Jun 092018
 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Cole Albert Porter one of the great composers and songwriters for the stage in the Jazz Age. Porter was born into a wealthy family in Indiana. His grandfather J. O. Cole (called at the time “The Richest Man in Indiana”) wanted his grandson to become a lawyer, and with that career in mind, he sent him to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts in 1905. Porter took an upright piano with him to school and found that music, and his ability to entertain, made it easy for him to make friends. Porter did well in school and rarely came home to visit. He became class valedictorian and was rewarded by his grandfather with a tour of France, Switzerland, and Germany. Porter entered Yale University in 1909, with a major in English and a minor in music, and also studied French. He was a member of Scroll and Key and Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and contributed to campus humor magazine The Yale Record. He was an early member of the Whiffenpoofs a cappella singing group and participated in several other music clubs. In his senior year, he was elected president of the Yale Glee Club and was its principal soloist.

After graduating from Yale, Porter enrolled in 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, switched to Harvard’s music faculty, where he studied harmony and counterpoint with Pietro Yon.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” modeled on Gilbert and Sullivan, with a book by T. Lawrason Riggs, was a flop, closing after two weeks. Porter spent the next year in New York City before going overseas during World War I.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, Porter moved to Paris to work with the Duryea Relief organization. Some historians have been skeptical about Porter’s claim to have served in the French Foreign Legion, although the Legion lists Porter as one of its soldiers and displays his portrait at its museum in Aubagne. By some accounts, he served in North Africa and was transferred to the French Officers School at Fontainebleau, teaching gunnery to US soldiers. An obituary notice in The New York Times said that, while in the Legion, “he had a specially constructed portable piano made for him so that he could carry it on his back and entertain the troops in their bivo