Year
1935

Porgy and Bess, the first great American opera, premieres on Broadway

On October 10, 1935, George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess premieres on Broadway.

Porgy and Bess began its journey to the Broadway stage in 1926, when George Gershwin wrote a letter late one night to the author of a book he was reading proposing that the two of them collaborate on an operatic adaptation. The African-American poet DuBose Heyward, author of the novel Porgy, immediately agreed to Gershwin’s proposal, but commercial commitments in New York prevented Gershwin from actually beginning work on the project for another seven years. In the meantime, singer Al Jolson attempted to mount a musical version of Porgy starring himself in blackface, but that effort foundered in 1932, leaving the way open for the Gershwin-Heyward collaboration that would feature an all-African American cast of classically trained singers—revolutionary casting in 1930s America.

Over the course of more than two years beginning in the spring of 1933, DuBose Heyward and the two Gershwins—George’s brother, Ira, joined on as co-lyricist in 1934—collaborated mostly by U.S. Mail, with only occasional face-to-face meetings. In this fashion, they nevertheless managed to create some of the greatest songs in American musical-theater history, including “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.”

The critics of the day were decidedly mixed in their reception of Porgy and Bess, however. While Olin Downes of TheNew York Times found “much to commend it from the musical standpoint,” composer/critic Virgil Thomson, writing for the New York Herald-Tribune,was less kind, calling Gershwin’s incorporation of blues and jazz influences into a “serious” operatic score to be “falsely conceived and rather clumsily executed…crooked folklore and half-way opera.”

Many of the songs had been cut from show between its trial run in Boston and its Broadway debut, however—a fact that may well have hurt Porgy and Bess with critics. In fact, the full George Gershwin score of Porgy and Bess would not be performed again until a triumphant 1976 revival by the Houston Grand Opera helped establish its current place in the standard operatic repertoire.

George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward died in 1937 and 1940, respectively, not knowing that the poorly-received Porgy and Bess, which premiered on this day in 1925 and closed some four months later, would later gain recognition as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Birth of the U.S. Naval Academy

The United States Naval Academy opens in Annapolis, Maryland, with 50 midshipmen students and seven professors. Known as the Naval School until 1850, the curriculum included mathematics and navigation, gunnery and steam, chemistry, English, natural philosophy, and French. The ...read more

Battle of Tours

At the Battle of Tours near Poitiers, France, Frankish leader Charles Martel, a Christian, defeats a large army of Spanish Moors, halting the Muslim advance into Western Europe. Abd-ar-Rahman, the Muslim governor of Cordoba, was killed in the fighting, and the Moors retreated ...read more

October Crisis in Canada

During the October Crisis, the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ), a militant separatist group, kidnaps Quebec labor minister Pierre Laporte in Montreal. Five days earlier, FLQ terrorists had seized British trade commissioner James Richard Cross. In exchange for the lives of the men, ...read more

Vice President Agnew resigns

Less than a year before Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as president of the United States, Spiro Agnew becomes the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace. The same day, he pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of charges ...read more

Achille Lauro hijacking ends

The hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro reaches a dramatic climax when U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercept an Egyptian airliner attempting to fly the Palestinian hijackers to freedom and force the jet to land at a NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily. American and Italian ...read more

Eighth Battle of the Isonzo

On this day in 1916, Italian forces during World War I initiate the Eighth Battle of the Isonzo, essentially continuing a previous assault on Austrian positions near the Isonzo River and attempting to increase gains made during previous battles in the same region. The mountainous ...read more

1st Cavalry Division commences operations

In the first major operation since arriving the previous month, the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) joins with South Vietnamese Marines to strike at 2,000 North Vietnamese troops 25 miles from An Khe in the Central Highlands. The 1st Cavalry Division was a new kind of ...read more

Braves beat the Yanks to win World Series

On October 10, 1957, the Milwaukee Braves defeat the New York Yankees to win their first World Series since 1914. (They played in Boston then; the team moved to Wisconsin in 1953.) No one expected the Braves to beat the Bombers: After all, the New York team had already won the ...read more

Truman signs Mutual Security Act

On this day in 1951, President Harry S. Truman signs the Mutual Security Act, announcing to the world, and its communist powers in particular, that the U.S. was prepared to provide military aid to “free peoples.” The signing of the act came after the Soviet Union exploded their ...read more

Great Hurricane ravages West Indies

A powerful storm slams the islands of the West Indies, killing more than 20,000 people, on this day in 1780. Known as the Great Hurricane of 1780, it was the deadliest storm ever recorded. At the time of the Great Hurricane, the American Revolution was winding down and British ...read more

A former postal worker commits mass murder

Former U.S. postal worker Joseph Harris shoots two former co-workers to death at the post office in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The night before, Harris had killed his former supervisor, Carol Ott, with a three-foot samurai sword, and shot her fiance, Cornelius Kasten, in their home. ...read more

John Bankhead Magruder sent to Texas

On this day in 1862, Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder is given command of the Trans-Mississippi Department. A Maryland native, Magruder attended West Point and graduated in 1830. He distinguished himself during the Mexican War (1846-48) when he commanded a company ...read more