“Summertime” – Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin. Born 1943, Port Arthur, TX. Died 1970. She came off as a hard-assed, tough girl, but was actually a very vulnerable person. She was bullied in high school and college, and those incidents were, at times, notably hurtful and permanently scarring. She felt she needed to prove herself successful to her hometown that had branded her as the ugly duckling, bad-girl.
Janis grew up in the age of beatniks, jazz, R&B and blues and was heavily influenced by artists such as Bessie Smith, Odetta, Big Mama Thornton and Leadbelly. Drawing from their sound, she internalized it and went on to become one of the best white blues/rock singers to date. In 1966 she joined the group Big Brother & the Holding Company in San Francisco. Then, during the “Summer of Love” in 1967, Janis, with Big Brother & the Holding Company, gave a performance of “Ball & Chain” that rocked the crowd at the Monterey International Pop Festival. A new day had dawned in the world of rock & roll/white blues with Janis at the helm. She had some personal difficulty with her bands, and formed two more groups before an accidental heroine overdose took her life at age 27.
Today you’ll hear “Summertime”, an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess”. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based.
Though this song has been sung by countless musicians, with more than 33,000 known covers, this remains one of my favorites. You’ll find this song on “Cheap Thrills”, a must-have, killer album, (with a cover by the wildly popular artist of the times, R. Crumb) and about 8 other of Janis’ albums, an indication of the importance of this song in her repertoire.
This is definitely the quintessential summer, drifting-down-the-river, song. I grew up singing it, while lounging under a willow tree or floating on an innertube, just digging summer. Crank it up, kick back, and wallow in Janis’ lazy blues. Enjoy.