It’s been nearly a decade since Pittsburgh-born vocalist Billy Porter released a solo album. Since then, much has changed for the award-winning artist. Perhaps best known for his Tony Award-winning role as Lola in the hit Broadway musical Kinky Boots, Porter’s musical background is based in gospel, soul and R&B. He released his first self-titled solo album in 1997 and a second solo outing, At the Corner of Broadway + Soul, in 2005. In April, Porter released his debut on Concord Records, Billy’s Back on Broadway.
Featuring 10 classics made famous on the Great White Way that focus on inspiration, empowerment and hope, the album’s title is a nod to the Sammy Davis, Jr.’s recording Sammy’s Back on Broadway. “The canon of great Broadway songs is so vast, and I have so many favorites that the only way I could narrow them down was to choose a theme,” Porter says of the songs on Billy’s Back on Broadway. “Once I settled on what I wanted to say and the journey I wanted the listener to take, the songs made their presence known rather quickly.”
While Porter grew up as a gospel singer, he transitioned to theater, making his Broadway debut in the original cast of Miss Saigon. “Seeing Jennifer Holliday from Dreamgirls perform on the Tony Awards telecast and later discovering Barbra Streisand by listening to her albums at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh really changed everything for me,” Porter says. “When Barbra released her first Broadway album, I was about 15 years old, and I thought, ‘One day I’m going to make my own Broadway album — just like Babs!’”
Pop singer Cyndi Lauper, who penned the score for Kinky Boots, appears on Billy’s Back on Broadway, dueting with Porter on “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy.” “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Cyndi is one of the godmothers of individuality,” Porter says. “She forged a path for so many of us that didn’t fit into the status quo. I learned so much and have felt so inspired by her journey as an artist and human being, before I even knew her.”
In January 2014, the Broadway cast recording of Kinky Boots won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The show, based on the 2005 British movie of the same name, tells the story of a drag queen who helps to rescue a floundering shoe factory. Kinky Boots celebrates its one year on Broadway anniversary in April 2014.
“It’s been unbelievable to be given the opportunity to circle back to the original dream, which for me started way back in the ’80s in Pittsburgh, when I dreamed of one day being a Broadway star,” Porter says. Now the winner of every major theater award, including the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Porter is truly living the dream.
Photo credit: John Ganun