Today marks the 44th anniversary of Janis Joplin's first gig with Big Brother and the Holding Company. One of rock's most staggering vocalists, Joplin became another star who left us too soon on October 4, 1970, when she overdosed on heroin while recording Pearl. George Gershwin's "Summertime" was the closing song of Joplin's final performance at Harvard University on August 12, 1970. Indeed, the song is one of the most covered of all time, with over 2,000 official recordings. Coincidentally, some of the most memorable covers of the standard have been by artists who met a similarly tragic demise. A sense of timeless and transmutability are what transform an ordinary song into a standard - a blank slate, a medium for musicians to mold and interpret for all of time. "Summertime" does not escape this generalization. And in listening to each artist's interpretation of "Summertime," we can't help but ruminate over - and almost hear - the circumstances surrounding their respective deaths and indeed the self-destructive tendencies that all too often go hand-in-hand with creative genius and stardom. Janis Joplin: This harrowing 1968 studio recording brings to mind Joplin's 1970 appearance on the Dick Cavett Show. Asked if she was popular in high school, Joplin lamented that her classmates "laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state."Sam Cooke:
A pioneer of soul, Cooke recorded this haunting rendition in 1957. He was shot to death in an altercation with a motel manager in 1964 at the age of 33. Fact: Marvin Gaye added the "e" to the end of his name as a tribute to Cooke.
The Doors performed their freewheeling version in Boston in 1970. With much question surrounding the exact cause of his death, frontman Jim Morrison was found dead in a bathtub in 1971 in Paris. He is buried in the "Poets Corner" of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, a cemetery that also houses the bodies of Frederic Chopin and Oscar Wilde.Billie Holiday:
Holiday recorded her raucous rendition in 1936. Holiday passed in 1959 at the age of 44 from liver failure. As she lay in her hospital deathbed, police arrested her for drug possession, remaining stationed in her room until she died.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
This rollicking version is a remix of "Doin' Time" off of Sublime's eponymous 1996 album. Front man Bradley Nowell died in 1996 of a heroin overdose just two months short of the band's major-label debut on MCA.