Art Porter Jr.

Arthur Lee (Art) Porter Jr. was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on August 3, 1961.  He began his music career under the tutelage of his father, legendary jazz musician, Arthur Porter, Sr. who surrounded him with everything musical.  He performed proficiently on drums, saxophone (under the private tutelage of Leonard Johnson) and piano. Although classically trained, his performances ranged across jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, and contemporary. 

During Porter’s youth, his playing while underage in venues where liquor was sold proved controversial. Bill Clinton, then attorney general, established a framework for the legislature that would allow minors to work in such venues with parental supervision. Act 321 known as The“Art Porter Bill” became Arkansas law.

Art Jr. graduated from Little Rock’s Parkview Performing Arts High School in 1979. During high school he was selected to be a member of the Arkansas All-State Band for three consecutive years. He was awarded superior ratings for classical solos in regional and all-state solo and ensemble festivals. At age 16, The National Association for Jazz Education awarded him the title of most talented young jazz artist in America. This honor included the chance to perform as a soloist with the United States Navy Commodores Jazz Ensemble and with trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie in Dallas, Texas, at the group’s annual convention in 1977.  That same summer, he studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Art Jr. credited much of his succes in high school to his mentor and band director Sterling Ingram.

Porter graduated from Northeastern University in Chicago, Illinois, in 1986 with a BA degree in music education and performance. While in college, he won two certificates for excellence in jazz at the Notre Dame University Festival of Music in South Bend, Indiana. He later earned graduate hours at Roosevelt University in Chicago studying music education and performance, and at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond where he studied under the tutelage of Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of the Marsalis jazz family.  

Jack McDuff, a renowned jazz organist, heard Porter’s performances and asked him to join his band. This tour broadened his perspective on the world of entertainment and led him to forming his own group in Chicago, Illinois, The Art Porter Quartet.  A prolific composer, Art wrote most of the music performed by his group and they developed a loyal following in the area. Chicago was also where he met his wife Barbi Lynn Howlett (deceased 2001) and had two sons Arthur III and Arrington.

In 1991, Art landed a contract with the Verve label, a division of Polygram Classics and Jazz. Art burst on the music scene with his debut album, Pocket City (1992), followed by Straight to the Point (1993). In 1994, his third album, Undercover, placed Porter solidly on the “wave” radio charts with R&B artists as well as “cool jazz” artists. His final album, Lay Your Hands on Me (1996), contained the radio favorite “Lake Shore Drive.” Many of his compositions were expressions of his spirituality, such as the song “Lay Your Hands on Me.” His recording career included collaborations with Will Downing, Brian McKnight, Lalah Hathaway, Nathan East, Pharoah Sanders, Gerald Albright, Rachelle Ferrell, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Lorber, Guy Eckstine, El Debarge and many others.

Porter's travels took him to Carnegie Hall for the Polygram Anniversary Celebration, overseas performances at North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel, jazz festivals in Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Thailand and the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada.  He garnered the respect of the jazz community worldwide. Porter performed at the inaugural ceremonies for President Bill Clinton in 1993. During the inaugural prayer service in collaboration with his father, he received a standing ovation for his solo renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “My Tribute.”

Porter died on November 23, 1996, in a boating accident in Thailand. He had just completed a performance at the Thailand International Golden Jubilee Jazz Festival commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign.
In 1998, Verve Records released the memorial album "For Art’s Sake", featuring Porter’s unrecorded music, songs of tribute to him from other artists, and favorites from his previous albums. Porter received posthumous awards from the recording industry, media and production companies, and the educational community of Gary, Indiana. He was also inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame, Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame and Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

“Art Porter was a treasured member of the Verve/Polygram family” said Chuck Mitchell, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Verve Group. “He was a great musician and a tremendous performer. More than that, Art was a warm and generous spirit who touched all who met him and heard his music.” .