On this day in 1891, the great composer and lyricist Cole Porter—one of the most important American songwriters of the 20th century—is born in Peru, Indiana.
Cole Porter’s legal birth certificate actually gives 1893 as the year of his birth rather than 1891, but that was a change engineered by his mother when she judged that 14-year-old Cole’s budding musical talents would be even more impressive in a 12-year-old. Kate Porter and her domineering father, J.O. Cole, played a similarly active role in promoting Cole’s success throughout his young life, even applying their considerable wealth and social standing to securing appearances as a soloist with the local student orchestras through the application of timely and generous financial contributions. Though his grandfather sent him off for an Ivy League education in the hopes that he would become an attorney, it was at Yale that Cole Porter first gained popularity as a writer of football fight songs and as a performer in the original lineup of the famous a cappella group the Whiffenpoofs. After an abortive attempt at law school at Harvard, Cole Porter committed himself to a career in music and left for New York in 1914.
Porter’s earliest efforts on the musical stage were abject failures, but his family wealth allowed him to decamp to Paris in 1916, where he spent the better part of two decades living the dissolute life of a privileged Bohemian. It was here that Porter fell in with Hemmingway, Stein and other members of the Lost Generation of poets and writers. It was also here that Cole Porter met his future wife, fellow expatriate American Linda Lee Thomas. While Porter was gay, and many of his most beautiful love songs (e.g., “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”) were inspired by his male lovers, his marriage to Thomas would last for the rest of his life and provide him with the social status then necessary for a gay public figure.
Cole Porter spent the entirety of the 1920s living in Paris. It was only upon on his return to New York in the early 30s that he would truly begin building in earnest the career that would make him one of the most famous and beloved figures in 20th-century American popular music.