I enjoyed Tim Page's Oct. 31 Style review of the Washington National Opera's production of "Porgy and Bess" [" 'Porgy': Heaven the Whole Night Long"], but his comment that George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward were "privileged visitors" to the world of "Catfish Row" made me angry.
I don't know much about DuBose Heyward, but George Gershwin was a close friend of my father's in New York in the 1930s. Far from "privileged," Gershwin was the son of Central European immigrants and grew up in the slums of Manhattan. The Gershwins' poverty was at least comparable to that of Charleston's African American population at the time. What's more, as a Jewish kid, Gershwin was subjected to as much discrimination.
But Gershwin's parents (who, by the way, spoke English only as a second language, and never very well) scraped together a down payment on a $20 secondhand piano and then made payments -- 50 cents a month -- on it because they wanted their sons Ira and George to have a chance to develop their obvious musical abilities. When George seemed the more gifted, he got the music lessons the 50 cents went to after the piano was paid off. The rest is history. (Ira, of course, became his lyricist -- also displaying impressive talent.)
True, Gershwin's talent made him both financially successful and widely admired as an adult. But he still lived in the skin of the Jewish kid who grew up in the slums.
Gershwin (and Heyward) were obviously "visitors" to Charleston's African American community. But "privileged"? Certainly not in Gershwin's case.