Search Tips: 1) Click "Find on This Page" button to activate page search box. 2) When searching for a name (e.g. a songwriter), enter last name only. 3) When searching for a song title on the catalog page, omit an initial "The" or "A". 4) more search tips.
Born: Cole Albert Porter June 9, 1891, Peru, Indiana (US)
Died: October 15, 1964 (age 73) Santa Monica, California
Primary songwriting roles: composer and lyricist
Co-writers: Porter wrote both words and music for almost all of his songs. For songs co-written with others, view the DBOPM database. For Co-writing on "Don't Fence Me In," see below.
Stephen Sondheim, in his book Finishing the Hat, focuses on lyrics, primarily his own, but also on those of his renowned early to mid-twentieth century predecessors who wrote theater lyrics of great distinction. One of the songwriters to whose lyrics he devotes a brief essay is Cole Porter (p. 212, hardcover Ed.). About Porter's lyrics, he writes, "Of all the best theater lyricists, Porter is the one whose style is most immediately recognizable." To Sondheim it's possible that Hammerstein's lyrics could be confused with Berlin's, Loesser's with Dorothy Fields' and Ira Gershwin's with Lorenz Hart's, but only Yip Harburg's and Porter's come across distinctly and immediately as their own. Therefore Porter's lyrics being so unique are, ironically, the easiest to imitate.
Sondheim divides and characterizes Porter's lyrics thusly: hislist songs (e.g. "You're the Top") being tours de force of pop culture references; his "salacious songs" filled with double meanings; "the love songs and out-of-love songs (e.g. "In the Still of the Night" and "Down in the Depths") so over the top that they often become camp, yet work because they are truly felt by Porter.
Sondheim comments on Porter's homosexuality by comparing and contrasting him to Hart (the other acknowledged gay songwriter from "the American pantheon") by pointing out that Hart's lyrics concealed his sexual preference while Porter's "paraded" his.
Porter's satires of the lives of the rich and famous work so well, according to Sondheim, because Porter was himself devoted to that crowd. He was the consummate commentator on those in his own circle. Sondheim contrasts Porter to Hammerstein regarding writing about the upper crust. When Sondheim once asked his mentor why he didn't write about the world of sophisticates, Hammerstein replied tersely, "They don't interest me." Therefore, Sondheim explains that on the few occasions, as in Allegro, when Hammerstein tried to depict these sorts of people, he failed. Porter, however, succeeded largely because he himself was part and parcel of his subject. Sondheim quotes lines from "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" not only as an example of Porter's witty depiction of the haute-monde but as a reflection of Porter's own amused (and amusing) attitude toward his own milieu:
While tearing off
A game of golf,
Make a play
For the caddy,
But if I do,
I don't follow through,
'Cause my heart belongs to Daddy.
A great fan of Porter'slist songs, Sondheim comments on those we all know ("Let's Fall in Love," "You're the Top," etc. but also on those that are less well known such as "Let's Not Talk about Love" and "Brush Up You Shakespeare."
Finally, Sondheim is not above being critical of Porter. For example, he calls his use of double entendres sometimes "not much more than "sniggering" and "adolescent," which can take him from the "wickedly sly" ("You gave a new meaning to the leaning tower of Pisa" from Kiss Me Kate to the grossly blunt ("If she fights like a raging boar / I have oft stuck a pig before"), thus illustrating "one of the dangers of camp . . . . It can skid from giddy to vulgar in the space of an entendre."
Sondheim consistently illustrates in this essay, as in his other essays on lyricists in "Finishing the Hat," a barbed tongue of his own as well a critical acuity equally sharp.
The Porter song "Don't Fence Me In" from 1933 (not currently in the Cafe SongbookCatalog of The Great American Songbook) is one of those few songs not written in its entirety by Porter. In 1933, Porter under contract to Twentieth Century Fox, was working on a never made film with the title Adios, Argentina. The movie's producer, Lou Brock, the Hollywood producer most famous for pairing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first film together, Flying Down to Rio (also 1933) had come across the phrase "Don't Fence Me In" and thought it might serve a purpose in Adios, Argentina. He asked an amateur songwriter friend of his, Robert Fletcher, to see what he could come up with and when Fletcher wrote a song, Brock convinced him to send it to Porter. After buying the rights from Fletcher, Porter wrote new music and reworked the lyric into the song we know today as "Don't Fence Me In."
As the Hollywood vicissitudes would have it, Adios Argentina was never made. "Don't Fence Me In" sat on the shelf at Harms Music (the song's publisher) for ten years. After Harms was bought by Warner Bros., the song was picked up and put into the 1944 movie Hollywood Canteen where it was sung by Roy Rogers and made into a big hit by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters. Fletcher never received the writing credit that he had been promised, but Porter, on his own, shared the royalties with him. The Full story of this affair is told by Robert Kimball in The he Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter.)
Cole Porter (This section is currently in preparation)
Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters perform "Don't Fence Me In" (1944) -- although the recording session took only half an hour, the record achieved longevity reaching # 1 in November, 1944 and remaining in that position for 8 weeks.
"Cole Porter, Thank You for the Music"
tribute to Porter opening with Porter singing "Anything Goes" followed by Judy Garland, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra singing Porter songs and a photo montage of the songwriter)
Betty Carter sings "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"
David Amram (Arranger & Conductor), Curtis Lundy (Bass), Lewis Nash (Drums), Khalid Moss (Piano), Jerry Dodgion (alto Sax)
(same track as on album at right)
Charles Schwartz. Cole Porter: A Biography. New York: Dial Press, 1977 (paperbound edition published by Da Capo Press, 1979).
ASCAP Biographical Dictionary, New York: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Cattell/Bowker, Fourth edition, 1980 (dates, collaborators, shows/movies, songs, etc., entry p. )
David Ewen. American Songwriters, An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1987 (includes 146 bios of composers and lyricists). -- a wide selection of used copies is available at abebooks.com (entry, pp. 293-301).
Submit comments on songs, songwriters, performers, etc.
Feel free to suggest an addition or correction.
Please read our Comments Guidelines before making a submission. (Posting of comments is subject to the guidelines.
Not all comments will be posted.)
Borrowed material (text): The sources of all quoted and paraphrased text are cited. Such content is used under the rules of fair use to further the educational objectives of CafeSongbook.com. CafeSongbook.com makes no claims to rights of any kind in this content or the sources from which it comes.
Borrowed material (images): Images of CD, DVD, book and similar product covers are used courtesy of either Amazon.com or iTunes/LinkShare with which CafeSongbook.com maintains an affiliate status. All such images are linked to the source from which they came (i.e. either iTunes/LinkShare or Amazon.com).
Any other images that appear on CafeSongbook.com pages are either in the public domain or appear through the specific permission of their owners. Such permission will be acknowledged in this space on the page where the image is used.
For further information on Cafe Songbook policies with regard to the above matters, see our "About Cafe Songbook" page (link at top and bottom of every page).
Master List of Great American Songbook Songwriters
Names of songwriters who have written at least one song included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook are listed below.
Names of songwriters with two or more song credits in the catalog (with rare exceptions) are linked to their own Cafe Songbook pages, e.g. Fields, Dorothy.
Names of songwriters with only one song credit in the catalog are linked to the Cafe Songbook page for that song, on which may be found information about the songwriter or a link to an information source for him or her.
Please note: Cafe Songbook pages for songwriters are currently in various stages of development.