hat sounded like a crashing pots-and-pans symphony over the phone actually was Billy Porter making an eggs and turkey bacon breakfast in his Harlem home.
Subtlety hardly reigns as one of the strong suites of the gifted singer, actor, director and playwright. He broke into laughter over his energetic soliloquies on topics ranging from institutionalized racism to a fragmented America.
“I’m always careful to lead with love,” he said. “For me, it’s not about pointing fingers, or bashing various political supporters.”
The 47-year-old Porter will devote a section of his new “Broadway and Soul” Cabaret at The Commons concert April 6 to building unity in a nation that he believes is struggling with democracy’s protections.
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“Artists always have been the people speaking truth to power, and artists always have been the voice that have reached across the aisles in ways that political figures can’t, because music is a universal language,” he said.
And music has made Porter a nearly universal success, including earning Tony and Grammy award for his role as the “gender illusionist” Miss Lola in Cyndi Lauper’s hugely successful Broadway musical “Kinky Boots.”
“But I don’t perform just for your entertainment,” Porter said of his desire to advocate for people’s rights and freedoms. “That’s not exactly what I do.”
His estimated 13-song set locally will highlight mostly material from his new album set for a mid-April release. The disc, the artist’s fourth, called “Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rodgers” celebrates his soulful take on some of the classic composer’s better-known material — and with the help of dueting artists ranging from India Arie to Pentatonix.
To help the live tunes sound as they should, he’s bringing along digital enhancement tracks along with his accompanying pianist. One of his 2013 jazzy-pop songs, “Feel It to Heal It,” calling for a return to loving one another, is in the show and also hints at taking time to acknowledge pain of the past.
“Sometimes, we want to ignore all the bad stuff,” he said. “We have to remember how we got here. And it wasn’t always nice.”
Porter, whose work as a playwright and a director also features his social justice awareness, long has spoken and lived so straightforwardly.
Nearly 30 years ago, at the height of the AIDS crisis, he worked and raised money to help people stay alive, Porter said.
“The basis and foundation of where I come from always has been rooted in activism. And if you’ve been given a platform, I feel like you really need to use it,” he said.
Last month, some of his passion for the disenfranchised earned him the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award. In a fiery acceptance speech in Philadelphia, he spoke of being forced into early childhood counseling for effeminate mannerisms, overcoming elementary school bullying and how society, including the entertainment industry, often tries to force gay people such as him into what he called “invisibility.”
He said he always has had to fight for visibility, and endured a 13-year dry spell from Broadway in which his phone was silent.
“You know all of those programs the government has said for years it wants to cut? Growing up poor in Pittsburgh, I had nothing (myself). Well, I benefited greatly from those programs before elements of public education began slowly being dismantled. There were so many opportunities for me to take the natural talent that I had and run with it,” Porter said.
That included free, after-school and weekend private instrumental music and voice lessons, choir and opera workshops, and much more.
“The only reason I can do what I do today is because somebody was there for me to help me,” he said.
He carefully points out that the funding for such programs has helped him become a successful taxpayer today. And he sees a silver lining in the push to keep arts in the schools alive, and in the rousing of minority groups under various measures of a new presidential administration.
“This is really good from the standpoint that everybody’s engaged again,” Porter said of seeing groups ranging from women to immigrants speak out. “It’s no longer just one group of people being oppressed anymore.”
So, somewhere in his music, Billy Porter wants listeners to find far more than a nice groove.
“I want you to leave changed when you come to something of mine,” he said. “I hope people at my shows can leave with the knowledge that we’re all in this together.
“And as long as we stay together and fight together, we’re going to be OK.”
Who: Broadway performer, Tony and Grammy winner Billy Porter performing his new Richard Rodgers-inspired “Broadway and Soul” show at the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s Cabaret at The Commons series.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 6. Happy hour at 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.
Tickets: General (chairs) for $20; preferred (tables) for $35; and VIP (tables near the stage and post-show meet-and-greet) for $55.
Food: Those in preferred and VIP sections can order a three-course meal for $18.
Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.