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Sounds Of Change: Billy Porter Performs Patti LaBelle's "You Are My Friend"

Billy Porter 

Photo: CBS via Getty Images

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Sounds Of Change: Billy Porter Performs Patti LaBelle's "You Are My Friend"

Featuring stars from LaBelle to Andra Day to Gladys Knight, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" was a decades-spanning celebration of the iconic songs that inspired social change and left an everlasting imprint on music and history

GRAMMYs/Mar 31, 2021 - 10:28 pm

Billy Porter delivered a soulful performance of Patti LaBelle's "You Are My Friend" at the "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" musical special.  

Featuring stars from LaBelle to Andra Day to Gladys Knight, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" was a decades-spanning celebration of the iconic songs that inspired social change and left an everlasting imprint on music and history.

During his performance, Porter paid tribute to the LGBTQ community and diverse groups of people. Of his song choice, he said: "I just wanted to choose something that was about chosen family." He added. "We talk often in this world about family values, but what happens when your family—your biological family—don't have the tools to understand how to love you?" 

Watch Porter's performance above and read a full recap of the event here.

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Sounds Of Change" is available on-demand on Paramount+.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Billy Porter Is Ready To Show Fans His True Musical Side: "You're Not Gonna Want To Stop Listening"
Billy Porter

Photo: Republic Records

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Billy Porter Is Ready To Show Fans His True Musical Side: "You're Not Gonna Want To Stop Listening"

After captivating audiences in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway and the culture-shifting series "Pose," Billy Porter makes his return to music with a new album that sheds light on his life and journey.

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2023 - 03:01 pm

Twenty-six years after Billy Porter's debut album Untitled hit stores, the multihyphenate artist is releasing a second album of original music — but this time, he's doing it entirely his way. It's a point of pride for Porter, whose 1997 debut forced him to submerge his Broadway career success — and sexuality — to appeal to mainstream R&B audiences.

For four years, Porter's then-label, DV8 Records, worked on crafting the perfect persona for the singer. And after making many difficult compromises, Untitled was released in 1997 with minimal promotion. This led the "Show Me" singer to a heart-wrenching realization: It was time to walk away from his deal and take his career into his own hands. 

Decades of hard work and seized opportunities later, Porter has amassed a trove of professional milestones while blazing trails for emerging LGBTQ performers of color. He became the first Black gay man to win a lead acting Emmy for his performance in the acclaimed drama "Pose," earned a GRAMMY and a Tony for his role in "Kinky Boots," wrote an off-Broadway play and a best-selling memoir before stepping behind the lens to direct the 2022 trans coming-of-age rom-com, "Anything's Possible."

Along the way, music was always on Porter's mind — though he had released three cover albums in that time, his sights were set on developing an original project when he signed with Republic Records in 2021. Working with prolific singer-songwriter Justin Tranter — who's written hits for Britney Spears, Selena Gomez, Linkin Park, Justin Bieber and more — Porter has ensured that his fifth studio album reflects his journey and how far he's come since walking away from DV8 Records nearly 30 years ago. 

Now, Porter is kicking off his return with the infectiously catchy, dance-club single "Baby Was a Dancer," which recounts his journey to empowerment and showcases the real Billy — unlike his 1997 debut and its broader themes of love and desire. As Porter puts the finishing touches on his new album, he's already hard at work putting together a production for his forthcoming summer tour — the first solo outing of his musical career — and he's leaving no stone unturned. 

GRAMMY.com caught up with Porter to chat about his new single, upcoming album, and how you can never put baby in a corner.

The past decade has been such a whirlwind for you. You've conquered TV, film and red carpets, won an Emmy, a Tony and a GRAMMY, wrote a memoir and directed a rom-com. Was there a standout moment for you among all these huge milestones?

That's a really interesting question. I think it's more about the culmination of being able to vibrate in all of these spaces that I've had the dream of doing all at the same time. And feeling redeemed in doing. There were so many naysayers at the beginning of my career telling me that I couldn't do everything — that I had to choose one thing. I stand before you as proof positive that that isn't true.

What stands out is that I get to do all of them, at the same time. All of the hyphens, all at the same time. That's really not something that happens very often.

I've been playing your new single "Baby Was a Dancer" on a loop and can't wait for it to drop so I can add it to my "going out" playlist. How did that song come together?

