June 23, 2009

The Most Recorded Song Ever: Summertime

summertime Summertime,
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

The song of a mother who is lulling her baby asleep, is the most recorded song ever, with a little bit more than 1000 different covers. The main aria of ‘Porgy and Bess’, an opera composed by George Gershwin, has an ironically hopeful lyric, in contrast with the melody, which has a sad tone.

This work of Gershwin, called ‘The American opera’, is an avant-garde composition, given its atmosphere (a miserable suburb of black people, of Charleston, North Carolina),  the inclusion of black singers in the cast and its jazz and blues influences.

1. Original Version

The following version is performed by the soprano Kathleen Battle, and it’s the original version created by Gershwin in 1935.

Kathleen Battle (1935)
2. Angelique Kidjo's Version

The following a capella version is sung by the Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo. It includes  nature sounds and a women's choir who made the perfect background with vocal percussion sounds. Even though Kidjo sings in Swahili, this heartbreaking tune  preserves that effect of helplessness of the original song.

Anjelique Kidjo (2003)
3. Giora Feidman's Version

Giora Feidman, an Argentinean Jewish saxophonist and clarinetist, made this instrumental version of Summertime with the Russian virtuoso violinist Maksim Vengérov. The sound of klezmer gives to this piece a touch of strength, with the typical sound of this folk music style.

Giora Feidman
4. Janis Joplin's Version

This version is maybe the most unrecognizable of all. The freestyle of Janis Joplin in this recording makes it a different song in and by itself. Only when you listen to the lyrics with attention, you are able to discover in the husky voice of Janis, the touching words that Ira Gerswhin wrote to his brother.

Janis Joplin
5. Billie Holiday's Version

Finally, the Billie Holiday's cover. This version can be considered the most jazzy of the covers in this post. The accompaniment, which includes brass and clarinets in the 50’s swing style, and the melancholic style of Holiday, are the perfect complement to this song. For me, it sounds like the real poor mother who sings in a sort of English slang a hopeful song to her baby.

Billie Holiday (1936)


  1. very nice covers... Allow me to mention Caetano Veloso's Summertime, included in his A foreign sound album.


  2. Wow, I didn't know that Caetano Veloso had sung this song too...I will search it. I wonder how this song sounds in a Bossa Nova version. Thanks for your comment.