See the original “Bess” in a documentary film by Nicole Franklin on sale in the lobby during the “Porgy and Bess” Broadway run

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Anne Brown—George Gershwin’s original “Bess” of “Porgy and Bess”—returns to Broadway in the film “Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown”

The late Anne Wiggins Brown, George Gershwin’s first Bess, rejected the idea of presenting “Porgy and Bess” to a segregated audience in 1936 at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., according to an interview Ms. Brown gave to documentary filmmaker Nicole Franklin.    

“Why should we give a performance at the National Theatre that was restricted to white people. This is a production … about black life. This is ridiculous!” Ms. Brown said in a 2004 interview. “I’m not singing! I’m not going on that stage and sing when my father, mother, sister and school comrades can’t come in. I’m not going on.”

Backed by her co-star Todd Duncan, Ms. Brown was successful forcing the theatre to give in to their demands. When the run ended, segregation was reinstated at the National Theatre.

Franklin’s 36-minute film, “Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown,” brings Ms. Brown back to Broadway where she reigned in the 1930s. The documentary is on sale in the lobby of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th St, New York, N.Y. during a revised version of the musical.

In the film, Ms. Brown tells how she collaborated with Gershwin in creating the role of Bess, and how she struggled with the decision to use blackface paint to put “Porgy and Bess” on European stages because of the lack of black singers in Europe at the time. The initial interviews were conducted in 2004 at Ms. Brown’s home in Oslo, Norway by Franklin and Dr. William Brown of the Center for Black Music Research. Ms. Brown died in 2009.    

The current production stars Audra McDonald as Bess and Norm Lewis as Porgy. They give outstanding performances to this adaption by writers Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre L. Murray.
Diane Paulus is the director.

Nicole Franklin is a 20-year veteran of television news and documentaries. She is an award-winning filmmaker, producer, editor, stage manager, director of television and theater and a full-time college instructor in the field of communications at Bloomfield (N.J.) College.

The documentary can be purchased also from EPIPHANY Inc. at

By Donald E. Lee

Nicole Franklin
Filmmaker, EPIPHANY Inc.


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