I signed with Republic Records, and they hooked me up with Justin Tranter and his camp. We really had a great time just learning about each other. The team focused on learning about me and what I wanted to say to the world. All of the songs that emerged from my working sessions on this album. My writing sessions on this album really were very, very personal.

If you listen to the lyrics of "Baby Was a Dancer," it tells the story of my journey in this business — and in the world. What I was told that I could and couldn't be — and how you can't keep baby in a corner.

It's such an upbeat song with an empowering personal message. A total 180 from your debut album.

What I love about this time around for me in the music industry — and the mainstream music industry, in particular — is that the material is actually coming from me. The stories, the message, the point, all of it is coming specifically from me out of my own mouth, which is really nice. All of the songs on the album, it's all my story, in one form or another, and that is really exciting.

Are there any plans to release a music video? Because the bootleg choreography I came up with is not going to cut it.

Well, that's an interesting conversation because everything is reduced to an algorithm these days, particularly in the music industry via TikTok. They do not support music videos anymore. Apparently, the attention span is too short, and people are more interested in content associated with a particular single, and that's what pushes the single and downloads, and that's what drives sales.

So unfortunately, with this one, we are trying to set it up so that we can push it out. This time around, it's gonna be more about expanding my social media presence, particularly on TikTok.

I came up during the golden age of music videos in the '90s, so I'm bummed about this pivot to shorter dance clips on social media.

Me, too! I'm not happy about it, but I'm trying to do what's best. [Laughs.]

Will the new album be as danceable and high-energy as the new single? Or are you going to mix it up?

Because I've been in the business for so long, I have vibrated in so many different kinds of spaces, particularly musically. I have sung all types of music in my life. I've recorded all types of music in my life. So this album has a real eclectic energy to it.

In terms of the sound, I think there is something for everybody. What makes it cohesive is me. What makes it cohesive is my musical history. It's vast. It's deep. I'm not new. I'm true to this. I've been doing it since the early '80s. When I listen to the record, it really does hit all types of genres.

I'm excited about that because it's not just a singles thing, you know. We've grown into this space where it's about the single. And there are many, many singles. And it can be about the single; it can exist in that space as well. But I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they press play on track one, and they don't want to stop listening to it for 14 tracks. You're not gonna want to stop listening.

Albums with 14 tracks are incredibly rare nowadays.

Well, I had some s— to say! [Laughs.]

Did the album come together quickly, or did the process take a while?

Because of my schedule, it wasn't too long. It probably took me a year or so, from when I started earnestly working on it. I did some stuff in my studio in Pittsburgh while I was directing my movie. Then I did some in LA and New York. I sort of recorded wherever I was traveling and working.

Last November you released a song called "Stranger Things," after an overwhelmingly positive response to your performance at the Global Citizens Festival. You've described the track as a "call to action," and I personally took it as a much-needed reminder that there's work to do and no time to dwell. What made you realize that the world needed to hear this particular message right now?

I wrote that song with the late-great Andrea Martin, a couple of months before her untimely death. This space that we're in is challenging, and there's work to be done. And yes, when they go low, we go high. And what does going high look like in this new world order?

One of the things that I've been leaning into is, with age comes wisdom. I wear my age like a badge of honor. I've earned it. I'm 53 years old and not embarrassed about it. And one of the things that was really striking to me and re-traumatizing to me during COVID was that it felt very eerily similar to what we queer people went through during the AIDS crisis. What I wanted to say with the song — and what I want people to remember — is that none of this is new. And the fact that we don't know our history is, I think, one of the reasons why there's so much panic surrounding it.

Exactly. As they say, the past teaches us about the present.

Yes. And it does us a disservice. Our news outlets, and the way it's covered very often, pisses me off because it's covered as if it's new. And what I wanted to say with the song is that stranger things have already happened to us. We are resilient, and we will get through this with love. Don't be afraid. Don't be terrified. Stop claiming that and stand up for what is right. Stand up for what we know is right and get out in these streets and fight for it.

There's no time to be fatigued. There's no time to be terrified. We have work to do. And that song is a call to action. And music is a universal language. It's always been the way that I have communicated my views to the world.

