“Night and Day,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Begin the Beguine,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” — some of the cleverest, funniest, and most romantic songs ever written came from the pen of Cole Porter. He was unmatched as a tunesmith, and his Broadway musicals — from “Kiss Me Kate” and “Anything Goes” to “Silk Stockings” and “Can Can” — set the standards of style and wit to which today’s composers and lyricists aspire.
Born in Peru, Indiana in 1891, Porter studied music from an early age, and began composing as a teenager. After high school he attended Yale University, where he was voted “most entertaining man.” Though he went on to law school at Harvard University, his interest remained in music. From Harvard he continued to write, and a number of his pieces were used in Broadway musicals.
In 1916, his first full score was performed. The musical, “See America First”, was a flop and closed after only fifteen performances. He soon began to travel around Europe and got an apartment in Paris. This was the beginning of his life long affection for the city, which he would return to in songs such as “You Don’t Know Paree” and “I Love Paris.” During his time abroad Porter contributed to many musicals including “Hitchy-Koo” and the “Greenwich Village Follies”. It wasn’t, however, until his song “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love” appeared in the 1928 musical Paris, that he had his first big hit.
A contemporary of George Gershwin, Richard Rogers and Jerome Kern, Porter broke from the simple sentimentality that dominated Tin Pan Alley. His urbane wit and musical complexity won him the affection of the nation. Songs such as “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” and “Too Darn Hot,” became instant hits and have remained classics. While his name was associated with many of these upbeat show toons, a more melancholy side could be seen in such wonderful songs as “Miss Otis Regrets” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”
Despite a horseback riding accident in 1937 that crippled him for life, Porter produced much of his best work in the 1940s and 50s. He wrote hundreds of songs for dozens of Broadway shows, movie musicals, and television specials. His most successful musical, “Kiss Me Kate”, opened in 1948 and ran for over a thousand performances. A recluse in his later years, Porter died in California in 1964. Today his legacy lives on in productions of his musicals and in recordings of artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne.
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