Mention the name Cole Porter and most Americans will conjure the image of a great Broadway talent. During his career, Porter wrote well over 100 Broadway songs. He was also one of the few songwriters of his day to write both lyrics and music for his songs. Porter’s hits include “Night and Day,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “Anything Goes.” Many people don’t know that the famed American composer is a native Hoosier, born and raised in Peru, Indiana.
Porter was born on June 9, 1891, in Peru, Indiana. His father was a druggist and his mother was the daughter of James Omar Cole, known at the time as “the richest man in Indiana.” Cole had earned his fortune in the coal and timber industries. He was heavily involved in the family’s affairs and paid for much of young Porter’s education.
Porter’s mother encouraged his interest in music. By age 6, he was taking violin and piano lessons, although he quickly developed a preference for the piano. At age 10, Porter wrote his first operetta, which his mother succeeded in getting published.
At the age of 13, Porter left Indiana to study at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. He was said to have arrived at the boarding school with his upright piano in tow and made friends by delighting the other boys with his tunes. In 1909, Porter enrolled at Yale University. There, he studied English, music, and French. At Yale, Porter joined many musical groups. He was an early member of the Whittenpoofs a cappella group and as a senior, served as president of the Yale Glee Club. During his Yale years, Porter wrote 300 songs, including Yale’s famous football fight songs “Bulldog” and “Bingo Eli Yale.”
Porter’s grandfather insisted that he study law, so in 1913, he enrolled at Harvard Law School. He soon realized that the program was not for him and switched to the music. Porter’s mother supported the move, but was said to have hidden the switch from her father.
On the heels of his college career, in 1915, Porter published his first Broadway song, “Esmeralda.” It would be more than 10 years, however, before he succeeded in joining the upper echelon of Broadway songwriters. His 1916 Broadway production, See America First, was a huge flop.
In 1917, Porter moved to Europe to work with the Duryea Relief Organization during World War I. He later claimed to have joined the French Foreign Legion, but that fact remains subject to debate. Characteristically, Porter brought a portable piano with him on his travels and entertained countless troops with his music.
In 1919, Porter composed his first big hit, “Old Fashioned Garden,” for the revue Hitchy-Koo. In 1923, his short ballet, Within The Quota, was also well-received. The ballet featured one of the earliest symphonic jazz-based compositions. A few years later, in 1928, Porter’s musical, Paris, became an overnight sensation. The production featured one of his most famous tunes, “Let’s Do It.” Finally Porter had achieved his dream – acceptance as one of Broadway’s top composers.
Throughout the 1930s, Porter continued to compose tunes for hit Broadway musicals. He even dabbled in musical scores for movies. Then, in 1937, a serious horseback riding accident left Porter partially paralyzed. In 1948, Porter made a monumental comeback with the success of his musical, Kiss Me, Kate. The musical was performed over 1,000 times in New York and 400 times in London. The show received a Tony for best musical. Porter was awarded best composer and lyricist. It was the pinnacle of his career, and his last great Broadway hit.
Porter died on October 15, 1964, in Santa Monica, California. He continues to be revered as one of Broadway’s most talented composers. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of the centennial of his birth. His childhood home in Peru, Indiana, is now a small inn.