‘Porgy and Bess’: The Hendersonville connection

“In Hendersonville, North Carolina, [George Gershwin] visited with DuBose and Dorothy Heyward — authors respectively of the book and the play ‘Porgy’ on which the opera is based  — for another round of Southern acculturation.  Gershwin… had already spent the better part of the summer of 1934 steeping himself in the music and life of the venerable Gullah community on the Sea Islands off the coast of Charleston  — the exact setting of the Heywards’ ‘Porgy.’ [DuBose] Heyward described the Hendersonville encounter:

” ‘We were about to enter a dilapidated cabin that had been taken as a meeting house by…  Negro Holy Rollers, [when] George caught my arm and held me. The sound that had arrested him was one to which….through long familiarity I attached no special importance. But now… I began to catch its extraordinary quality. It consisted of perhaps a dozen voices raised in loud rhythmic prayer. … While each had started a different tune, upon a different theme, [the whole] produced an effect almost terrifying in its primitive intensity. Inspired…. George wrote six simultaneous prayers [for ‘Porgy and Bess’] producing a terrifying invocation to God in the face of the hurricane.’ ”

— From “Dvorak to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America’s Music and its African American Roots” by Maurice Peress (2004)

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