Cole Porter — American Composers — Part 1

Unlike most successful Broadway composers, Porter wrote both the lyrics and the music for his songs. He also composed scores for films from the 1930s to the 1950s. He was noted for his sophisticated, suggestive lyrics, clever rhymes and complex forms.

Cole Porter’s body of work is substantial. His compositions are well known. Many of the musicals and films that he composed for have had revivals.

As soon as you mention “It’s De-Lovely”, “ I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “I Get a Kick out of You”, the persons next to you will start humming or remembering things about these titles from their own experience. Porter’s musical compositions for Broadway and Hollywood made their mark.

The truth with film-making – as it is now on Broadway- Is that the story is everything. You’ve got to have a story.

Broadway changed; it used to be: -Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.- 

When Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers were writing, they were writing a show every year. These shows came and went, came and went…

So every year you would have twelve more songs from them. Well, chances are, you’re going to get a couple of hits every year.

All of a sudden, the “story” in a musical became more important than the music. That’s why most hit shows, not all of them, but most hit musicals today- barring, say, Andrew Lloyd Webber- usually don’t have hit songs at all. You can’t really mention a hit song from most musicals, because with most musicals, it’s not about the music.

It’s the story. Give me the good story

Now, if you’re lucky enough to get a great score, thank you, God, you know?”  — Marvin Hamlisch

A Salute to Cole Porter:

Cole Albert Porter was an American composer and songwriter born to a wealthy family in Indiana. Classically trained, he was drawn towards musical theatre. J. O. Cole wanted his grandson to become a lawyer, and with that career in mind, he sent him to Worcester Academy in 1905. He became class valedictorian. After this he attended Yale University beginning in 1909, While at Yale, he wrote a number of student songs, including the football fight songs “Bulldog Bulldog” and “Bingo Eli Yale” (aka “Bingo, That’s The Lingo!”) that are still played at Yale today. After graduating from Yale, Porter studied at Harvard Law School in 1913. He soon felt that he was not destined to be a lawyer, and, at the suggestion of the dean of the law school, Porter switched to Harvard’s music faculty.

In 1915, Porter’s first song on Broadway, “Esmeralda”, appeared in the revue Hands Up. The quick success was immediately followed by failure: his first Broadway production, in 1916, See America First, a “patriotic comic opera” was a flop, closing after two weeks.

At that time, American music was dominated by the musical theater. Records barely existed and were of poor fidelity, and movies were silent. (Film Silent Period: 1895–1929) Composers strove for Broadway Success and earned royalties from the sale of sheet music, in an era when parlor pianos were as popular as televisions are today.”

Porter’s first big hit was the song “Old-Fashioned Garden” from the revue Hitchy-Koo in 1919. In 1920, he contributed the music of several songs to the musical A Night Out.

He began to achieve success in the 1920s, and by the 1930s he was one of the major songwriters for the Broadway musical stage. Unlike most successful Broadway composers, Porter wrote both the lyrics and the music for his songs.

Listen to “Fifty Million Frenchmen” Overture

In 1923, in collaboration with Gerald Murphy, he composed a short ballet, originally titled “Landed” and then “Within the Quota”, satirically depicting the adventures of an immigrant to America who becomes a film star. The work, written for the Swedish Ballet company, lasts about 16 minutes. It was orchestrated by Charles Koechlin and shared the same opening night as Milhaud’s La création du monde. Porter’s work was one of the earliest symphonic jazz-based compositions, predating George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by four months, and well received by both French and American reviewers after its premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in October 1923.

At the age of 36, Porter reintroduced himself to Broadway in 1928 with the musical “Paris”. It was commissioned at the instigation of its star, Irène Bordoni. His works for this production included “Let’s Misbehave” and one of his best-known list songs, “Let’s Do It”, which was introduced by Bordoni and Arthur Margetson.The show opened on Broadway on October 8, 1928.

Porter’s other musicals include Fifty Million Frenchmen, (1929), for which he wrote 28 numbers, including You Do Something to Me”, “You’ve Got That Thing” and “The Tale of the Oyster.”

Ethel Merman

The New Yorkers (1930) acquired instant notoriety for including a song about a streetwalker, “Love for Sale” The New Yorkers also included the hit I Happen to Like New York.

His numerous hit songs include “Night and Day” (Night and Day — Lyrics), “I Get a Kick out of You”, “Well, Did You Evah!” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.

