Bedford-Stuyvesant's very own Gregory Porter received a Grammy nomination on Wednesday, in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Album for his debut album, Water.
While most 5-year-old boys were playing G.I. Joe, Porter was writing his next opus: A song called, "Once Upon A Time, I Had A Dreamboat." He recorded it to impress his mother. Porter said he played it for her when she got home from work.
"She said, 'Boy you sound like Nat King Cole,'" he recalled, smiling. "It was a silly song, but it's cute, and it made sense musically," he said. From that day forward, Porter spent countless hours devouring Nat King Cole's music.
Porter is a musical hybrid: His music has a regal jazz spirit, yet evokes soul, R&B, blues, and funk wrapped into one, producing a distinct sound. His baritone voice booms and soothes simultaneously.
Song after song, Porter motions his listeners to come along for a journey. To him, jazz is love nestled in songs of redemptions. It's both pretty and ugly and gives power to the people, he said. His mother encouraged him to sing with an understanding of the subject.
"If that meant closing [my] eyes and going into the character of the song, that's what I did," reflected Porter.
Porter grew up in the countryside of Bakersfield, California. Although musically inclined from early on, he got into jazz formally during his college years. His music has been likened to Donny Hathaway, Bill Withers, and Nat King Cole.
"It's really an honor if someone says I sound like them. I don't try to sound like them, but they are people I consider when I approach music," he said.
The emotional arc of his songs is evident. One of his favorites is, "1960 What?," a protest song that speaks on issues from the Detroit riots to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. "The city is burning ya'll, that ain't right," he sings. "It's not a praise to rioting,; it speaks to the absurdity of injustice and the after effect of injustice."
And on the other end of the spectrum is "Illusions," a heart-tugging song about a man that hasn't quite realized his woman has gone for good.
"In the lyrics her departure hasn't gotten into my consciousness. I'm trying to find reality, a grip on illusion," Porter said.
Porter has performed at New York's Rose Hall and with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He has toured internationally and has performed on national tv shows such as "Late Night with David Letterman." But Porter hasn't forgotten his early years performing at his brother's café, Bread-Stuy, and other Bed-Stuy favorites like Solomon's Porch and Sista's Place..
Grammy nomination in tow, he says he'll never be too big for Bedford-Stuyvesant.
"Bed-Stuy is embracing, supportive, and comforting," said Porter. "People from Bed-Stuy have a unique pride in where they're from -- the soil that they were raised on. It causes me to dig deeper into the soil from which I was raised. We love each other here, people are always helping each other out."
"It feels great to have validation of the writing and the songs," he said while reflecting on the nomination. Raising an eyebrow, he added, "It's hard to get a Grammy nomination!"