"Porgy and Bess" by George Gershwin, the Play That Became "a Black Musical"
Porgy and Bess symbolizes the end of the black musical tradition that flourished in the early part of this century. The play showed the height of white appropriation of what had previously been a black cultural form. All the creative talent backstage was white. This development had been occurring slowly, throughout the 1920's, but black artists had often worked in a variety of creative capacities.
'Porgy and Bess' became a 'black musical' in its most minimal sense, only as a definition of the color of the cast members. Neither the plot nor the music was of black origin.
Musical comedies seemed to be out of fashion in the 20's due to the dismal revivals of 'Shuffle Along' and 'Blackbirds'. Black dramas with music, and particularly spirituals, remained in fashion. 'The Green Pastures' is the best known example of this trend. As dramas about black life took on greater importance in the 1930's, they often borrowed from the musical comedy traditions of the 1920's.…
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