Baritone Todd Duncan, the original ‘Porgy’
Herb Boyd | 8/1/2019, 2:05 p.m.
The song was part of the soundtrack for the film “Unchained,” in which Duncan had a cameo appearance. Several singers recorded versions of the song, perhaps none more successfully than the one by Al Hibbler. In 1978, Duncan was the recipient of a major birthday salute by the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Among the awards he amassed was the George Peabody Medal of Music from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1984. Other awards included an honor from Haiti and one from the NAACP, the New York Drama Critics’ Award for his performance in “Lost in the Stars,” and honorary doctorates from Valparaiso and Butler University. He was also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Throughout his illustrious career, Duncan always relished opportunities to sing spirituals and spoke fondly of them in one of his final interviews. “Spirituals are so deep inside of me, it’s difficult for me to find words that are meaningful. Spirituals are a part of whatever I am. When I sing them my being sings them, not my throat…it is very difficult for me to put in words something that is at the bottom of my very being.”
And there are splendid recordings of his versions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
Duncan died of a heart ailment at his home in Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 1998, leaving to mourn his passing his wife, Gladys Jackson Duncan, and his adopted son, Charles, a successful attorney.