Cole Porter was born in 1891 into a wealthy family in Peru, Ind.. Cole’s mother, Kate Cole Porter, was the daughter of wealthy businessman J.O. Cole. Young Cole benefitted from his grandfather’s wealth and had a privileged childhood.
When he was 6 years old, Cole began to play the violin and piano. He became very good at both instruments, but he preferred the piano and would practice it two hours per day. By the age of 10, Cole was already composing songs. In 1902, at age 11, Cole composed a piece called The Bobolink Waltz. His mother used her influence to get the piece published, lying about Cole’s age to make him seem even more of a child genius.
Although Cole’s grandfather disapproved of his interest in music, his mother supported him. At age 13, Cole left home to attend Worcester Academy, an elite boarding school in Massachusetts. After graduating from high school, he entered Yale University, where he composed music for various clubs’ plays and productions. After Yale, Cole entered Harvard Law School in an attempt to please his grandfather. However, he changed his major to music during his second year of studies. It is said that his mother hid this fact from his grandfather.
With his musical education from Harvard, Cole went to New York to look for work. In 1916, he composed the score for a musical comedy, See America First, but was disappointed when it was a flop. He moved to Paris in 1917 during World War I and spread the rumor that he fought in the French Foreign Legion, when in fact he spent his time partying and socializing with people like Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. While in Paris, Cole also met Linda Lee Thomas, a wealthy divorcee from Louisville, Ky. They became very close friends and married in 1919.
Cole’s first big success came in 1928 when he wrote the score for a musical comedy Paris. One of the musical’s songs, Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love, became a huge hit. This success was followed with many others. Some of Cole’s more famous musicals and songs include Fifty Million Frenchmen, Wake Up and Dream, Anything Goes and Jubilee.
In 1937, when he was 46 years old, Cole was thrown from a horse which fell on top of him, crushing his legs. Cole was paralyzed for the rest of his life and had 35 operations to try to relieve his pain.
Cole continued to compose music, some of which appeared in hit movies. In the late 1940s and 1950s, his Broadway musicals Kiss Me Kate, Can-Can and Silk Stockings were very successful. Kiss Me Kate was so superior that it won a Tony Award in 1949. Cole died in 1964 and is buried in Peru, Indiana.
Bell, J.X. “Cole Porter Biography.” The Cole Porter Resource Site.
“Tony Legacy.” The Official Website of the American Theater Wing’s Tony Awards.
Price, Nelson. Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman. Carmel, Indiana: Guild Press of Indiana, 1997.
The “American Masters” Web site from PBS offers biographical information on Cole Porter. (accessed September 23, 2009)
The “Cole Wide Web” includes biographic information, lyrics for Cole Porter songs and information on Cole Porter CDs and books.