DuBose Heyward’s timeless lyrics and George Gershwin’s iconic melody in “Summertime” speak wisdom to our era of uncertainty. When we hear this American classic, may we always feel the presence of the Lord, remembering that God’s greatest desire is to be with each one of us in heaven for all eternity.
“Summertime,” the classic opening ballad from George Gershwin’s masterpiece, Porgy and Bess, is one of my favorite songs from the first half of the 20th century. Made popular in part by the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald, in her iconic duet with Louis Armstrong, “Summertime” is an earthy reflection on the hot Charleston summer. Clara, a young mother, sings to her baby in an attempt to lull him to sleep in the evening twilight. And through the emotive text, Clara sings the beauty of God through her expressive choral tableau. Let’s take a short stroll through the simple yet beautiful lyrics of this evocative aria and reflect on how God reveals himself to us as we ourselves enjoy these dog days of summer.
“Summertime, an’ the livin’ is easy…” When you hear the opening chords and this wonderful line of text, what comes to mind? I can’t help but imagine sitting in a swing on the front porch of a country farmhouse with a glass of sweet iced tea, blistering heat radiating off the ground, listening to the thunder as a storm begins to pass through… that’s easy living! But through all the noise of the summer there’s a tranquility, a sereneness in which God speaks to us (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12). Especially in this particular summer, with the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing social unrest, it is more important than ever to be attentive to the murmurs of the Lord. Try to hear him as he whispers to you in the inmost recesses of your heart. “You are my child whom I love; trust in me” (Prov 3:5). In spite of our chaotic surroundings, we shouldn’t lose sight of God’s presence in our lives.
“Fish are jumpin’ an’ the cotton is high…” You might get a chance to go out fishing this summer, and if you do, look around and appreciate the vastness and diversity of the world. Do you see the beauty of the animals and the trees and the way the pond water ripples? Even nature itself speaks to the beauty of God and proclaims his glory (Ps 96:11-12)!
“Oh, yo’ daddy’s rich and yo’ ma is good-lookin’…” When Clara sings this to her baby, she foreshadows her own disappearance at the end of Act 2 (and the death of her husband, Jake) and the profound sadness which follows. Gershwin presents a very important lesson about what is truly important in life, that we are made for happiness with God in heaven, not good looks or money or any other earthy delight (ST I-II, q. 2). God alone can provide the happiness for which our hearts truly yearn (ST I-II, q. 4, a. 7) and he desires to give us this joy: Are we ready to orient our lives toward him and accept this gift?
“So hush, little baby, don’ you cry.” Hush, my child. Live in the comfort of the Lord and let him speak to you (cf. Ruth 2:13). Especially in the monotonousness of a COVID-19 summer, there are more distractions than ever right at our fingertips: binging on Netflix, shopping on Amazon, constantly reading negative news, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the list goes on and on. Instead, close your eyes and listen to the world around you and, in the words of Psalm 46, be still and know that God is with you.
When DuBose Heyward wrote the lyrics to “Summertime,” he had no idea that he was writing an American classic that would be professionally recorded more than 30,000 times in the coming decades. His timeless lyrics and Gershwin’s iconic melody speak wisdom to our era of uncertainty. When we hear this timeless wonder, may we always feel the presence of the Lord, remembering that God’s greatest desire is to be with each one of us in heaven for all eternity. Only when we realize this will the words, “hush little baby, don’t you cry” ring true through the solace of God’s tender embrace.
Republished with gracious permission from Dominicana (July 2020).
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The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay and has been brightened for clarity.