“Gregory Porter has most of what you would want in a male jazz singer, and maybe a thing or two you didn’t know you wanted.” – The New York Times
Jazz/soul vocalist Gregory Porter was born in Los Angeles, raised in Bakersfield, California, and now lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. He got his start singing in small jazz clubs in San Diego, where he attended San Diego State University on a football scholarship until a shoulder injury sidelined his athletic career. Porter’s band came together in Harlem’s St. Nick’s Pub, and it was there that he finally decided to record his first record in 2010. “I grew up in California and now I live in Brooklyn,” explains Porter, “but even so, I feel that the spirit of the artists that came out of Harlem—from Duke Ellington to Langston Hughes—has so influenced my work that Harlem is as much a part of me as if I had lived there.”
At the start of 2010, the buzz about Porter was building, fueled by his performance in the Tony Award–nominated Broadway hit It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues, and his debut CD, Water, which was nominated for a Best Jazz Vocal Grammy. Along with earning another Grammy nomination, his second album, Be Good (2012), put Porter’s name on an extraordinary number of “Best of 2012” lists, including NPR’s “100 Favorite Songs of 2012,” iTunes’ “Jazz Album of the Year,” and Soul Train’s “Top 10 Albums of 2012.” Be Good was also named Soul Tracks’ “Album of the Year.” The track “Real Good Hands” was selected by iTunes as its Single of the Week, propelling Be Good to the #1 position on iTunes jazz chart for several weeks, and sending it to the Top 100 overall album chart the first week of release. Another track from the album, “On My Way to Harlem,” was selected by the Starbucks Digital Network as its Pick of the Week.
The year also found Porter gracing the cover of numerous magazines, including Jazz Inside, and France’s Jazz Magazine and L’Express, which lauded him as “the next great voice in Jazz.” Porter has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal, Jazz Times, and the UK’s Echoes and Blues and Soul, and Be Good has been reviewed by some 50 online and print outlets around the world, including the Huffington Post, The Guardian, and the Irish Times. Critics have hailed Porter as a new “king of jazz,” and a “leader of the pack,” and compare him with such greats as Joe Williams, Nat Cole, Donny Hathaway, and Marvin Gaye.
Porter is a disarming performer with a voice of incredible virtuosity and a broad appeal as a songwriter. His lyrics often speak in the languages of image and emotion. His objective as a songwriter, he says, is “to create a sincere message about my feelings on love, culture, family and our human joys and pain.” He describes himself as more like a painter than a photographer. “My songs may start from a place of personal experience, but I try not to impose any particular perspective on the music. I want listeners to be affected each in his or her own way, and be moved as much by what can be read in between the lines as what the lyrics say.”
Gregory Porter performs in the College of Charleston Cistern Yard on May 24 and 25.