One of the greatest American composers of all times, Cole Albert Porter, is remembered by his remarkable musical comedies like Kiss Me, Kate, Fifty Million Frenchmen, and Anything Goes. His masterpieces include songs like I've Got You Under My Skin, Night and Day, and I Get a Kick Out of You. Despite being put into the best institutes for a degree in law, and other initial setbacks, he never let his artistic brilliance fade.
Cole Porter was born on the 9th of June, 1891, in Peru, Indiana, to Samuel Fenwick and Kate Cole. Kate Cole recognized her son's talent very early, and enrolled him into music lessons when he was still very young. He learned the violin since he was six, and started taking piano lessons as soon as he turned eight. His mother helped him continuously with his music lessons, as they would practice for long hours over the piano. With his mother's help, Porter wrote his first operetta when he was just ten years old. Kate Cole's father, J.O. Cole, was a rich and influential man in the small town of Peru. Kate used her father's name to change Cole Porter's year of birth from 1891 to 1893, so that he appeared as a child prodigy in his achievements. She subsidized his early compositions and also ensured that Cole got solo violin performances in return of her sponsoring students orchestra. She also influenced media reviews of her son's performance. Kate's father had a strong influence on his daughter's family. Despite Cole's musical brilliance, J.O. Cole wanted his grandson to become a lawyer. With this aim in mind, J.O. Cole sent Cole Porter to the Worcester Academy in 1905, and then got him enrolled in the Yale University in 1909.
Life at Yale
Yale proved to be an important platform where Cole Porter's musical talents further sharpened. As a part of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, the Yale Dramatic Association and the Yale Glee Club, he designed full-scale college productions and gave solo performances that were widely appreciated. He wrote Yale football fight songs that are still Yale classics. He continued to write musicals for clubs and associations, which allowed him and his friends to tour all over the country and establish useful contacts that helped him during his career at Broadway. By the time he left Yale and joined the Harvard Law School, he had already written 300 songs and six full-scale productions. His career in law at Harvard was dismal. Without his family's knowledge, he transferred from the law school to the school of arts and science at Harvard. Finally, he abandoned his law career and joined the Yale Club in New York, where he started his career in music, in earnest.
Paris and Career
Cole Porter's first song on Broadway, Esmeralda, received wide appreciation in 1915. However, his first Broadway show America First flopped dismally in the succeeding year. This was followed by a string of failures that made a dejected Cole Porter set off for Paris in a war-engulfed Europe. Although he claimed to have served with the French Foreign Legion, many believe that it was a ploy used by Cole Porter to make himself appear as an American war hero that would enable him to be better accepted into the Parisian elite group. In 1918, he met and married Linda Lee Thomas, a rich American socialite, who was a divorcee and also eight years senior to him. Although this was a marriage more out of convenience than for love, they remained married till Linda died in 1954.
During his stay in Paris, he became a known face in the upper crust of society of the rich Parisians. He was a part of most of the elaborate parties that involved people of the wealthy and political class. He himself threw parties that were attended by international musicians and the Italian nobility. His parties were believed to involve gay or bisexual activities, and use of recreational drugs. However, he did not spend all his time just rubbing shoulders with the wealthy Parisians. It was here that he tasted professional success too. He practiced songwriting and wrote songs like An Old-Fashioned Garden for a 1919 show called Hitchy Koo, which was his first big hit. After his initial failures, in 1928, he achieved dazzling success at Broadway with his show Paris. It featured his song Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love, which is considered one his best creations. The next year he created Fifty Million Frenchmen, that included hits like You Do Something To Me and You've Got That Thing. In the 1930s, Cole Porter churned out hit after hit, like The New Yorkers, Gay Divorce, Jubilee, Dubarry was a Lady, and Red Hot and Blue. He also wrote the scores for a number of Hollywood flicks like Born to Dance and Rosalie.
In 1937, he fractured both his legs in an unfortunate horse riding accident. Despite years of tortuous treatment, he created a few shows that were not very well received by audiences. And just when the world thought that the composer had lost his talent, the following year, he stunned everyone by giving his biggest hits like Kiss Me Kate, a musical based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in 1948, and Anything Goes. However, with this, his career took a downturn. He did produce a few more works, but they were far from achieving the success that his signature productions did. With his wife dead in 1954, and his legs amputated 1958, Cole Porter's last years were far from wonderful. In 1960, just four years before he died, the Yale University, which played an important role in his career, made a final contribution that probably made a lot difference to Cole during his final years of loneliness. Yale honored him with an honorary doctorate, that reminded him that he would be remembered forever by the Yale fraternity, and that his talent would never be forgotten.