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8 Highlights From "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon": Garth Brooks' & Trisha Yearwood's Charming Duet, Stevie Wonder' & Ledisi's Heartwarming Performance & More
Paul Simon with Take 6

Photo: Getty Images for the Recording Academy

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8 Highlights From "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon": Garth Brooks' & Trisha Yearwood's Charming Duet, Stevie Wonder' & Ledisi's Heartwarming Performance & More

Paul Simon's GRAMMYs tribute included moments of vulnerability, generation-straddling duets, and plenty of other surprises. Here are eight highlights from the magical night. The tribute re-airs on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

GRAMMYs/Dec 22, 2022 - 03:51 pm

Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon."

"Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon" will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Many tribute shows for legacy artists end in a plume of confetti and a feel-good singalong. But not Paul Simon's.

At the end of the songbook-spanning "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Tribute To Paul Simon," the only person on the darkened stage was the man of the hour. Sure, the audience had been baby-driven through the Simon and Garfunkel years, into the solo wilderness, through Graceland, and so forth. But all these roads led to darkness.

Because Simon then played the song that he wrote alone, in a bathroom, after JFK was shot.

It doesn't matter that Simon always ends gigs with "The Sound of Silence." After this commensurately cuddly and incisive tribute show, it was bracing to watch him render his entire career an ouroboros. 

That "The Sound of Silence" felt like such a fitting cap to a night of jubilation speaks to Simon's multitudes. The Jonas Brothers coolly gliding through "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," juxtaposed with the ache of Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood's "The Boxer," rubbing up against Dave Matthews getting goofy and kinetic with "You Can Call Me Al," and so on and so forth.

The intoxicating jumble of emotions onstage at "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Tribute To Paul Simon" did justice to his songbook's emotional landscape — sometimes smooth, other times turbulent, defined by distance and longing as much as intimacy and fraternity.

Here were eight highlights from the telecast — which will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Read More: Watch Jonas Brothers, Brad Paisley, Billy Porter, Shaggy & More Discuss The Legacy And Impact Of Paul Simon Backstage At "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To Paul Simon"

Woody Harrelson's Lovably Bumbling Speech

After Brad Paisley's rollicking opening with "Kodachrome," the momentum cheekily ground to a halt as Harrelson dove into a rambling, weirdly moving monologue.

"The songs of Paul Simon really are like old friends," the cowboy-hatted "The Hunger Games" star remarked, interpolating one of his song titles and crooning the opening verse.

Harrelson went on to recount a melancholic story from college, where the spiritually unmoored future star clung to Simon songs like a liferaft. We can all relate, Woody.

Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood's Pitch-Perfect "The Boxer"

Brooks has always been one of the most humble megastars in the business, praising his wife Trisha Yearwood — and his forebears — a country mile more than his own. (Speaking to GRAMMY.com, he described being "married to somebody 10 times more talented than you.")

The crack ensemble could have made "The Boxer" into a spectacle and gotten away with it, but Brooks wisely demurred.

Instead, the pair stripped down the proceedings to guitar and two voices; Brooks provided an aching counterpoint to Yearwood.

Billy Porter's Heart-Rending "Loves Me Like A Rock"

The "Pose" star blew the roof off of Joni Mitchell's MusiCares Person Of The Year gala in 2022 with "Both Sides Now," so it was clear he would bring napalm for a Simon party. 

Given the gospel-ish intro, one would think he was about to destroy the universe with "Bridge Over Troubled Water." 

Instead, he picked a song of tremendous personal significance, "Loves Me Like a Rock," and dedicated it to his mother. The universe: destroyed anyway.

Stevie Wonder & Ledisi's "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

The question remained: who would get dibs on the still-astonishing "Bridge Over Troubled Water"? A song of that magnitude is not to be treated lightly.

So the producers gave it to generational genius Wonder, who'd bridged numberless troubled waters with socially conscious masterpieces like Songs in the Key of Life.

But he wouldn't do it alone: R&B great Ledisi brought the vocal pyrotechnics, imbuing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with the grandiosity it needed to take off.

Jimmy Cliff & Shaggy Brought Jamaican Vibes With "Mother & Child Reunion"

Simon embraced the sounds of South Africa with his 1986 blockbuster Graceland, yet his island connection is criminally underdiscussed; since the '60s, Jamaican artists have enthusiastically covered his songs.

