The Kennedy Center

Cole Porter



Biography

American musical comedy composer Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana on June 9, 1891, into a well-to-do family. He began his musical studies at an early age with piano and violin. His first song, "Song of the Birds," was written at age ten, and soon after his mother had his next composition ("Bobolink Waltz") privately published.

Porter attended Yale, where he wrote several school songs which are still popular among Yale students and alumni. Following his graduation his wealthy grandfather persuaded him to enter Harvard Law school, but he lasted there only two years before he transferred to the School of Arts and Sciences to study music.

His first musical, "See America First," premiered in 1916, was a box-office flop, closing after only 15 performances. Shortly afterwards he moved to Paris, where he enjoyed life as one of the famous Parisian expatriates. His inherited wealth allowed him to live a lavish lifestyle, giving many fabulous parties and entertainments. He continued his musical studies there at the Schola Cantorum, composing for musical theater and ballet. His marriage to socialite beauty Linda Lee Thomas in 1919 lasted until her death in 1954.

By the end of the 1920s Porter began to achieve success on Broadway: "Paris" premiered in 1928, followed by "Fifty Million Frenchmen" in 1929. In the 1930's he produced one musical comedy hit show after another, including "The Gay Divorcee," "Anything Goes," "Jubilee," "Red, Hot, and Blue," and "Dubarry Was a Lady." He also wrote a number of scores for Hollywood musicals, including "Born to Dance," "High Society," and others.

A 1937 horseback riding accident left Porter without the use of his legs, and for the rest of his life he was in almost constant pain. He buried himself in work, producing "Panama Hattie" and "Something for The Boys." After a number of slow years, his all-time greatest success, "Kiss Me Kate," premiered in 1948, and ran more than a thousand performances. "Silk Stockings" and "Can-Can" followed in the 1950s.

Perhaps Cole Porter's greatest legacy is his treasure trove of popular songs -- tunes first introduced in his musicals, but beloved for themselves when performed on the concert stage. (Who can forget "Begin the Beguine," "So In Love," "In the Still of The Night," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to," and so many others?) In 1960 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Yale University.

Lonely and reclusive in the years after the amputation of one of his legs in 1958, Cole Porter died in Hollywood in October of 1964.
Cole Porter

Compositions

  • A Tribute to Cole Porter, arr. Marvin Hamlisch
  • New England Episodes