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Jazz Birthdays - Cole Porter June 9

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Cole Porter 1891 - 1964

A gifted composer and lyricist, Cole Porter is synonymous with both the American songbook and the Broadway musical tradition. Cole Porter wrote the lyrics and music for his songs, and to both he brought such an individuality of style that a genre known as "the Cole Porter song" became recognized. The hallmarks of a typical Porter song were lyrics that were urbane or witty and a melody with a sinuous, brooding quality. Some of his best-known songs in this vein were "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Night and Day," "Love for Sale" and "Begin the Beguine." But an equally typical and equally recognizable Porter song would have a simple, bouncy melody and a lyric based on a long and entertaining list of similarities, opposite or contrasts. "Let's Do It" ticked off the amiable amatory habits of birds, flowers, crustacea, fish, insects, animals and various types of humans, while "You're the Top" was an exercise in the creation of superlatives that included such items as "the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire," "Garbo's salary" and "Mickey Mouse."Still a third type of Porter song was exclamatory in both lyrics and melody. "Just One of Those Things," "From This Moment On" and "It's All Right With Me" were instances.


Cole Porter was born the grandson of wealthy Indiana entrepreneur J.O. Cole and demonstrated musical talent from an early age. Porter entered Yale in 1913, joined the glee club and composed fight songs, some of which are still sung at Yale today. Porter's attempt to make it through Harvard Law School proved disappointing, and by 1916 he was in New York trying out his first Broadway show, which closed after only 15 performances. Porter would soon follow it with yet more failures.

In 1917 Cole Porter move to Paris and lived there for much of the 1920s. Though bisexual, in 1919 Porter married, and in 1923 composed his only large-scale "serious" work, the ballet Within the Quota, a piece that anticipated the symphonic jazz genre. In Paris, Porter met songwriter and producer E. Ray Goetz, brother-in-law of Irving Berlin. The first show they wrote together, Paris (1928), finally broke Porter's long losing streak and provided him with his first hit song, "(Let's Do It) Let's Fall in Love." Porter's next production, Fifty Million Frenchman (1929), was a smash and established his reputation. For this show Porter provided both lyrics and music, which would remain his working method for the rest of his career.

Throughout the 1930s Porter maintained a steady stream of Broadway successes, including The Gay Divorce (1932), Anything Goes (1934), Jubilee (1935), and Red, Hot and Blue (1936). Many of the songs for which Porter is best known were written for these productions, such as "Night and Day," "Begin the Beguine," "You're the Top," and "I Get a Kick Out of You." In 1937 Porter was injured in a riding accident, which resulted in the loss of a leg. For Porter this was a devastating setback and it resulted in his withdrawal from the active social life he had previously known. Nonetheless, Porter enjoyed his greatest Broadway successes afterward, with Du Barry Was a Lady (1939), Panama Hattie (1942), and Kiss Me, Kate (1948), which broke all standing box-office records with an unheard of 1,077 performances. Porter also wrote for motion pictures and lived for many years in Hollywood.

With the death of his wife in 1954 Porter began to slow down, and when he lost his other leg in 1958 Porter stopped writing altogether, living out his remaining years in seclusion. Cole Porter was an enormously prolific songwriter; a published collection of his lyrics contains words for more than 800 songs.

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 June 2015 19:24

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