Lyric's production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess might not open until November 17, but July is the perfect time to enjoy the opera's opening aria "Summertime," which has become one of the most beloved songs in American music. Its popularity has grown far beyond the operatic world—it's been covered more than 25,000 times (according to the New York Times) by artists of all genres.
Billie Holiday released the first hit cover in 1936, one year after the opera opened. This started a trend of artists making their mark on this great song. Here are just a few of our favorites that showcase its versatility from a sampling of diverse artists.
Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans created one of the most iconic versions on his 1959 album Porgy and Bess, which featured several selections from the opera.
The Ramsey Lewis Trio also did a more up-tempo jazz version in 1961. (You can see Ramsey Lewis here at Lyric at our 60th Anniversary Concert on November 1!)
R& B singer Billy Stewart arranged the song to accommodate his distinctive scat singing style in 1966.
Beninoise singer Angélique Kidjo completely transformed the song into a choral chant backed with percussion on her 2009 best-of collection.
British invasion favorites The Zombies, best known for "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season," covered the song in 1965.
Soul singer Sam Cooke recorded a cover as the B-side to his single "You Send Me," released in 1957.
The Doors covered the song in a way that only they can. It feels like it could morph into "Break on Through" at any moment. This live version is from a 1970 concert in Boston.
"Summertime" goes surf in this cover by The Ventures (an instrumental band known for "Hawaii Five-O") from 1963.
Sting covers the song live in concert with the Dutch Orchestra of the 21st Century in this clip from 1990.
Turkish pianist Fazil Say performs a solo piano version as an encore after a performance with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony in January 2013:
And finally, this is perhaps our favorite for the sheer novelty: Clara Rockmore covers the song on theremin with her sister on piano! (A theremin is an early electronic instrument, patented in 1928, that has been used by everyone from Shostakovich to Led Zeppelin.)
(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)