Folly Fishing Pier

Folly Beach, South Carolina | C.1995

Photo Credit: Joshua David Gregory

Known by locals as the “edge of America,” the barrier island of Folly Beach offers access to the ocean just fifteen minutes from downtown Charleston. The pier juts 1,045 feet into the Atlantic, offering views of loggerhead turtles making their nests and dolphins playing in the surf, while bald eagles soar above the fishermen that line the pier. These waters were once home to the infamous pirate Blackbeard, and the island itself served as a supply depot and staging ground for the Union army during the Civil War.

Folly also played a role in the creation of an American classic, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The successful young Broadway composer yearned to prove his mettle by writing an opera. He hadn’t settled on a worthy subject until he picked up DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel, Porgy, set in the tenements of Charleston. Gershwin, himself not an avid reader, was blown away by the narrative.

Heyward, a native of Charleston, agreed to the adaptation—on the condition that Gershwin spend time there to attune his ear to the Gullah and their music. That’s how city slicker George Gershwin came to spend the early summer of 1934 on Folly Beach, in a rented cottage with a grand piano, working on what would become his great—and controversial— musical. He actively mingled with residents, and the time spent not only writing but swimming and taking leisurely walks along the beach allowed him to hone the music for his iconic tune from Porgy and Bess, “Summertime.” Heyward, who felt that the season on Folly offered “livin’ that’s easy,” even gave Gershwin his first line.

Gershwin was especially inspired by the rhythmic “ring shout” dances he observed, and the music he heard in Gullah churches on nearby James Island. As his biographer Walter Rimler explained, “Here, in southern black churches, he had arrived at the heart of American music.”

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