Just like his father and namesake, Art Porter Jr. was a talented musician on a variety of instruments and in a variety of musical genres.
Arthur Lee (Art) Porter Jr. was born in Little Rock on August 3, 1961. Porter 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 and piano. He was classically trained but his performances ranged across jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, and ballads.
During high school, under the supervision of Sterling Ingram, private teacher and band director at Parkview High School, Art Jr. was selected to be a member of the Arkansas All-State Band for three consecutive years. At age 16, he was awarded the “Most Talented Young Jazz Artist in America” by the National Association for Jazz Education.
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.
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 studying music education and performance, and at Virginia Commonwealth University 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. His first performance while on tour with McDuff was in a New Orleans jazz club.
Porter started the Art Porter Quartet in Chicago and developed a loyal following in the area. He continued to write his own music and in 1991 was offered a contract to record on 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. During this same year, he performed at Carnegie Hall for the Polygram Anniversary Celebration. 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.” Porter performed at the inaugural ceremonies of 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 traveled the world with performances but no matter where his music would carry him, he always returned to his beloved hometown of Little Rock. He conducted workshops for music students at his alma maters, Dunbar Magnet Junior High School and Parkview Arts and Science Magnet School. He was a founder of the Art Porter Sr. Music Education, Inc. (now the Art Porter Music Education, Inc. in memory of Art Sr. and Art Jr.), a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to musically talented Arkansas students who need financial assistance to pursue their dream of obtaining a musical degree.
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 2013, he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. For more on Art Porter Jr. and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.