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Cole Porter

Cole Porter

In stark contrast with almost every other composer of the era was the sophisticated, urbane Cole Porter. Born to a wealthy, but conservative Baptist, Indiana family, Porter attended Yale and then went to law school at Harvard. The intellect which caused him to succeed in his studies brought rewarding dividends when applied to music. As one of the rare composer-lyricists in musical theatre, Porter brought wit, charm, panache and a playful spirit to his lyrics and an exotic, quasi-Latin feel to his music. Frequently venturing into the bawdy, many of Porter’s songs contained verses that weren’t considered ‘suitable’ to be sung in respectable company. Some of the lines from his 1928 song “Let’s Do It, (Let’s Fall In Love)” reveal his playfully risqué penchant in lyrics:

And that’s why birds do it, bees do it

Even educated fleas do it

Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

I’ve heard that lizards and frogs do it Loyin’ on a rock

They say that roosters do it With a doodle and cock

Some Argentines, without means do it

I hear even Boston beans do it

Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

Cole Porter’s life was filled with opulence, decadence and heart-break. While most composers wrote for a living, Porter’s inheritance from a wealthy family meant that he only needed to write what and when he wished. With a huge bank account, Porter was free to travel to France, Italy or wherever he wished, often purchasing homes, villas or apartments in different countries. Though married for several decades to his beloved Linda, they both understood and accepted that she was a ‘beard’ to cover his open homosexuality, something that wasn’t widely accepted in American society in the 1930s. Their deep friendship and love was accurately portrayed in the 2004 Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely. Following Linda’s death in 1954 and the amputation of his legs due to a 1939 horseback riding accident, Cole Porter went into seclusion, his writing career complete. He died in 1964.

During his long career, Cole Porter made a significant impact on Broadway and – unmatched by any other composer – Hollywood. While many musicals in the ‘40s and ‘50s were taken to Hollywood and given a movie treatment, Porter wrote complete and distinct movie-musicals such as High Society (1956) and Les Girls (1957).

Of his over twenty stage and film musicals, most noteworthy are Silk Stockings, Dubarry Was a Lady, Can-Can, and Anything Goes. The work considered by many to be his finest, was the musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Cole Porter’s 1948 Kiss Me Kate. In 1949, the first Tony award for best musical comedy show was given to Kiss Me Kate, and the first Tony award for best score went to Cole Porter.

While the titles of Porter musicals have not stayed in the collective consciousness of American audiences as much as those of Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe, each Porter musical, however unknown, yielded at least one or two songs which have become a part of that compilation loosely known as the American Songbook. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Night and Day,” “Anything Goes,” and “It’s De-Lovely” have been recorded hundreds of times including recordings and performances by artists as respected as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Bublé, Diana Krall, Rod Stewart, Annie Lennox, and U-2. The carefree, sometimes romantic attitude of his lyrics and the richly exotic elements of his music are often used in movie soundtracks, musical revues and cabaret performances today.

Following WWII, until the early 1960s, the middle decades of the 20th century, American musical theatre had several other significant talents. Paralleling the efforts of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe were other composers who contributed lasting shows that are part of our rich musical theatre heritage.

From the 1953 movie version of “Kiss Me, Kate” – “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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