‘Porgy and Bess’ symposium to tackle cultural appropriation


The multi-day “Porgy and Bess” symposium will explore the issues of race, representation and cultural appropriation that surround this iconic 20th century American opera.

The love story of “Porgy and Bess” — an opera created by composer George Gershwin, lyricist Ira Gershwin, author DuBose Heyward and Dorothy Heyward — takes place in an African-American community in Charleston, South Carolina.

Although an all-black cast performs the opera, Jessica Getman, editor of U-M’s George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition, said the opera has also sparked discussions about cultural appropriation in light of its white creators.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery, guests can attend several panels and student performances, including panels about the history of “Porgy and Bess”, the problems surrounding the opera and how singers approach the roles in Porgy and Bess. Kyra Gaunt will deliver a keynote about race and appropriation in “The Twist.”

Beginning at 2 p.m. Feb. 17, attendees can listen to student presentations, as well as witness a student performance showcasing the work of black composers.

A scene from a pre-Broadway tryout of a 1935 production of “Porgy and Bess.” (Photo courtesy of Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts)

The University Musical Society and School of Music, Theatre & Dance will also present the first test performance of the U-M Gershwin Initiative’s scholarly performing edition of “Porgy and Bess.” With an edition developed by Wayne Shirley, the performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at Hill Auditorium. Tickets are limited and can be found at ums.org.

Getman said it’s important to examine the complex issues that surround this work.

“You look at all of the music awards shows on the television and the issue keeps coming up, ‘When is cultural appropriation OK? When is it not? Why?'” Getman said. “It’s something that’s still part of our cultural discourse and something that we still have to contend with, and so this is a great opportunity for us to do that with an opera that everyone agrees has merit musically and aesthetically.”

For more information and to register for the Feb. 16 events, visit smtd.umich.edu/porgy. Space is limited.


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