For instance, it's impossible to imagine a "Mother and Child Reunion" not recorded in Kingston, pulsing with the energy of Simon's surroundings.

Enter genre luminaries Jimmy Cliff and Shaggy, who flipped the tribute into a bona fide reggae party.

Take 6 Dug Deep With "Homeless"

Leave it to the Recording Academy to avoid superficiality in these events: Mitchell's aforementioned MusiCares tribute included beyond-deep cuts like "Urge for Going" and "If." 

Most remember "Homeless" as Ladysmith Black Mambazo unaccompanied vocal cooldown after bangers like "You Can Call Me Al"; eight-time GRAMMY-winning vocal group Take 6 did a radiant, affectionate rendition.

When Simon took the stage at the end of the night, he was visibly blown away. Touchingly, he shouted out his late guitarist, Joseph Shabalala, who founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

"Imagine a guy born in Ladysmith, South Africa, [who] writes a song in Zulu and it's sung here by an American group, singing his words in his language," Simon remarked. "It would have brought tears to his eyes."

Angélique Kidjo & Dave Matthews' Love Letter To Africa

Graceland was Simon's commercial zenith, so it was only appropriate that it be the energetic apogee of this tribute show.

Doubly so, that this section be helmed by two African artists: Angélique Kidjo, hailing from Benin, and Dave Matthews, born in Johannesburg.

"Under African Skies," which Simon originally sang with Linda Ronstadt is a natural choice — not only simply as a regional ode, but due to its still-evocative melody and poeticism.

"This is the story of how we begin to remember/ This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein" drew new power from Kidjo's lungs. 

Afterward, Matthews — a quintessential ham — threw his whole body into Simon's wonderful, strange hit, "You Can Call Me Al."

The Master Himself Took The Stage

With his still-gleaming tenor and still-undersung acoustic guitar mastery, Simon brought the night home with "Graceland," a Rhiannon Giddens-assisted "American Tune" and "The Sound of Silence."

At 81, Simon remains a magnetic performer; even though this is something of a stock sequence for when he plays brief one-off sets, it's simply a pleasure to watch the master work.

Then, the sobering conclusion: "Hello darkness, my old friend," Simon sang, stark and weary. With the world's usual litany of darknesses raging outside, he remains the best shepherd through nightmares we've got.

And as the audience beheld Simon, they seemed to silently say: Talk with us again.

15 Essential Tracks By Paul Simon: In A Burst Of Glory, Sound Becomes A Song

Watch Jonas Brothers, Brad Paisley, Billy Porter, Shaggy & More Discuss The Legacy And Impact Of Paul Simon Backstage At "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To Paul Simon"
Paul Simon performing at "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To Paul Simon"

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Watch Jonas Brothers, Brad Paisley, Billy Porter, Shaggy & More Discuss The Legacy And Impact Of Paul Simon Backstage At "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To Paul Simon"

Performers at the star-studded tribute from the Jonas Brothers to Brad Paisley to Angélique Kidjo explain why Simon deserves the highest praise in the echelon of American singer/songwriters.

GRAMMYs/Dec 20, 2022 - 05:53 pm

Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon."

"Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon" will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream on demand on Paramount+.

Paul Simon may have won 16 GRAMMYs throughout his illustrious career, but he's getting another honor from the Recording Academy — something much bigger than a golden gramophone.

On May 22 "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon," a two-hour special illuminating the 16-time GRAMMY winner's songbook, will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

The concert features Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Eric Church, Rhiannon Giddens, Susanna Hoffs, Jonas Brothers, Angélique Kidjo, Ledisi, Little Big Town, Dave Matthews, Brad Paisley, Billy Porter, Sting, Take 6, Irma Thomas, Shaggy and Jimmy Cliff, Trombone Shorty and Stevie Wonder.

Additionally, Sofia Carson, Herbie Hancock, Woody Harrelson, Dustin Hoffman, Elton John, Folake Olowofoyeku, and Oprah Winfrey also make special appearances.

Below, watch exclusive clips where many of these artists express what Simon, a leading light of singing and songwriting, means to them.

The Jonas Brothers

Brad Paisley

Billy Porter

Shaggy

Trombone Shorty

Angélique Kidjo

Ledisi

Folake Olowofoyeku