There are few artists who can hold a torch to the vocal power of a small girl from Fort Worth, Texas, AKA Janis Joplin. The impassioned singer soon became the face of the counterculture movement with her refusal to conform to any pigeonhole she was put in.
It’s part of what endeared her to the hearts and minds of countless music lovers. But aside from her unwavering attitude and her powerful lungs, Joplin was revered for bringing jazz back into the charts and into the collective consciousness.
Originally composed by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess the track is largely regarded as Gershwin’s finest work and has seen countless artists cover the track. From Billie Holiday to Sam Cooke, to Ella Fitzgerald and, of course, to Janis Joplin and her band Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Only released as part of a live album, the track remained in the band’s live set up until Joplin left the group to pursue her solo career. In truth, much of the song’s success with the band resides in Joplin’s passionate and unique vocal delivery.
It is this delivery which is encapsulated in her performance of the song which you can find below. There’s surprisingly little information about the performance despite the huge viewing numbers but what we do know is that Joplin approaches it as she did everything else in her life—with unbridled vigour.
Joplin was once quoted as saying: “If I hold back, I’m no good. I’m no good. I’d rather be good sometimes, than holding back all the time.” It’s hard to see how anything was held back in this performance.
The track may be rooted in black culture but perhaps the finest performance of Gerge Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ comes for a little white girl from Texas and her big lungs.