Billy Porter Jr. and Scott Goldman
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Billy Porter Jr. | "Required Listening" Podcast
For three decades, Billy Porter Jr. has been blazing his own trail as a true quadruple-threat artist. A singer, actor, songwriter, and playwright, Porter has found success on his own terms. Since bursting on the scene in the first revival of "Grease," Porter has made various Broadway and film appearances and delivered a Tony Award and GRAMMY-winning performance originating the role of Lola in "Kinky Boots."
Now, Porter has released his latest music triumph, the ambitious new album, Billy Porter Presents: The Soul Of Richard Rodgers, and he's taken on the charismatic role of Pray Tell on Ryan Murphy's new groundbreaking FX series "Pose." His impressive body of work and continuous artistic evolution proves Porter's talent is matched only by his drive. Lucky for us, Portner joined us for an episode of the GRAMMY Museum's podcast, "Required Listening."
As Porter reveals to "Required Listening" host Scott Goldman, Artistic Director of the GRAMMY Museum, the stage called to him from an early age, starting with his time in church as a child. Interestingly, his new album embodies a soulful sound that harkens back to those church roots while infusing the flair and brilliance of his Broadway work.
When asked why Broadway music and soul music work so well together for him, Porter says, "I think it is my journey to it. I grew up singing in the church, singing gospel music, singing R&B and soul music, and you know, [my] childhood wasn't so lovely. I was looking for stuff to occupy my time, get me out. ... In the sixth grade I was introduced to theater. Being onstage in a theatrical production and going to a Pentecostal church are kind of the same thing. Pentecostal church service on a Sunday morning is theater of the highest order. So it just worked for me."
It sure did work. Billy Porter Presents: The Soul Of Richard Rodgers feels uniquely his own, as he curated the project as a celebration of the work of the great GRAMMY-winning composer, Richard Rodgers. But he doesn’t do it alone. Porter called upon his circle of musical friends to contribute to the album, including Pentatonix, Ledisi, India.Arie, Brandon Victor Dixon, Zaire Park, Leslie Odom Jr., and many more. Collectively, the project is an exhibition in collaboration, something that came naturally to the experienced entertainer. But the real glue that holds the album together, according to Porter, is the timeless familiarity and quality of the songs.
"When people know the song, the deconstruction of the arrangement becomes that much more amazing to them because they know where it came from. I think with Richard Rodgers' music, that was the pop music of the day," says Porter. "Everybody on the planet knows a Richard Rodgers song, even if you don't know that you know one. … So the music being in our DNA has allowed the project to resonate in a really great way."
Porter didn't get to a place in his career where he could execute a project of this magnitude by sitting back and letting things happen. He came to Broadway through years of hard work, standing up for his artistry and refusing to be pigeonholed into roles granted by an industry that wanted his high-flying vocal acrobatics but were unwilling to help tell his story. Porter learned to make success on his own terms by demanding respect and challenging himself in new and different ways, something he has called, "owning the leader in me."
"I've always felt like a leader, but there was this part of me coming from the church, the idea of, 'You can't be braggadocious. It's a gift and therefore you need to be humble.' And that's all good," says Porter. "But the humility of it, for me, it reached a ceiling. I had to go, 'You know what? I actually know what I’m doing, and I actually need to be out in the front doing that. So I'm going to honor that. I'm going to own that. I'm going to have faith in that. I'm going to step out on faith and I'm going to do it.'"
One thing is clear: Porter belongs onstage. He also left listeners of "Required Listening" with some valuable advice for others singers on how to find the path to where they belong.
"The only thing that you can be is the best version of yourself," says Porter. "I lived it. People tried to make me something else because who I am and what I represent made them uncomfortable. So the minute you stop caring about that, you find your voice."