Cole Porter: Songs, Music & Accomplishments

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  • 0:25 Childhood
  • 1:13 College Years
  • 2:05 Marriage and Time Abroad
  • 3:05 Film & Theater Work of…
  • 4:15 1940s to Death
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson travels through the life, songs, and accomplishments of the famous Cole Porter. It highlights his prolific career, listing works like Gay Divorce, Anything Goes, and Kiss Me Kate.


Today's lesson on Cole Porter, the famous American composer and lyricist, will include many things. However, one thing it will not include is the term 'struggling artist.' Unlike so many artists, Cole Porter never struggled to make ends meet. Quite the opposite; he lived a life of privilege and luxury.

Born in 1891 to Kate Cole and Sam Porter, Cole Porter loved music from a very early age. His special areas of interest were composing music, writing song lyrics, and playing the piano. Lucky for him, his mother's family had all the money needed to feed this passion. His grandfather was one of the wealthiest men in their home state of Indiana. Grandpa Cole spared no expense when it came to his daughter Kate and his grandson Cole.

Biographies of Porter also tell us his mom had no qualms about using this money to give her boy Cole and his musical talent every advantage. In fact, some accounts include stories of his mom sponsoring school music performances with the understanding that her son would be given leading roles or solos.

College Years

The advantage of wealth followed Cole into his college years. Attending Yale University, young Cole made a name for himself perhaps more as a musician than a scholar. While there, he wrote several full-scale musicals and hundreds of songs. To this day, his song, 'Bull-Dog' is one of Yale's most beloved fight songs!

After graduation from Yale, Cole's grandpa sent him to Harvard. Here the plan was for Cole to study law. Yes, music was an okay hobby, but Grandpa Cole had no intentions of letting his grandson be a full-time musician. Cole, on the other hand, had other plans and soon transferred from the Harvard School of Law to the Harvard School of Arts and Sciences. Tiring of studying, he eventually dropped out of the program and moved to New York City to pursue his dream of becoming a famous composer and lyricist.

Paris, Lies, & Marriage

Unfortunately for Cole, his first musical, See America First, flopped. Fortunately for Cole, the family money kept affording him a life of high society and luxury. Not finding the success he craved in New York, Cole bought a ticket to Europe and moved to Paris during World War I.

While in Paris, Cole continued to live a life of extravagance. These years included wild parties complete with drugs, bisexuality, and homosexuality. Of course, this is not the story Cole Porter included in letters home. Quite the contrary, Cole told his family and his friends back home that he had joined the French Foreign Legion and was serving in the war.

Keeping up the ruse of sorts, Cole married the wealthy socialite Linda Lee Thomas in 1919. Living a homosexual lifestyle, his marriage to Linda is believed by many to have been a social contract. She added more money to his pockets and he helped her stay in the limelight. Despite this odd arrangement, they were also dear friends.

1920s & 1930s

Having both Linda's money and his family's money, Porter was more than free to continue his musical career. During the '20s and '30s, he churned out hits like 'Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love.' Piling on more accomplishments, Cole Porter took on Broadway. In 1932 his musical, Gay Divorce, starring the great Fred Astaire, delighted theater goers.

From it came the hit song, 'Night and Day.' In 1934, his musical Anything Goes, also charmed audiences. From this one came the huge hit, 'I Get a Kick Out of You.'

During the '30s, Porter also took on the movies. In this decade, his songs, 'Delovely,' 'I've Got You Under My Skin,' and the uber-famous 'In the Still of the Night' were featured on the silver screen.

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