A Cold War secret weapon

A Cold War secret weapon

George Gershwin visited African-American churches and nightclubs in South Carolina to craft the music for “Porgy & Bess.” Years after his death, the opera and its all-star cast played an unexpected role in Cold War relations.

This episode was written in consultation with Lena Leson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

This episode of Decomposed includes the following works from these recordings:

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "It Ain't Necessarily So"
Damon Evans, vocals; Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

Spiritual: "I'm Goin' to Tell God All o' My Troubles"
Sung by Paul Robeson, accompanied by pianist Lawrence Brown
Naxos Gospel Legends 8.120638

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "Summertime"
Cynthia Haymon, soprano; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "Bess, You Is My Woman Now"
Cynthia Haymon, soprano; Gordon Hawkins, baritone; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Hiawatha Overture
RTE Concert Orchestra, Dublin conducted by Adrian Leaper
Marco Polo 8.223516

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "It Ain't Necessarily So"
Damon Evans, vocals; Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

Spiritual: "Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child"
Sung by Paul Robeson, accompanied by pianist Lawrence Brown
Naxos Gospel Legends 8.120638

Verdi: Rigoletto - "La Donna Mobile"
Sung by Yordy Ramiro accompanied by the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Naxos 8.660013-14

Puccini: Turandot - "Nessun Dorma"
Sung by Thomas Harper accompanied by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Naxos 8.571086

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "Bess, You Is My Woman Now"
Cynthia Haymon, soprano; Gordon Hawkins, baritone; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "Summertime"
Cynthia Haymon, soprano; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "Bess, You Is My Woman Now"
Cynthia Haymon, soprano; Gordon Hawkins, baritone; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "It Ain't Necessarily So"
Damon Evans, vocals; Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "I Got Plenty of Nuttin'"
Cynthia Haymon, soprano; Gordon Hawkins, baritone; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "It Ain't Necessarily So"
Damon Evans, vocals; Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

National Anthem of the USSR
Performed by the Red Army Choir
Silva 6034

Jerome Kern: Showboat - "Ol' Man River"
Performed by Paul Robeson
Naxos Musicals 8.120789

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "Gone, Gone, Gone"
Jan K. Hacke, mezzo; Kevin Beall, vocals; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - "Summertime"
Cynthia Haymon, soprano; Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton
Sono Luminus 90223
Courtesy of Naxos of America

Spiritual: "Hear de Lam's A-Cryin'"
Sung by Paul Robeson, accompanied by pianist Lawrence Brown
Naxos Gospel Legends 8.120638


Further reading:

  • The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess: Race, Culture, and America’s Most Famous Opera by Ellen Noonan

  • “Performing Catfish Row in the Soviet Union: The Everyman Opera Company and Porgy and Bess, 1955–56” by Michael Sy Uy

  • “Ambassadors of the Arts: An Analysis of the Eisenhower Administration's Incorporation of ‘Porgy and Bess’ Into its Cold War Foreign Policy” by John Harper Taylor

  • Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters between Black and Red, 1922–1963 by Kate Baldwin

  • ”1950s 'Porgy and Bess' Castmember Maya Angelou Reflects On Production's Significance”, NPR, 2010

  • ”Porgy and Bess in Russia When the Cannons Are Silent”, The New Yorker, 1956

  • Paul Robeson: A Watched Man by Jordan Goodman

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