Many arguments could be generated over whether Cole Porter
or Irving Berlin
should be considered America's greatest tunesmith. Both wrote music and lyrics; it's clearly a pick 'em situation. Porter had violin and piano lessons as a child, pursued undergraduate studies at Yale (where he penned fight songs that endure to this day such as "Bulldog"), and studied law and music at Harvard, all courtesy of a rich grandfather. His grandfather was appalled Porter would consider music as a career and never forgave him. Porter was in the French army during World War I, and spent the '20s in Paris as the husband of a wealthy woman. He began scoring hits in that decade, though "I'm in Love Again," didn't click until 1929, though Porter wrote it in 1924. The list of Porter shows and films is immense; his lyrics were literate, sophisticated, yet could be charming, suggestive, even naughty. His first show was Paris
in 1928; it included "Let's Do It." That was followed by Frenchmen in 1929 containing "You Do Something to Me." Porter returned to New York in 1930, but was a lifelong Parisian in his heart. Wake Up and Dream, The New Yorkers, The Gay Divorcee, Jubilee, Leave It to Me, and Kiss Me Kate are only a few of his marvelous shows. The song list is just as impressive; "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Love for Sale," "Anything Goes," "You're the Top," "Begin the Beguine," and "Count Your Blessings," for starters. There were also such films as Silk Stockings, Born to Dance, Broadway Melody of 1940, High Society, and Night and Day. Porter's legs were crushed by a horse in 1937, he endured numerous operations the rest of his life, as well as being a semi-invalid. He finally lost his right leg in 1958, only four years after his wife died. But his songs live on; numerous anthologies and songbooks devoted to his music have been issued and are available on CD, including the Smithsonian four-disc set issued in 1993.