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American composer & lyricist
Cole Porter's name derives from the surnames of his parents, Kate Cole and Sam Porter. Kate's father, James Omar (known as J. O.), was an influential man both in the community and in Cole's early life. J.O. started from humble beginnings as son of a shoemaker, but his business savvy and strong work ethic made him the richest man in Indiana. Despite J.O.'s obsessive drive for making money, he took time off to marry Rachel Henton, who had several children with him.
Kate Cole was born in 1862, and was spoiled during her youth (as well as later in life). She always had the best clothes, the best education, and the best training in dancing and music. Her father had every expectation of marrying her off to a man with a strong business background, a strong personality, and the potential for a good career. As it is for many filial presumptions and expectations, Kate married someone who was quite the opposite -- a shy druggist from their small town of Peru, Indiana.
The couple married without the full consent of J.O., but he financially supported their wedding and subsidized the couple. As one of the richest men in Indiana, he thought his daughter should be seen doing and wearing the right things without financial fears. These subsidies from J.O. financed the rest of Sam and Kate's life, as well as that of their son born on June 9th, 1891: Cole Porter.
Cole's early years
Cole learned piano and violin at age six. He became very good at both, but he disliked the violin's harsh sound and so his energy turned to the piano. During his formative years, he played piano two hours per day. While Cole practiced, he and his mother would parody popular tunes on the piano in order to increase Cole's patience with such long practice sessions.
Appearing to surpass his peers was easier due to deception on the part of Cole and his mother. When he was fourteen, his mother falsified his school records so it appeared that he was a extra bright for his age. The power J. O. Cole wielded within the small town of Peru, Indiana allowed Kate many such unusual favors by community officials. For instance, Kate financed student orchestras in exchange for guarantees of Cole Porter violin solos and apparently influenced the media's reviews or billing surrounding such concerts. She also subsidized the publishing of Cole's early compositions.
Cole composed songs as early as 1901 (when he was ten) with a song dedicated to his mother, a piano piece called Song of the Birds, separated into six sections with titles like The Young Ones Leaning to Sing and The Cuckoo Tells the Mother Where the Bird Is. His mother ensured that one hundred copies were published so that the song could be sent to friends and relatives.
He enrolled in the Worcester Academy in 1905, where he was lauded as the precocious youngster who became class valedictorian. There Cole met an important influence in his musicianship, Dr. Ambercrombie. His teacher taught him about the relationship between words and meter, and between words and music in songs. Cole later quoted from Ambercrombie's lessons: "Words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one."
The Yale years
Cole's Yale years included many adventures, many musicals, and the forging of relationships that he carried with him for the rest of his life. Most students soon knew him for the fight songs he would write, many of which continue to be Yale classics.
It might be worth noting that it was during the Yale years when Cole's homosexuality became a force in his life. Some biographers have speculated that his later preference for large strong men and the number of Yale football fight songs was no coincidence. The Cole Porter biographies I have read do not reveal actual evidence for his gay sex life until after college, so some of this may be based on conjecture based on his more well documented liaisons soon after college.
Perhaps the biggest influence in his musical development were the full scale (for co...
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