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Summertime By George Gershwin: The Greatest Cover Song Ever

Updated on January 19, 2013

Is Summertime the Most Covered Song Ever?

Everbody who's anybody in the music world has covered George Gershwin's Summertime at one point or another. From mournful, operatic versions true to the original aria to Janis Joplin's throaty shout-blues to Billy Stewart's exuberant scat, Gershwin's masterpiece from Porgy and Bess has really made the rounds.

This page explores some of the literally hundreds of versions of this song recorded and floating around out there. I've seen the total covers of Summertime officially released listed as high as nearly 3,000, so I'll have plenty to choose from. I'll also reveal my nominee for the single best cover of Summertime ever recorded. If I've missed your favorite version of the song, please let me know and I'll include it.

The Single Best Cover of Summertime, Ever - Seriously, Billy Stewart Owns This Song

Billy Stewart lived a short, hard life but what he did manage to record amazed listeners and inspired many people. This re-imagining of Summertime will leave you smiling and looking for more.

Summertime (Edit)
Summertime (Edit)

I cannot emphasize enough how much fun this song is and how much better it fits the lyrics than most of the more "authentic" cover versions out there. I've linked to the video, below, so that you can give it a listen. If this is your first introduction to Billy Stewart, lucky you. You've got a sadly short career's worth of treats to explore. Summertime is an excellent place to start.

 

Billy Stewart's Fantastic Cover of Summertime - Gershwin Never Saw Billy Coming!

The quality on this version of Summertime isn't great, but the video is worth the slightly-muffled Billy Stewart in a giant hat. And his take on the the song helps explain why Summertime is the greatest cover song ever, both because it's so flexible and because so many amazing vocalists have recorded their own versions.

Music Videos for Summertime By George Gershwin

Sharon Jones and Charles Walker start off this star-studded list with a dose of soul. Don't miss Jill Scott and George Benson, who give another fantastic performance with a jazzy scat break in the middle. I've also included an American Idol rendition, to show that people are still covering this song for the masses, and The Zombies who had a hit with the song in 1965. Rene Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawwa, and Leontyne Price give operatic performances more in keeping with the original song. Of course I've included the great Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, as well. A list of great cover versions of Summertime would be incomplete without them. And Miles Davis is here, too, with his instrumental version of the Greatest Cover Song Ever, as is David Garrett and a version on the Bulgarian Gaida.

The Best-Known Version of Summertime - Janis Joplin's Soulful Rendition of the Standard

Summertime
Summertime

Is it the irony of Janis Joplin singing a song about being safe and happy someday or is it the obvious feeling with which she sings it that makes this such a powerful cover of Summertime? You be the judge.

 

Janis Joplin's Mournful Version of Summertime

Tell Me What You Think about Gershwin's Summertime

Does Summertime Move You or Leave You Cold?

Some of the Many Versions of Summertime

Sure, Gershwin's original composition was soaring and operatic, but that's not the only way to sing Summertime. Here are more covers of the song, from the famous to the obscure. Who am I missing? Which is your favorite?

Summertime
Summertime

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - I told you this was the greatest cover song ever!

 
Summertime
Summertime

Little Charlotte Church stretches her pipes on an opera-worthy take.

 
Summertime
Summertime

Le Trio Gershwin, no less

 
Summertime
Summertime

Sarah Vaughan offers her smooth version.

 
Summertime
Summertime

Scarlett Johansson drawls out a string-heavy, nearly-spoken-word cover.

 
Summertime
Summertime

René Franc & Bootleggers offer a sax-heavy jazz version.

 

Sheet Music for Summertime - And Other Gershwin Favorites

What song would you nominate for the most covered song of all time? Please share!

Do You Agree? Let Me Know.

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    • opatoday profile image

      opatoday 4 years ago

      This is just Amazing Thank You

    • Baddew Fibes profile image

      Baddew Fibes 4 years ago

      Yesterday by The Beatles has been covered loads of times. I heard it was the most covered song ever, but Summertime's right up there too. I play it a few times a week on the piano. Thanks for the great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      One of my favorites for sure - and I will never forget Fantasia singing this one on American Idol. The world seemed to stand still while she sang that night!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      My housemate's parents are musicians (guitarist and opera singer), and delivered the loveliest rendition of Summertime at our last BBQ. Personally, I "cover" this song at least once a week... but only in the shower, lest my off-key warbling ruin the tune permanently for some poor, unwary listener ;)

    • BruceJackson1 profile image

      BruceJackson1 5 years ago

      Ultimately, as a lover of the play/ opera, it surely says a lot about Gershwin and his work. Joplin, Lady Day, and Billy Stewart give it their all.

    • profile image

      LighttheSpark 6 years ago

      this is great - would love to see some upbeat versions to contrast with the slower ones - I loved Leona Lewis' version on X factor and there's a great one on Youtube with Wyclef and Charlotte Church..... keep on opening our eyes....

    • AHERMITT LM profile image

      AHERMITT LM 6 years ago

      I had not idea it was so widely covered, I only knew about about 3 versions

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I love Mahalia Jackson's version of Summertime as well!

    • profile image

      Sojourn 8 years ago

      Wow - I'd forgotten that Fantasia did this song in the AI competition. She makes you want to listen all over again. Nice job!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      It's a great song and a good lens.5*

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 8 years ago

      Great lens, thanks for reminding me of this song! *****