Porgy en Bess is a cultural venue with a rich mix of styles, completely run by volunteers, which originates from a club founded in 1957 by Frank Koulen. He arrived in Terneuzen from his birthplace Surinam with the Dutch liberation army in 1944. In 1945 he marched as the horn player of the liberation military parade into Terneuzen. The club started as a lunchroom but very quickly changed into a very popular dancing club. In the sixties the place was immensely popular and Frank programmed more and more music, especially jazz. Frank was very active: he organized a fair in the main shopping street and came with another novelty, a real New Orleans Street Parade, the very first one in the Netherlands. In 1972 the fair resulted in a modest first jazz festival of one Saturday with traditional jazz.
The festival developed quickly into a three days event with famous international musicians such as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Chet Baker and many more celebrities. Apart from the festival the number of concerts increased steadily. In the meantime the role as a café became less and less important. Frank passed away in 1985 and got a complete jazz funeral with a real New Orleans style band marching in front of the coffin and playing around his grave. The club was taken over by a group of friends who raised a substantial sum of money to acquire the premises and give it a serious upgrade. The intention was to run it as cultural podium. The number of activities grew steadily with more variation, besides jazz classical music, blues, literary events and also local amateur musicians were invited to make use of the podium. The bar was now run by Maja Lemmen, who as a schoolgirl was adopted in the Koulen family and became Frank’s right hand. She was the obvious choice to become the manager of the new organisation with support of volunteer Hanna Zuiderbaan. The ever increasing number of volunteers were responsible for the complete operation of the podium, working in the bar, taking care of the sound amplification, the stage lights, the programming, publicity with website, press releases, ticket sales and box office, maintenance of the building and the technical installations, etc. etc.
2019, 62 years after the founding of theplace by Frank Koulen, Porgy en Bess is still alive and kicking. Numerous people have given their effort to make Porgy en Bess what it is now and they made it possible that lots of people, including themselves, could enjoy the performances on the podium.
In 2012 it was necessary to reorganize the operational structure. There are now two separate foundations, one for the ownership, management and maintenance of the building and the podium facilities and another one to organize the programme. Pascal Meijer, together with Maja, is now responsible for the management. There are different programming working groups for the various disciplines, jazz, classical music, roots/blues and literature, in total about 50 productions plus the so-called Local Heroes, the amateur bands and other events, also around 50.
Porgy en Bess provides a cultural program that fulfils a unique number of disciplines, not otherwise offered in the region.