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All rise for the gospel king

Musical powerhouse Gregory Porter brings new album to Boston

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
All rise for the gospel king
Grammy Award-winning vocalist Gregory Porter. PHOTO: ERIK UMPHERY

Grammy Award-winning songster Gregory Porter will debut his new album “All Rise” at Emerson’s Colonial Theatre on Jan. 20. The infectious songlist blends gospel energy with danceable beats for an uplifting musical experience. “All Rise” is a return to Porter’s original songwriting style, with honest, emotional lyrics and a mix of genre elements.

“Yes, you could say that I went big,” says Porter about the album. “But, quite frankly, the way I write in my head, it all happens with just voice and piano first, and it’s built up from there. It feels good to get back to the rhythms and the styles and the feelings and the way that I like to lay down my own music from start to finish.”

Grammy Award-winning songster Gregory Porter will debut his new album “All Rise” at
Emerson’s Colonial Theatre on Jan. 20. COURTESY PHOTO

“All Rise” utilizes the talents of Porter’s bandmates and also a 10-member choir, a curated horn section and the London Symphony Orchestra String Ensemble. These powerful forces come together to merge jazz, soul, blues, gospel and pop in the album. The centerpiece song of the album, “Revival,” has a powerful music video to accompany it. In the video, a young Black man, dancer Jemoni Powe, watches television coverage of Freddie Gray’s murder and shrinks down to a miniature version of himself. Through dance, he heals and grows strong and resilient again.

“This is straight-up gospel. This is what I heard in church. When somebody caught the Holy Ghost, this was the beat,” says Porter. “For me, it’s the message of walking into this life and having some fear and some self-doubt, and at the point that you grab onto something that you know is real, the truth — once you can grab onto the truth, then this fearlessness comes.”

Porter has been around the music business, from an acclaimed role in the original 1999 Broadway cast of “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” to an autobiographical album and musical inspired by his idol Nat King Cole. But what inspire audiences the most are Porter’s original songs that cut across genre boundaries and into the hearts of listeners across the globe. 

As one of eight children raised by a minister mother, Porter grew up in the gospel tradition. That power is the root of both his musical compositions and his lyrics. Though for Porter the songs are tied to religious strength, the messages of reawakening and community power are applicable to all listeners. Like the young dancer in the “Revival” video uses movement, Porter uses song to heal and build strength for the next chapter.

“This is my political thought and my real truth,” says Porter. “It comes from my personality, my mother’s personality, the personality of the blues and of Black people. It’s this idea of making do with the scraps, of resurrection and ascension, and of whatever the current situation is, it can get better through love.”

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