The music and lyrics to "Summertime" are generally credited to the masterful songwriting team of George and Ira Gershwin. Indeed the Gershwin's did play a major role in bringing "Summertime" to life.
But let's give credit where credit is due.
"Summertime" is from the Gershwin opera, Porgy and Bess. But the opera was derived from the 1924 novel by DuBose Heyward. In fact, Heyward enlisted his wife Dorothy in adapting the novel as a non-musical play called Porgy, which opened on Broadway in 1927, eight years before Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. It was a considerable success.
DuBose was a Charleston, S.C. insurance and real-estate salesman with a serious interest in literature. Heyward and his wife Dorothy spent many years in Charleston living and working with the blacks of that area and the couple has been praised for being among the first to depict the true conditions of Southern blacks at the time.
"DuBose Heyward has gone largely unrecognized as the author of the finest set of lyrics in the history of the American musical theater - namely, those of Porgy and Bess. There are two reasons for this, and they are connected. First, he was primarily a poet and novelist, and his only song lyrics were those that he wrote for Porgy. Second, some of them were written in collaboration with Ira Gershwin, a full-time lyricist, whose reputation in the musical theater was firmly established before the opera was written. But most of the lyrics in Porgy - and all of the distinguished ones - are by Heyward. I admire his theater songs for their deeply felt poetic style and their insight into character. It's a pity he didn't write any others. His work is sung, but he is unsung." —Invisible Giants Fifty Americans Who Shaped the Nation but Missed the History Books
"Summertime" is one of the most beloved and recorded songs in history. It has been recorded thousands of times and covered by the greatest singers and performers the world has ever known. To name a few: Billy Holiday, Sam Cooke, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Wynton Kelly, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Frank Sinatra, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Perry Como, Miles Davis, Jimmy Smith, Booker T & the MG's, and Joe Wiliams.
Janis Joplin's cover of "Summertime" featured on her album Pearl is the definitive version for many, especially "baby boomers."
Even such diverse acts as Sonny & Cher, the Ohio Players and Gerry & the Pacemakers released versions of the classic "Summertime." Recently, American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino (2004) performed the song twice during her run on the popular show, and subsequently received a Grammy Nomination for her recording of it on her album Free Yourself.
Summertime Lyrics (Words and Music by Dubose and Dorothy Heyward and George and Ira Gershwin)
Summertime, an' the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' an' the cotton is high
Oh, Yo daddy's rich an' yo' ma is good lookin'
So hush, little baby, don't you cry
One of these mornin's, you goin' to rise up singin'
Then you'll spread yo' wings an' you'll take the sky
But till that mornin', there's a nothin' can harm you
With daddy & mammy standin' by