I Loves You, Porgy…

This line, the title of a song taken from the third scene of the second act in the opera Porgy and Bess, is Bess’ plaintive cry to her beloved Porgy to deliver her from the hands of her possessive lover Crown. DuBose Heyward wrote Porgy and Bess and the novel Porgy, on which the opera is based. George Gershwin scored the music and Heyward and Ira Gershwin wrote the lyrics. Fictitious 1920′s Catfish Row in Charleston, SC, is the setting. Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935 in New York City. And, unlike any other opera at that time, Porgy and Bess showcased an entire cast of classically trained African American singers.

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Porgy and Bess recently ran at The Atlanta Opera (February 26 – March 6, 2011). Tim Stylez (above), a principal dancer and a member of the chorus came into the Atlanta StoryBooth the day of opening night to have a conversation with his good friend, Martin Williams (below right). Tim wanted to come in to talk about his journey from corporate America back to his passions – singing and dancing. What made the story so remarkable is that Tim is not a “trained” dancer or singer. During the conversation, he recalled the many encouraging comments from family members and friends.

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During his StoryCorps conversation, Tim recalled first seeing a video tape of Porgy and Bess at age seven. Later, he saw it on PBS’s American Masters series. Then, in the tenth grade, his chorus teacher selected songs from Porgy and Bess for his class to interpret. He wouldn’t see the opera on stage until 2005, when he was in his early twenties. “It was as if I were destined to be a part of Porgy and Bess. Besides, I know these people,” he said to himself. “I grew up around them. I can do this.” Ironically, a high school basketball coach encouraged Tim to pursue his passions. An athlete, Tim often sang on his way to participate in a sport or on his way back to the locker room. His coach would hear him and urged him to continue practicing. Later, he chose to attend Wilberforce College in Ohio because famed opera diva Leontyne Price had studied there. Price, one of his idols, had also played Bess in a 1952 revival of the opera.

Years after college, Stylez found himself in a lucrative mortgage career. Eventually, he made the hard decision to give up the “high life” in order to follow his passions–as so many had encouraged him to do years earlier. When he made that decision, and eventually found himself sleeping on a friend’s sofa, he began to question and doubt himself. His faith in God, however, saw him through and on the day I met Tim at the Atlanta StoryCorps Booth, he was just hours away from appearing before thousands of individuals who would come to see the opera, Porgy and Bess, that he had loved since he was seven years old.


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2 Responses to “I Loves You, Porgy…”

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  • Back in 1971, I studied voice with Todd Duncan–a pre-eminent voice teacher and the original Porgy. He was already 70 by then but still sang gorgeously. On top of his grand piano were autographed photos of Gershwin and Kurt Weill and other luminaries from an earlier time. I wish Duncan were still here. There are so many questions I never had the nerve to ask him back then! Story idea: Gather his students and proteges and get the scoop on the man who defined the role of Porgy, fresh from the composer’s pen.

    Comment from Margaret Willig Crane on April 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • It seems like he’s destined to become part of that opera. It must have been hard to abandon “high life” to pursue his dream, but I’m sure he made the right choice.

    Comment from Young on March 20, 2011 at 6:41 pm - Reply to this Comment

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