Fifty years after its initial release on the small-time Forum record label, Pearl Bailey Sings Porgy & Bess and Other Gershwin Melodies was remastered and reissued by Collector's Choice Music. This wonderful album languished in obscurity for far too long, and owners of existing copies of the LP have had to be content with hearing Bailey
sing through a haze of cheap vinyl surface noise. Much of her music from this period originally appeared on cheesy budget labels, often mingled with selections by other less-talented singers. Thankfully, the album has at last been made available in a format allowing for cleaner sound and a more intimate Pearl Bailey
listening experience. By 1959, this beautiful woman, gifted actress, and powerful vocalist had achieved national fame in Otto Preminger'
s motion picture adaptation of Gershwin
's opera, appearing as Maria with Sidney Poitier
, Dorothy Dandridge
, Diahann Carroll
, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Whoever it was that produced this album made the decision to back the singer with a choir, and fortunately, the vocal ensemble was not one of those shrill, almost neurotic-sounding choruses that cropped up on recordings by people like Jimmy Dorsey
and Al Hibbler
. True to her disarmingly honest and playful approach to life and art, Bailey
worked well with the voices, achieving and maintaining a solidity and believability that other vocalists might have been unable to attain or sustain under these conditions. "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" is taken at a vigorous clip, commencing with Bailey
's "Listen! To My Tale of Woe," and building beautifully to her shouted "What the hell, I'm glad I'm alive!" For "I Got Rhythm," Bailey
chose a much more ruminative approach. This unique reading includes the full verse, allowing the listener to savor the words in their original context. Traditionally used by generations of jazz musicians as a high-speed jam tune, "I Got Rhythm" sounds here like a wistful prayer of thanksgiving, as Bailey
slowly lists the things she does have in her life. It is an extraordinarily beautiful and arresting performance. For "Lady Be Good," she is backed by a team of eager male singers, who she compares to a pack of racehorses while boasting of her own pulchritude. The cha-cha arrangement of "Love Is Here to Stay," on the other hand, reveals Bailey
at her most romantic and funny. After singing warmly and mellifluously, during the fade-out she engages in a series of verbal jabs at her pianist, who persists in using what she pretends to regard as stylistically outmoded riffs. Anyone who loves George Gershwin
and/or Pearl Bailey
should make a point of obtaining this delightful album.