Since closing Broadway’s Shuffle Along, Tony winner Billy Porter has been a busy man. Just in the past couple months, Porter married longtime partner Adam Smith, participated in Sundance’s Theatre Institute Retreat to work on his gospel musical, and performed at a Kinky Boots reunion to benefit the Theater Development Fund. But he’s not slowing down. On April 14, his new album Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers drops. With vocals from Tony winners Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Patina Miller, Tony nominees Brandon Victor Dixon, Christopher Jackson, and Joshua Henry, and pop music sensations Pentatonix, India.Aire, Ledisi, Zaire Park, and crossover performers Deborah Cox and Todrick Hall (plus Porter, himself), the album gives a lush new sound to Richard Rodgers standards. Here, Porter walks us through his choices for each track on the record, and why he matched each collaborator with their song.
1. “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” Porter with Pentatonix
If you told me that an a cappella group comprised of kids who love musical theatre would break out as a leading musical force in the pop music industry I would have laughed in your face. Pentatonix have done just that and it's been astonishing and inspiring to watch.
2. “My Romance,” Porter with Leslie Odom Jr.
Leslie has a voice like butter. He is a true modern-day crooner, for realz. I wanted to throwback to a Marvin Gaye/Luther Vandross time with this track.
3. “If I Loved You,” Renée Elise Goldsberry & Christopher Jackson
The theme of the album is “Love Is Love” and I wanted a track that gave a nod to the love duets of the soul music era. Like Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack, Ashford & Simpson.
4. “With a Song in My Heart,” Brandon Victor Dixon & Joshua Henry
The Princes from Into The Woods came to mind as I was developing the idea for Brandon and Josh. A nod to gentlemanly competition over the courting of a lady.
5. “I Have Dreamed,” Patina Miller
I’ve known Patina since she was in college and I wanted to highlight the urban contemporary, soul/R&B voice that is the base for what audiences have grown to love her for.
6. “My Funny Valentine,” Cynthia Erivo
I simply just needed to hear this woman wrap those comforting tones all over this tune.
7. “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” Porter with Todrick Hall
YouTube sensation Todrick Hall was cast as Miss Lola in Kinky Boots. Then the election happened. And it was clear to me that we both represent one of the factions of folk who are now under attack from this administration. So the focus of the tune shifted to being about us joining The Resistance—with SASS!
8. “This Nearly was Mine,” Deborah Cox
I’ve been a fan of Deborah’s since my club kid days in the ’90s. I remember seeing her slay the children at 7:30 in the morning at the closing of The Palladium way back in the day. And then I’ve been watching the Broadway community slowly embrace her with roles in Aida, Jekyll & Hyde, and, most recently, The Bodyguard national tour. It’s time for this woman to originate a role!
9. “Bewitched,” Ledisi featuring Zaire Park
Ledisi is a force of nature and a well-known staple in the R&B/soul music world. She’s an old friend and has a deep-rooted love for the theatre. She was a standby in Caroline, Or Change back in the day—before her music career took her away from us. Time to come on back home, Boo!
10. “Carefully Taught,” Porter with India.Arie
India.Arie exploded onto the scene in 2001 with the powerful, black female empowerment anthem “Video” and won our hearts. She’s a four-time Grammy Winner and 21-time nominee. So when she came to see Shuffle Along last year and asked to meet me I nearly fainted. But I pulled it together and we became fast friends. She has expressed her desire to follow in the footsteps of some other famous female singer songwriting geniuses, like Cyndi Lauper and Sara Bareilles, who have mined fresh new careers on Broadway. Expect a musical theatre collaboration for Broadway very soon if I have anything to say about it!
11. “Lady Is a Tramp,” Porter featuring Zaire Park
I’ve always been confused by the title lyrics. Is it about female empowerment? Does it put us back 50 years in relation to women’s issues? We need context… enter rapper Zaire Park, who gives all the context necessary to help cement just how powerful women are.
12. “Edelweiss,” Porter
When we conceived the original “Soul Of Rodgers” concert back in 2009 for reprise out in Los Angeles, my friend Michael McElroy did a contemporary gospel arrangement of the tune that felt very prayerful. Post 45 getting elected, the resonance of #blessourhomeland has become one of the only things that gives me daily comfort. I wanted to share some of that grace with the world. It was released as a single on the same day as the inauguration. Anyone who knows The Sound of Music is clear about the call to action I’m trying to provoke. Stay woke, my people!
Billy Porter, India.Aire, Joshua Henry and more perform at Broadway for Black Lives Matter:
Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers is out April 14 on iTunes and Amazon, now available for pre-order.