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Afro-American folklore and its presence in George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess".

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This is a detailed study of Afro-American folklore and its presence in George Gershwin' s Porgy And Bess. The study concerns itself with the historical, spiritual, analytical and sociological aspects of the opera. Negro traits are explored from their environments to their lifestyle, from their folklore to their underlying values and traditions. The first chapter is entitled 'TOWARDS A DEFINITION OF FOLK'. Before even discussing Afro-American folklore, the meaning of 'folk' or 'folklore' needs to be established. What is most important about 'folk music' is that it is learnt through oral tradition. Among its many functions are accompanying activities, narrations or dance music. There are certain musical styles which are characteristic of folk music; this comprises the text, melody, harmony, form or singing style. The most common folk instruments used are shared with the world's simplest tribal cultures. It is history that makes folk music. A community which behaves in a certain way today, makes history tomorrow, and this is 'folk'. Chapter Two entitled 'AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKLORE', discusses Black music that developed in the U.S.A. after the Africans were imported to America as slaves. They created their own music, which included work songs, field hollers, spirituals and the blues. Their music had certain characteristics where melody, harmony, singing styles, group singing, handclapping and percussive effects were concerned. The third chapter entitIed 'THE PRESENCE OF AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKLORE IN PORGY AND BESS', is an analysis of the music. The folk elements of the opera are exposed and then aligned to the Negro lifestyle discussed in the previous chapter. Chapter Four entitled 'A SOCIOLOGICAL APPROACH', discusses white 'folk' teaching Black 'folk' how to do what they do naturally. The views of the performers, the criticism of the press and the reaction of the audience are also included. The appendices comprise two interviews; one with the original 'Porgy' and the second with the original choral director of Porgy And Bess, who claims to have translated the dialect of standard English into a negro style flavour.


Thesis (M.Mus.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1993.


Folklore in musicals., African Americans--Folklore., Theses--Music., Gershwin, George, 1893-1937. Porgy and Bess.