Edwin DeBose Heyward — a name you might not be familiar with. But no doubt you’re familiar with his most famous work, Porgy, which became the inspiration for the classic opera by Gershwin, Porgy and Bess. No doubt we’ve all been moved by its famous number, “Summertime.”
DeBose Heyward was born in Charleston, South Carolina and while he started out as a career man in insurance and real-estate, it didn’t take long for him to turn his love of literature into a full-time profession. A poet and novelist, it was a natural progression to turn his bestselling novel into a Broadway play, and then from there to the classic musical, along with the help of his wife, Dorothy. The original recording of Porgy and Bess has been preserved by the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.
One of Heyward’s great strengths was the ability to observe and write Southern characters he was so familiar with, especially along his home of Rainbow Row, which he deemed “Catfish Row.” He often joined his mother, who was part of a Southern singing society which performed traditional Gullah songs and was therefore able to get to know many of the inspirations for his characters who had lived and worked on plantations. He gave a sympathetic voice to these characters through Porgy and his other works.
You can read more about Mr. Heyward in DeBose Heyward: A Charleston Gentleman and the World of Porgy and Bess.