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"It Ain't Necessarily So" is a popular song with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. The song comes from the Gershwins' opera Porgy and Bess (1935) where it is sung by the character Sportin' Life, a drug dealer, who expresses his doubt about several statements in the Bible. The song's melody also functions as a theme for Sportin' Life's character.[1] This song came under direct critique from composer Hall Johnson for depicting African Americans as unfaithful.[2]


Influence of Jewish blessingsEdit

The first and most direct example of influence occurs at the start of the song; the melody and phrasing is nearly identical to the blessing incanted before reading from the Torah. The words "It ain't necessarily so" stand in place of "Bar'chu et adonai ham'vorach". This motif repeats multiple times in both, and both include a response from a congregation. While the phrasing of the melody in the blessing varies, it remains strictly in triplets in Gershwin's tune.[3] The song also seems to draw from the tonality of the Jewish prayer mode Adonai malakh (God is King) by emphasizing the minor tenth, the major third, and the minor seventh.[4]


John W. Bubbles

The role of Sportin' Life was created by John W. Bubbles. Other notable incarnations of the character include Cab Calloway on stage and Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1959 film.

Early charted versions were by Leo Reisman (1935) and by Bing Crosby (1936).[5] The song was notably sung by Bobby Darin on his 1959 album That's All.

In 1960, Aretha Franklin recorded a cover on her debut studio album, Aretha (with the Ray Bryant Combo) for Columbia records[6].

This song was also covered by a plethora of jazz musicians throughout the fifties and sixties. In 1952, Oscar Peterson covered it on his album Oscar Peterson Plays George Gershwin. He also covered it as a duet in 1976 with Joe Pass on their album Porgy and Bess. The Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Orchestra recorded it in 1956 for Fantasy Records. In 1955, Ahmad Jamal released a cover on his album Ahmad Jamal Plays. Peggy Lee released a cover of it on her album Black Coffee in 1955. Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald covered it their duet album Porgy and Bess in 1968. Lena Horne covered it in 1959 on her duet album with Harry Belafonte, Porgy and Bess. In 1959, Sammy Davis Jr. also released a studio version of the song on his album with Carmen McRae, Porgy and Bess. In 1960, Art Farmer and Benny Golson covered the song on their album Meet the Jazztet. Jazz organist Freddie Roach covered the tune in his 1963 album Good Move. On her 1963 album Black Christ of the Andes, Mary Lou Williams made a cover of the song.[7]

It was covered a number of times during the Rock era. The Honeycombs released a cover of it on their debut album, The Honeycombs in 1964. The next year, the song was a major Australian hit in 1965 for singer Normie Rowe, reaching number 5 on the Australian singles charts. Also in 1965 The Moody Blues covered the song for their album, The Magnificent Moodies. The Moody Blues' version is notable for the fact that it was their first recording with band member Ray Thomas singing the lead vocals.[7]

In 1984, the song was released as a single by UK band Bronski Beat with Jimmy Somerville on lead vocals. The song was taken from Bronski Beat's debut album, The Age of Consent and reached number 16 on the UK singles charts.[7]

Other versions include Cher in 1994, Jamie Cullum in 2002, Sting, Brian Wilson on his 2010 Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin album and Hugh Laurie on his 2011 album Let Them Talk. In 2014, Spanish jazz singer Pedro Ruy-Blas included the song on his album "El Americano". [7]

Cut verseEdit

There is a cut verse that was cut solely for the use of an encore. The lyrics were:

Way back in 5000 B.C.
Ole Adam an' Eve had to flee
Sure, dey did dat deed in
De Garden of Eden
But why chasterize you an' me?[8]

Other usesEdit

In Mad magazine's 1967 race issue, they created a parody version, which has Martin Luther King Jr. singing, "It's not necessarily Stoke! It's not necessarily Stoke! No, him you can't trust in, Just ask Bayard Rustin. Oh it's not necessarily Stoke!", in reference to Stokely Carmichael.[2]

In 1943, in Nazi occupied Denmark, the Danish underground would interrupt Nazi victory radio announcements with a recording of the song.[9]

It Ain't Necessarily So is also the title of the autobiography of the American musician Larry Adler.[10]

"It Ain't Necessarily So" is also the title of a philosophical paper on modality by Hilary Putnam.[11]

An instrumental (strings) version of "It Ain't Necessarily So" provided the music for Olympic gold medalist gymnast Natalia Lashchenova's floor routine at the 1991 Universiade.[citation needed]


  1. ^ 1929-2008., Hyland, William G. (William George) (2003). George Gershwin : a new biography. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. ISBN 978-0275981112. OCLC 51861983.
  2. ^ a b Ellen, Noonan (2014). The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1469617534. OCLC 897353385.
  3. ^ Pollack, Howard; Gottlieb, Jack (2006-10-01). "Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish: How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood". American Music. 24 (3): 364. doi:10.2307/25046037. ISSN 0734-4392. JSTOR 25046037.
  4. ^ Howard, Pollack (2007). George Gershwin: His Life and Work. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520933149. OCLC 609850115.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890–1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 530. ISBN 978-0-89820-083-6.
  6. ^ The Gershwin style : new looks at the music of George Gershwin. Schneider, Wayne Joseph. New York: Oxford University Press. 1999. ISBN 9780195358155. OCLC 252640072.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ a b c d "Discogs – Database and Marketplace for Music on Vinyl, CD, Cassette and More". Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  8. ^ Kick, Russ; Barton, Dorie; Coster, Nicolas; Summers, Nick (2008), Everything you know about God is wrong : the disinformation guide to religion., Phoenix Audio, ISBN 9781597772136, OCLC 260590088
  9. ^ Walter, Rimler (2009). George Gershwin: an intimate portrait. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252034442. OCLC 265741730.
  10. ^ Larry, Adler (1987) [1984]. It ain't necessarily so: an autobiography. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0394623221. OCLC 15053203.
  11. ^ Hilary, Putnam (1979). Philosophical Papers, Volume 1 : Mathematics, Matter and Method. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780511625268. OCLC 958554375.