Points Bibliography: Drugs Onstage, on Campus, and in National Discourse in U.S. History

Editor’s Note:  These entries are part of an ongoing drug-related dissertation bibliography being compiled by Jonathon Erlen, which was formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but is now periodically featured on the Points blog. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

“Porgy and Bess” and the American Racial Imaginary, 1925–1985

Author: Noonan, Marie Ellen

Abstract: This dissertation traces the cultural history of the opera Porgy and Bess from its origins as a novel published in 1925 to a 1985 production at the Metropolitan Opera and subsequent entry into the standard repertory of American opera companies. Porgy and Bess was created by George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and Ira Gershwin and based on Heyward’s novel and 1927 play adaptation of that novel, both titled Porgy . First Heyward’s and later Gershwin’s insistence on employing African-American performers (rather than white performers in blackface makeup) in the stage versions of Porgy and Porgy and Bess , made these productions groundbreaking opportunities for African-American actors and singers to appear in serious roles before white critics and audiences. Their presence also insured that, in its novel and play versions, debut opera production in 1935, and revivals during the 1950s and 1970s, Porgy and Bess engendered a series of contests over the meaning of African-American racial authenticity and the politics of African-American cultural representation. This dissertation places Porgy and Bess in a broader history, stretching from the Harlem Renaissance to the post-Civil Rights Movement era, of the ways that the arena of cultural production has served as a site of struggle for African Americans seeking recognition of their human dignity and rights to full citizenship. With minimal influence over the artistic and financial means of mainstream cultural production in the performing arts for much of the twentieth century, African-American performers, intellectuals, and press commentators struggled to negotiate the opportunities available to them while challenging the representations—from pernicious to simplistic to obsolete—of African-American life and culture perpetuated through popular culture and the performing arts. Drawing on production and publicity materials, correspondence, and reviews and commentary in both mainstream white and African-American newspapers and periodicals, this dissertation explores the ways that, in successive generations, Porgy and Bess was remade by rapidly shifting attitudes about race and cultural representation. Within this remaking lies not merely the history of one opera but the history of ideas about race, culture, and nation in the twentieth-century United States.

Publication year: 2002

ISBN: 9780493631967, 0493631968

Advisor: Kelley, Robin D. G.

University/institution: New York University

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