You could say that Cole Porter was born with a platinum, jewel-encrusted spoon in his mouth. He enjoyed being “rich-rich.” And this was before he made a penny at songwriting. His millionaire grandfather ensured that Cole had a patrician upbringing in Peru, Indiana, where he was born in 1891, and later at Yale where he composed ‘fight’ songs that are still used at college football games today. Porter went on to Harvard Law School, but soon began studying music instead.
Cole Porter spent the Jazz Age making a name for himself as an international playboy who wrote clever ditties to amuse his friends. By the end of the decade, the rest of the world was enjoying his wit and sophisticated compositions. He was writing classics like “Let’s Misbehave” and “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love.” In an era when most composers of popular songs worked in collaboration with lyricists, Porter distinguished himself by writing his own smart, funny verses.
Cole Porter had his first Broadway hit in 1929 introducing his song “You Do Something to Me” in a show called Fifty Million Frenchmen. From then on, he was one of Broadway’s most popular composers. Subsequent Broadway credits include: Gay Divorce, Anything Goes, Panama Hattie, and Kiss Me, Kate. Writing for Hollywood movies, Porter composed the enduring standards “Night and Day,” “You’re the Top,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Just One of Those Things,” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?.” Born rich, Cole Porter became far wealthier from his songwriting career. And he and his socialite wife, Linda Lee Thomas knew how to enjoy it. They hobnobbed with high society, entertained aristocrats and bohemians in their suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. In France, Cole taught his Parisian friends how to Charleston in his Art Deco house fitted with marble floors and zebra skin rugs. And in Venice, the Porters kept a palace, the Rezzonico, with elaborate salons and a formal ballroom, though they spent more of their time throwing parties on the beach.
In 1937, Porter’s life took a sudden, tragic turn when both of his legs were crushed in a horseback riding accident, leaving him unable to walk and in chronic pain. But he continued to write great songs. Alec Wilder in American Popular Song wrote, “…Porter’s pain must have been so excruciating as to cause virtual sleeplessness for years. Yet this anguished man managed not only to write good songs and witty lyrics, but in 1948, to create possibly his most successful score, Kiss Me, Kate.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz, jazz singer Nina Ferro joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band for a concert of Cole Porter compositions live from the Filoli Estate in California.
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Cole Porter photo courtesy allaboutjazz.com
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script ©2011 by Margaret Moos Pick