February 27, 2020
By: Mary Murdock
Listen to Gregory Porter croon one line of a soulful tune, and you’ll know right away that he’s one of the greats. These days, Porter’s name is mentioned in the same breath as icons like Nat King Cole, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder. He’s known for his fresh takes on classic styles and honest, topical lyrics. His latest creations include a new podcast, The Hang with Gregory Porter, and a much-anticipated album, All Rise, set to be released this April. That same month, he’ll be back at Strathmore by popular demand after a sold-out show last February. Before you enjoy his smooth, sweet baritone, get to know the man behind the music in this conversation with Porter:
Q: It’s been nearly a decade since your first album, Water, came out. How would you describe the evolution of your music since then?
A: If you look from the beginning, and hopefully till the very end of my career, you will see . . . a persistency of thought, an optimism that I have about love. If I should be proud about the numbers that I’ve achieved, whether it’s selling a couple million records or hundreds of millions of downloads . . . I’ve done it by saying something I really believe.
Q: What makes you able to connect with audiences of all ages?
A: I don’t know how the kids find me, but I always get videos of them singing my songs, and that’s really funny. The songwriting process happens in a physical way, always when I’m in motion. I remember . . . as a child, being on a bike and in motion, always singing. I feel like I’m going back to my childhood to figure out some of this music. So maybe that’s how the kids come to me.
Q: What live performance had the biggest impact on you?
A: It was a performance of Stevie Wonder, and the audience was just willing to go with him wherever he took them . . . He plays “Do I Do” and you’re like, “oh yeah!” I learned how to dance to that; that was my first dance in high school. And so I guess it was sitting at [this performance] and saying, “This is the music of my life.” And as I was sitting in the audience, you know, Stevie is like, you always have to be ready . . . so he called me up, and I had to be ready to perform at the drop of a hat.
Q: What can we expect from your new album, All Rise?
A: Quintessential Gregory Porter. There’s the foundation of jazz, but there’s gospel, and blues, and soul influences. Again, dealing with the optimism I feel about love. The social issues are there, there’s a song called “Merchants of Paradise” which is about child soldiers and the abuse of children . . . So there’s several themes, but quintessentially Gregory Porter. With a title like All Rise, I don’t mean “rise” with one deity coming into the room. I mean everybody in the room rises.