A phenomenal voice, Tony and Grammy award-winner, pop singer, film and television actor Billy Porter makes his debut with the Boston Pops on Tuesday May 20 and performs again on Wednesday, May 21 at 8pm. His show is called, ‘At the Corner of Broadway and Soul.’ Visit bostonpops.org for ticket information and click here for the full audio interview. Visit billyporter.com for more on his amazing talent.
I’m Jeanne Denizard and I have the honor of speaking with Billy Porter.
So, you won the Tony Award last year for Best Leading Actor in 2013’s Best Musical, ‘Kinky Boots.’ Your acceptance speech was incredible.
Thank you. I have good people around me. They told me to write something down, so I did. They said we have a one in five chance so don’t embarrass us.
I can tell by the excitement on your face.
I never would have gotten anything out. It’s such an interesting moment, it’s like you’re outside of your body watching yourself.
I love listening to your acceptance speech about what a profound influence Broadway star Jennifer Holliday had on your career at such a young age, at 11 years old. Tell me about how you started in your career from that initial spark.
Well, I lived in Pittsburgh and I sang in church. I did my first musical in the sixth grade in my middle school and then I saw Jennifer. From that point on, it was all about me. I didn’t have anybody in my family who understood what to do. I had wonderful angels around me, music teachers, drama teachers. I went to the creative performing arts high school. I sang in Allison choir, then I went to Carnegie Mellon and I had amazing teachers there. So, you just get on the train and you do it.
Now, you’ll have your debut performance with the Boston Pops and the name of your show is ‘At the corner of Broadway and Soul’ which is also the title of your 2005 CD. Now how did you decide on the songs you were going to include on this album?
My current album is called ‘Billy’s Back on Broadway.’ ‘At the Corner of Broadway and Soul’ is my second CD. We’re doing songs from both. The way that I chose the songs on this album is I chose the theme - songs of empowerment, inspiration and hope. Once I chose that theme, the songs chose themselves.
You have sung a lot of different genres of music, so it must have been a tough decision.
All of those genres of music are represented on this album. If you listen to it, the arrangements fell from the classic to the contemporary. It starts out with something that’s more old school. It sounds like the big band orchestral era whether it’s Duke Ellington or Mort Lindsay or old school Sammy Davis Jr- Frank Sinatra tone. As the album moves forward, it becomes more and more contemporary and current sounding.
What do you think is the best reason people should go to this performance?
It’s good music and it’s live music. Music is the universal language, and I’m not sure that it matters that it’s Broadway music, especially when it’s coming from me. I am the last person on the planet, if you look at the description of me on paper of who I am and where I came from, what I’m doing right now and the music that I’m singing and how I’m living my life is the last thing that anybody ever would have expected.
With that, music is healing, it’s trans-formative, and I’m real, real good at it. So come! With live instruments and live music becoming far more harder and harder to experience, it doesn’t get any better than this. I am going to stand in front of an orchestra and sing. It’s like a dream. That orchestra is one of the best in the world.
Absolutely! I mean it’s one of the renowned experiences in the world, performing with the Boston Pops. I just wanted to ask you about your future projects and I so appreciate you talking to me here.
At the moment, I have a play that I wrote called ‘While I Yet Live’ that is being produced by primary stages off Broadway in the fall. I’m doing the show, promoting my album, and I’m working on trying to write a book. I’m just keeping it going.
We were talking before about how you got from 11 years old in the kitchen working at the Tony awards to where you are today. What are the words that you live by?
It’s all about truth. you can only be the best version of yourself. In this business, it’s really easy to get swept up into wanting to be something else because that’s what it looks like is popular. You can only be the best version of yourself. I learned that and I live by that. Truth, truth, truth.
See Tony and Grammy award-winner, Billy Porter perform with the Boston Pops, ‘At the Corner of Broadway and Soul’ on Tuesday, May 20 and Wednesday, May 21 at 8 p.m. All performances will be held at Boston Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts. Call 1-617-266-1200 or click here for full schedule and ticket information!