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Monthly 'Birthday Salute': COLE PORTER

The songs of Cole Porter (1891-1964) are still everywhere if you look and listen

By: Jun. 02, 2024
Monthly 'Birthday Salute': COLE PORTER  Image
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Each year in the African country of Uganda, June 9th is celebrated as National Heroes’ Day.   It’s also been named National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day.  This year, June 9th is the 90th anniversary of the film debut of a beloved icon of entertainment: the one and only Donald Duck. But the ninth day of June is also when, back in 1891, the composer/lyricist Cole Porter was born — and this edition of tributes to entertainment figures born in the current month celebrates his history and the fact that many treasures he wrote are still in the air and that the musicals he scored are still being revived in 2024, 60 years after his death.  

Porter packed a lot into his songs and his life and must have packed many suitcases, too, with his love of travel. In case you’re wondering if he spent much time in the aforementioned continent of Africa, there are sources insisting that his classic “Night and Day” was inspired by his trip to Morocco where he heard the rhythmic sounds of Islamic prayers and drums. (The verse begins, “Like the beat-beat-beat of the tom-tom, when the jungle shadows fall…”).  But some refute this.  Early in his career, he claimed to have spent time in Africa, fighting with the French Foreign Legion, which was not true at all, although it was one of the numerous false scenarios dramatized in a film about his life (titled after that song, “Night and Day”).

If he didn’t get around to writing about a pie with strawberries and rhubarb, there’s always the tasty song “Cherry Pies Ought to Be You.”  And while he didn’t mention Donald Duck as one of the ideals in the lyric of “You’re the Top” (the song debuted the same year our quacking friend did, so our feathered friend was not yet an icon), an older Disney creature is name-dropped: Mickey Mouse, rhymed with the reference to composer Strauss. And you can find the musical it’s from, Anything Goes, being produced in many places this year, such as the Muny in St. Louis.  Another Porter hit is being mounted in London now: Kiss Me, Kate.    

The biggest salute to the writer happens annually in this, his birthday month, at the place of his birth and upbringing — Peru, Indiana — with The Cole Porter Festival, starting on the 6th and ending on his birthday.  There are 13 events, including concerts, lectures, a bus tour, and a luncheon hosted by an actor playing Cole. Presently prominent is the presence of Porter in many places.  Earlier this year there was ample evidence of his lasting impact, and there will be more throughout 2024 and beyond. Read on for some that I recall from my own cabaret-going and awareness, noting new recordings, and some fruitful Googling.  

Cabaret vocalists have had Porter programs in their 2024 schedules. Singer-pianist Tony DeSare is one example. There was Jeff Harnar, who also guested in the one done last month by cabaret colleagues Andrea Marcovicci and Maude Maggart at the Gardenia in California. Sheree Sano dug into the songwriter’s work for her own project.  Peter and Will Anderson, identical twin instrumentalists, had an identical plan. And Steve Ross, who’s been a master at singing and playing these songs throughout his long career, premiered a concert shared with Michael Lavine that was part Cole and part Noël Coward. 

Other Porter-centric events pop up all over the country: Chicago’s Porchlight Music Theatre; Lyric Theatre in San Jose; Crooners Supper Club in Minneapolis; something in Scottsdale, Arizona; and a dance program in Texas by Dance Dallas. Port Washington Public Library has a lecture on our honoree this month.  Beyond the US borders, there’s vocalist Manu Le Prince in Paris, Adi Braun with a date next month (following up on her CD of the composer/lyricist’s gems), and events in Shepparton, Australia and the jazz club Ronnie Scott’s in London.

Acts I’ve seen and reviewed for BroadwayWorld this year included those that included one or more Cole Porter numbers are: Klea Blackhurst, Craig Rubano, Karrin Allyson, Paula West, David Marino, and The Hot Sardines.  Others following suit have been Michael Feinstein, Patti LuPone, the Philadelphia Pops, Mandy Patinkin, and Harry Connick, Jr.  Announcements about upcoming engagements promise similar attention: Rufus Wainwright at the Carlyle and Nick Ziobro at Chelsea Table + Stage. The Broadway by the Season retrospectives at Merkin Hall sampled the Cole Porter musical Something for the Boys.   

In the world of recordings, Natalie Douglas, Jane Scheckter, Andy Pratt, and duo Nic and Desi had new albums in 2024 that made room for C.P. standards.  Also, there’s a new compilation of Porter delights that Bing Crosby crooned over his career.

Looking ahead to next year, The New York Pops will present a Cole Porter evening on February 7 at Carnegie Hall, the same place his 100th birthday occasioned a star-filled celebration back in 1991.


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