The University Record, January 14, 1998

PBS Porgy and Bess documentary to premiere here Jan. 25

Todd Duncan and Anne Brown starred in the original 1935 Broadway premiere of Porgy and Bess. Photo courtesy the Standifer Video Archive.

By Lee Katterman
Office of the Vice President for Research

The PBS documentary "Porgy and Bess: An American Voice" will have its public premiere in a free screening at 7 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Michigan Theater.

One of many events this month in the U-M commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr., the presentation is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Division of Research Development and Administration. It also is a special event in the "Talking Bridges" series of the Year of Humanities and Arts Arts of Citizenship program.

The $1.4 million, 90-minute documentary was co-produced by music Prof. James Standifer with the School of Music and Vanguard films. It presents scenes from many of the productions of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, as well a commentary from African American performers involved in the long history of this controversial masterpiece of musical theater. The documentary is a major achievement in cultural and social history, featuring interviews with Maya Angelou, Ann Brown, William Warfield, Willard White, Todd Duncan, Billy Taylor, Diahann Carroll, Kitty Carlisle Hart and others.

In addition to the documentary showing, the Michigan Theater presentation will include:

  • A live performance of several numbers from Porgy and Bess.
  • An exhibition of Porgy and Bess artifacts.
  • A Q&A with Standifer and African American performers who appear in the documentary.

    The project received a $906,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, second only to the NEH grant for the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War. The Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the U-M are among other key contributors.

    Free tickets for the Jan. 25 screening are available by calling 764-1185 or sending e-mail to They may be picked up at the University Musical Society Box Office, Burton Tower, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays; University Productions Box Office at the Michigan League, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; or Borders Books and Music.

    The PBS documentary will air on television at 10 p.m. Feb. 4.

    Other information of interest:

  • Feature article on the documentary in the most recent issue of NEH Humanities Magazine:
  • Standifer's role in the documentary discussed in a Michigan Today article:
  • Year of Humanities and Arts: