Raised in California, Porter’s mother was a minister, and he cites the Bakersfield Southern Gospel sound, as well as his mother’s Nat King Cole record collection, as fundamental influences on his own sound. Porter began singing in small jazz clubs in San Diego while attending San Diego State University on a football scholarship, where he played outside linebacker. Eventually it was music that Porter chose to pursue full-time at the encouragement of local musicians including his mentor Kamau Kenyatta.
Kenyatta invited Porter to visit him in the studio in Los Angeles, where he was producing the flutist Hubert Laws’ album Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole. When Laws overheard Porter singing along while he was tracking the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile,” the flutist was so impressed with the young singer that he decided to include Porter on the album.
Another fortunate twist of fate was the presence in the studio that day of Laws’ sister, Eloise, a singer who was soon to join the cast of a new musical theater production It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. Porter had minimal theatrical experience but was cast in one of the show’s lead roles when the play opened in Denver, and he eventually followed it to Off-Broadway and then Broadway, where The New York Times, in its 1999 rave review, mentioned Porter among the show’s “powerhouse line up of singers.” It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues went on to earn both Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations that year.
Porter eventually put down roots in Brooklyn, and in 2010 released his debut album Water (Motéma Music), which earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. His sophomore album Be Good (Motéma Music) followed in 2012 and earned him his second GRAMMY nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance.