Ades Vásquez
April 16, 2012

Created by George Gershwin and Du Bose Heyward and sung by generations of black performers, the opera Porgy and Bess has been both embraced and reviled in its long life. In this 22 minute interview, historian Ellen Noonan describes how the show played a role in African-American debates about cultural representation and racial uplift, and how staging and script changes in the current Broadway revival have added depth and nuance to the show’s portrayal of its African-American characters. She also explains how her forthcoming book, The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess (University of North Carolina, fall 2012), explores the local history of black Charleston and the impact of the show’s fame on its native city.

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