Next came Fred Astaire’s last stage show, Gay Divorce (1932). It featured a hit that became Porter’s best-known song, “Night and Day”. Porter followed this with a West End show for Gertrude Lawrence, Nymph Errant (1933), presented by Cochran at the Adelphi Theatre. Among the hit songs Porter composed for the show were “Experiment” and “The Physician” for Lawrence, and “Solomon” for Elizabeth Welch.

When the 1920s came to an end, America was faced with the hardship of the Great Depression and the political turmoil which led to World War II.

Through these and his own personal hardships, Porter’s music continued celebrating the power of love to provide meaning in a world where little else made sense. At the same time, Porter avoided the cliches found in most popular songs by encouraging experimentation on the level of content and by demonstrating it on the level of style. His music presents love as a personal, almost subversive force that enables us to transcend life’s hardships.” (From Red, Hot and Blue Recording Tribute)

Anything Goes was the first of five Porter shows featuring Ethel Merman. He loved her loud, brassy voice and wrote many numbers that featured her strengths. Jubilee (1935), featured two songs that have since become standards, “Begin the Beguine” and “Just One of Those Things”. Red Hot And Blue (1936), featuring Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope, introduced It’s De-Lovely”, “Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor)”, and “Ridin’ High”.

2011-Tony Awards- Performance from “Anything Goes” with Sutton Foster (nominated)

Porter’s scores for Hollywood include those for Born to Dance (1936), featuring “You’d Be So Easy to Love” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”. In addition, he composed the cowboy song “Don’t Fence Me In” for an un-produced movie in the 1930s, but it did not become a hit until Roy Rogers and Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, as well as other artists, introduced it to the public in the 1940s.

After a serious horseback riding accident in 1937, Porter was left disabled and in constant pain, but he continued to work. He returned with Leave It to Me! (1938); the show introduced Mary Martin, singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, and other numbers included “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love” and “From Now On”. Porter’s last show of the 1930s was Du Barry Was a Lady (1939), a particularly risqué show, starring Merman and Bert Lahr. The score included “But in the Morning, No” (which was banned from the airwaves), “Do I Love You?”, “Well, Did You Evah!”, “Katie Went to Haiti” and another of Porter’s up-tempo list songs, “Friendship” which was one of the highlights. The musical was made into a 1943 Technicolor film, Du Barry Was a Lady, starring Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Gene Kelly. At the end of 1939, Porter contributed six songs to the film Broadway Melody of 1940 for Fred Astaire, George Murphy and Eleanor Powell.

Lucille Ball — Scene from film Du Barry was a Lady (1943)

Gene Kelly and Lucille Ball ‑Film: Du Barry was a Lady (1943)

His shows of the early 1940s did not contain the lasting hits of his best work of the 1920s and 30s, but in 1948 he made a triumphant comeback with Kiss Me, Kate (1948),  his most successful musical. Kiss Me, Kate is a 1948 Tony-Award-winning for Best Musical, was the first show he wrote in which the music and lyrics were firmly connected to the script, and it proved to be his biggest hit (more than 1,000 performances on Broadway.)

Kiss Me, Kate (1948) — Tony-Award-Winning for Best Musical:

(Watch A live performance of the 1999 revival, taped in London)

In between his Broadway shows of the 1940s, Porter again wrote for Hollywood. His film scores of this period were You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) with Astaire and Rita Hayworth, Something to Shout About (1943), and Mississippi Belle (1943–44), which was abandoned before filming began. He also cooperated in the making of the film Night and Day (1946), with Cary Grant in the lead.

Porter began the 1950s with Out Of This World (1950), and Can-Can (1952). Porter’s last original Broadway production, Silk Stockings (1955), featuring “All of You”, was successful. The film High Society (1956), starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly, had Porter’s last major hit song, “True Love”. The film was later adapted as a stage musical of the same name. Porter wrote numbers for the film Les Girls (1957) with Gene Kelly. His final score was for a CBS television color special, Aladdin (1958).

By 1958, Porter’s injuries caused a series of ulcers on his right leg and had to be amputated and replaced with an artificial limb. Porter never wrote another song after the amputation.

Cole Albert Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964)

A Salute to Cole Porter:

Cole Porter


Source: Team Marvin Hamlisch / The Music of Marvin Hamlisch