A rising young star in jazz is headed to Durham Thursday night. Gregory Porter was a college football player when he was sidelined with an injury. So, he turned to music. He cut an album and was still an unknown singer when he was selected by Wynton Marsalis to do a residency with Jazz at Lincoln Center.
"As long as I can remember, I've been singing," Porter says. He was raised by a single mom in Bakersfield California. "When my mother would come in from work I was her foot masseuse and I was also her songster." Porter would sing songs he heard on TV or the radio. Sometimes he would record himself singing songs and play them back for his mother. She said to him, "Boy you sound like Nat King Cole." That statement changed his life.
Porter says 'Nat King Cole' was a strange name, and he wanted to know more. First he saw an album cover. "Nat King Cole looked like somebody's father." And then, there was the voice. It seemed like Nat King Cole was singing directly to him. "[His voice] wasn't a sound I heard a bunch on the radio, so it seemed like my own personal voice. When Nat King Cole was singing 'Smile though your heart is aching...' he was speaking just to me, you know? You didn't hear that [type of music] blasting out the windows when I was a kid. So this record was a private conversation to me."
Porter told WUNC's Phoebe Judge in 2013 about his childhood, the musical he wrote to honor Nat King Cole, and what he said when he met the man's daughter:
Gregory Porter went on to find his own voice. An autobiographical song he wrote last year, was nominated for a Grammy. His latest album is Liquid Spirit.