Walter Rimler, Gershwin biographer, writes about “Summertime”
Posted February 19, 2010on:
Walter Rimler, a biographer of George Gershwin, wrote a comment to the post “The Songs We Sang, 2/16/2010″ that the lyrics to the song “Summertime,” from the opera “Porgy and Bess” were written ”…by DuBose Heyward and no one else. These days the publishers add the names of Ira Gershwin and Dorothy Heyward in order to keep the song in copyright. Ira Gershwin outlived DuBose Heyward by 43 years.”
You can find information about Mr. Rimler’s recent book about George Gershwin “George Gershwin: An Intimate Portrait” at this link:
His books are also available at online booksellers including Amazon, Borders and Barnes&Noble.
NPR’s “Afternoon Magazine” program on station WILL interviewed Walter Rimler on September 17, 2009. The interview can be heard by visiting: http://will.uiuc.edu/media/aftmag090917.mp3
Mr. Walter Rimler graciously wrote the following post so that we could enjoy knowing a little more about this beautiful lullaby:
DuBose Heyward was the sole author of the “Summertime” lyric. Lately, the Gershwin publishers have added the names of Ira Gershwin and Dorothy Heyward to its sheet music. But if you look at the original sheet music, it had only DuBose Heyward’s name.
Here is the background.
DuBose Heyward wrote a successful novel entitled Porgy in 1925. George Gershwin read it, loved it, and talked to Heyward about making an opera of it. But that project was shelved, in part because Gershwin decided he was not ready yet to tackle so ambitious a project but also because Dorothy Heyward, DuBose’s wife, a playwright, had been secretly turning the book into a straight dramatic play. She wanted it to be a surprise for her husband. That play, also entitled Porgy, was produced on Broadway and had a very successful run.
In 1933, George Gershwin finally decided he wanted to write the opera, and he and Dubose Heyward got to work. At that point, Ira Gershwin was not involved, although he later joined in and wrote some of the opera’s best lyrics, including “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” But he had nothing to do with “Summertime.” And Dorothy had nothing to do with the opera, now called Porgy and Bess.
Recently, the names of Ira Gershwin and Dorothy Heyward have been added to the sheet music of “Summertime.” This is because the publishers and the Gershwin family want to extend the copyright of the song. George Gershwin died in 1937 (age 38). DuBose Heyward died in 1940 (age 55). Dorothy Heyward died in 1961 (age 71). Ira Gershwin died in 1983 (age 86). Copyrights are good for a certain number of years after the death of the last co-author of the work. If Ira Gershwin is listed as a co-author, the royalties will keep coming in for many more years.
By the way, “Summertime” is the first song lyric that DuBose Heyward ever wrote. His name is not well known these days. For the above-mentioned reasons, it is being replaced wherever possible by Ira Gershwin’s name. Ira Gershwin would never have approved of this. He was a modest man and never claimed credit for anything he hadn’t done. So let’s not forget DuBose Heyward who became, in writing the libretto and so many of the songs in Porgy and Bess, in Stephen Sondheim’s words, “the author of the finest set of lyrics in the history of the American musical theater.”