Born in 1891, Cole Porter is regarded as the most cosmopolitan of American composer-lyricists. Altogether he wrote more than 800 songs, the bulk of which were written for the stage, more than half were never published. As a Yale undergrad he wrote two of the school’s perennial football songs, “Bull Dog” and “Bingo”.
From World War I until the late 1920’s, Porter lived primarily in Europe. Although his youthful compositions did not go unnoticed, he had composed some two hundred songs and was nearly forty before shows such as “Fifty Million Frenchmen” really raised public awareness of his talents. The “standards” that he is best known for (e.g. “Love for Sale”, “Night and Day”, “Begin the Beguine”) weren’t written until the 1930’s, his most prolific period.
Through the Great Depression goods or merchandise is what most songs were intended to be. The primary aim of popular music’s songwriters and publishers was commercial. Songs were hustled, peddled, plugged in five-and-ten-cent stores and vaudeville houses across the country. Few people in America thought of songwriting as one of the more refined arts. Many of Porter’s lyrics became a heady tonic for a disillusioned age, telling of the pain and evanescence of emotional relationships and some of his most famous songs such as “I Get A Kick Out of You” were even subjected to censorship. Lines like “Some get a kick from cocaine” were considered too risqué at the time. Overall, his lyrics were high fashion, witty and turned out, often-times it seemed, for the special amusement of his social set.
In 1937 Porter was involved in a horse riding accident and fractured both legs, confining him to a hospital for months. He was left disabled and in constant pain but this did not stop him from writing music. During the 1940’s he wrote film scores for Hollywood, including a largely fictional, autobiographical film – Night and Day — on which he collaborated, that starred Cary Grant.
During his lifetime Porter made a large gift of published an unpublished materials, including manuscripts and sketches, to the Music Division of the Library of Congress. The largest collection of his work is housed at Yale University, which received a significant bequest of his manuscripts, scrapbooks and recordings after his death in 1964.