Billy Porter is bigger than life. Not only is he a Tony and Grammy Award-winner, he’s a true Renaissance man. He’s a stage performer and director, pop singer, film and television actor and vocal coach. Now comes his debut as a record producer and content curator.
Porter’s new studio album–his fourth–“Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers” is a paean to the legendary composer. It is available today, via Bee & El /Sony Masterworks Broadway.
“Soul” is not your typical rendition of Rodgers’ classics. Porter puts his own spin on the songs and invites some of Broadway and pop’s biggest names to perform the legendary lyricist’s standards.
In addition to Porter’s silky smooth vocals, the album features new arrangements of solos and duets from Tony and Grammy Award-winners Cynthia Erivo (“The Color Purple”), Renée Elise Goldsberry (“Hamilton”) and Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”), Tony Award-winner Patina Miller (“Pippin”), and Grammy Award-winners Pentatonix and India.Arie, You’ll also hear Tony Award nominees Brandon Victor Dixon (“Shuffle Along”), Joshua Henry (“Violet”), and Christopher Jackson (“Hamilton:), alongside YouTube sensation and “Kinky Boots” star Todrick Hall and multiple Grammy Award nominees Deborah Cox and Ledisi.
It’s well known that Rodgers went ballistic if an artist took liberties with his any of songs. He would take out full page ads in newspapers telling people not to buy the recordings. But Porter is off the hook, for Rodgers is no longer available to throw one of his legendary tantrums. Now Porter is free to introduce these classics to a whole new generation.
All told, Richard Charles Rodgers (1902-1979) composed more than 900 songs for 43 Broadway musicals. He also composed music for films and television.
Porter’s tribute album features an even dozen of Rodgers’ collaborations, five with lyricists Lorenz Hart (1895–1943) and seven with Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960). Their songs are classics of the great American songbook and have been performed all over the world by Broadway belters, saloon singers, cabaret artists, pop stars, jazz singers, crossover opera stars, drunks around piano bars and off-pitch wannabes in their daily showers.
Rodgers and Hart created 28 stage musicals and over 500 songs until Hart’s death in 1943. As a composer, Rodgers was on a par with Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. Hart’s lyrics–sometimes playful, sometimes melancholic–raised the bar for Broadway songwriting. Not only was he clever, but he also had the rare ability to write with utter simplicity and deep emotion, the wistful “My Funny Valentine,” being a good example.
After Hart’s death, Rodgers went on to collaborate with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. They created a string of Broadway hit musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, considered the “golden age” of musical theater. Most of their shows have received revivals around the world, both professional and amateur. Several were made into films.
Their many accolades include 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammy Awards. Their musical theatre partnership has been called the greatest of the 20th century. Sadly, Hammerstein died in 1960 and “Edelweiss” for “The Sound of Music” is the last song they wrote together.
Comparisons between Rodgers and Hart versus the subsequent team of Rodgers and Hammerstein are inevitable. Hammerstein’s lyrics project warmth, sincere optimism, and the occasional touch of corn. Hart’s lyrics were more sophisticated in subject matter, verbally clever, and infused with that “New York/Broadway” sensibility.
Rodgers was the first person to win what is considered the grand slam of show biz honors–an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony—now known collectively as an EGOT. And he also won a Pulitzer Prize (“South Pacific”), making him one of two people to win an EGOT and a Pulitzer. Marvin Hamlisch (“A Chorus Line”) is the other. Of course, that could change/ Lin Manuel Miranda already has three Tony Awards (“In the Heights” and “Hamilton”) a Pulitzer, an Emmy and two Grammys.
One last note: Before Rodgers and Hart had their big breakthrough with a musical review in 1925, Rodgers was ready to abandon his showbiz dream and take a job selling children’s underwear.
A breakdown of “Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers”
Rodgers and Hart: “My Romance” (musical, “Jumbo” 1935), My Funny Valentine”, “The Lady is a Tramp” (film, Babes in Arms 1937), “With a Song in My Heart” (film, Spring is Here, 1930), “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, (musical, Pal Joey, 1940);
Rodgers and Hammerstein: “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” (musical “Oklahoma,” 1943), “If I Loved You” (musical “Carousel,” 1945), “ I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “Carefully Taught” (musical “South Pacific,” 1949), “I Have Dreamed,” “This Nearly Was Mine” (musical “The King and I,” 1951) and “Edelweiss” (musical “The Sound of Music,” 1959),
The track listing and artist for “Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rodgers”:
- “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” (Pentatonix & Billy Porter)
- “My Romance” (Leslie Odom Jr.)
- “ If I Loved You” (Renée Elise Goldsberry & Christopher Jackson)
- “With a Song in My Heart” (Brandon Victor Dixon & Joshua Henry)
- “I Have Dreamed” (Patina Miller)
- “My Funny Valentine” (Cynthia Erivo)
- “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” (Todrick Hall & Billy Porter)
- “This Nearly was Mine” (Deborah Cox)
- “Bewitched” (Ledisi featuring Zaire Park)
- “Carefully Taught” (India.Arie & Billy Porter)
- “Lady is a Tramp” (Billy Porter featuring Zaire Park)
- “Edelweiss” (Billy Porter)
More About Billy Porter:
Billy Porter is a man of many talents–a Tony and Grammy Award-winner, a stage performer and director, pop singer, film and television actor and vocal coach.
In 2013, Porter won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Lola in “Kinky Boots.” He also won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical and Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
Other Broadway acting credits include “Miss Saigon,” “Five Guys Named Moe,” “Grease,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” the 20th anniversary Broadway concert of “Dreamgirls,” and “Shuffle Along,” in which he co-starred with Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
As a recording artist, Porter’s solo albums include “Untitled,” “At the Corner of Broadway and Soul,” and “Billy’s Back on Broadway.” He was featured on the album “It’s Only Life: The Songs of John Bucchino” and on Adam Guettel’s album “Myths and Hymns” for Nonesuch Records. Porter also covered “Only One Road” that was included on the Human Rights Campaign compilation album “Love Rocks.”
Porter is also a playwright. His play, “While I Yet Live,” premiered in 2015 at Primary Staged. Prior to that he wrote and performed his one-man autobiographical show, “Ghetto Superstar” (The Man That I Am) at Joe’s Pub in New York City.
He’s made a slew of guest appearances on prime time television. If you’ll forgive the cliché, the list is a mile long. He also portrayed Little Richard in the CBS miniseries, “Shake Rattle and Roll.” And he was a guest judge on “So You Think You Can Dance.” His film credits include Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling” (starring Al Pacino), “The Broken Hearts Club,” “Intern” and “Noel.”
In concert, Porter has performed the opening act for Rosie O’Donnell and Aretha Franklin, Carnegie Hall, John McDaniel and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, as well as The Buffalo Philharmonic, Peter Nero and The Philly Pops. He’s also appeared as a soloist for President Bill Clinton and various benefits throughout the United States.
“Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers” is available everywhere you buy music! You deserve some self-care today. Grab a copy of the new album and enjoy!
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