MFAH Gets Racy with Cole Porter

MFAH Gets Racy with Cole Porter
"Cole Porter", Richard Avedon. New York, September 13, 1950

It reads like an except from Keith Richards' autobiography.

"The parties during these years were elaborate and fabulous, involving people of wealthy and political classes. His parties were marked by much gay and bisexual activity, Italian nobility, cross-dressing, international musicians, and a large surplus of recreational drugs. "

But the quote is from an online resource site on legendary composer and song writer Cole Porter (1891 - 1964), offering a glimpse into a lifestyle that mirrors many modern day music icons, encapsulated in the title of one of his most famous musicals: Anything Goes.

Porter was hailed as one of the most successful Broadway composers of his time, revered for his comedic prowess, sophisticated lyrics and love songs steeped in eroticism and romance. And at the time, it was pretty racy stuff. If fact, it's almost impossible to have a discussion on Porter without bringing up sex. Michael Lasser, Peabody Award-winning host of the nationally syndicated public radio show Fascinatin' Rhythm explains, "Someone wrote that Cole Porter never wrote a song that wasn't about sex. Almost true. 'True Love' from High Society and 'Don't Fence Me In' aren't, but damn near everything else is."

Lasser, a man described as "a walking encyclopedia of American song", will be in Houston next week to host "Cole Porter: Famous and Forgotten", the July 14th installment of "Artful Thursday", a monthly lecture series made possible by MFAH's partnership with local public radio outlet KUHF. The program, started in 1995, seeks to delve beyond visual art in order to capture the spirit of a given time period. Margaret Mims, Associate Education Director at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, tells us, "the challenge is to keep things from getting predictable," and describes past events featuring everything from an Egyptologist giving a lesson on magic in Egyptian art to the CORE Performance Company dancing through the recent Carlos Cruz-Diez exhibit. Next Thursday's presentation will feature the music of Cole Porter performed by Alan Jones and Cindy Miller, and commentary from Michael Lasser.

With the ease one would expect from a seasoned radio personality, Lasser painted a lively picture of Porter's introduction to music, saying, "He began writing songs seriously at Yale around 1919 and wrote one of the most famous of all Yale songs, although it's so odd that only Yalies take it seriously. It begins, 'Bulldog, bulldog, bow-wow-wow, Eli Yale.' After Yale, he went to law school because his grandfather Cole (AHA!) insisted, but dropped out after one miserable year. He went to New York to become a songwriter and was such a miserable failure that he fled to France to escape. Seven or eight years he returned to write his first Broadway score. It was a hit and he was an 'overnight' sensation. The name of the show was Paris and included his great catalog song, 'Let's Do It.'"

MFAH Gets Racy with Cole Porter
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He also provided great insight into Porter's character, describing a horseback riding accident in 1937 that crushed one of his legs, resulting in enormous pain for most of his remaining years and eventually, amputation. But, Lasser points out, "he continued to write songs of great frothy delight, ebullient wit, and gaiety", adding, "You never would have thought he had a day of suffering in his life." Then again, it was never Porter's style to mope and complain. After all, the better part of Porter's career took place in an era defined by economic hardship, turmoil, and war. And while the rest of the world was fighting, Cole Porter was writing songs about making love.

Artful Thursday "Cole Porter: Famous and Forgotten" will take place on Thursday, July 14 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the MFAH's Caroline Weiss Law Building (1001 Bissonnet). The event is open to the public and admission is free.


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