'Now that I’m a dad myself it’s hard to imagine not wanting to hang out with your kid'
SINGER PORTER'S HEARTACHE AFTER FATHER ABANDONED HIM
AMERICAN singing star Gregory Porter says he has never come to terms with being rejected by his father.
The man with the voice as smooth as honey also reveals that his heartache has been magnified since he became a parent to his seven-year-old son, Demyan.
"Now that I'm a dad myself it's hard to imagine not wanting to hang out with your kid. It perplexes me," he tells me by Zoom from his home in Bakersfield, California.
Gregory's mother, who raised her family of eight - five boys and three girls - single handedly, was pregnant with him when his father, Rufus, left home and turned his back on his kids.
"It's hard to imagine not wanting to hang out with your kid," Gregory sighs. "In the fun moments when I'm playing with my son and he does some dance, or gets ice cream all over his face, why would you choose never to see that?
"In moments like that, somewhere in the corner of my mind, that thought would come into my head. My son doesn't have to win an award, just to see him being himself is fascinating, and he missed out on that with us. It still does vex me, if I'm honest."
The 6ft 3ins gentle giant was 20 when his father died. Today, at the age of 48, Gregory obviously still hasn't laid him to rest. "Quite frankly, even my last record, Nat King Cole and Me, was still a search for him," Gregory admits. "The reason I got into Nat King Cole was a search for my father."
At Rufus's funeral Gregory did learn that he had inherited his singing voice from his father. "It was bittersweet to be told, 'The very thing you do, the thing that is central to your life, he gave it to you.' My voice. So I have to say that I got his singing voice, even though I never heard him sing. He gave me something that's central to my life, so I have to thank him for that.
"Even if he wasn't married to my mother he should have checked on me in some kind of way when I was growing up. But I'm thankful for what I did get…his voice."
Porter's voice has bewitched fans around the world, and he says that it also brings him comfort. "There's something in my voice and I realise that," Gregory tells me. "People ask me, 'What are you listening to to feel better?' Not to sound narcissistic, but I'm listening to a lot of ME, because there's something in my voice that carries a tone of warmth and soothing. I realised that since I was a little boy when I used to sing myself to sleep.
"I used to sing to myself for comfort, and so I find I'm doing that now in the darkest period of my life, in the absence of my brother who has died from this virus."
Gregory's 49-year-old brother, Lloyd, a businessman in New York who played a major role in promoting his career, died in May from Covid-19. "I have fear and grief, and what's been calming me and making me feel better has been my music," he says.
His mother recognised that Gregory had a rare talent, and on her death bed she urged him to pursue it.
The jazz and soul singing sensation reveals: "I told my mother, 'Mom, I'm going to have a real job,' and she said, 'Don't forget about your music, it's the best thing you do son.'
"There were moments when it felt like a foolish pursuit after 15 years of trying. My sisters were like, 'Will you stop that and use your college education and get a real damn job.' But I stuck with it based on my mother saying it was OK."
Does he believe that she's had a hand in his success? "I can't help but know that," he responds.
"If people want to reference what they think are my best songs, my most successful songs, they're based on some influence from her…the optimism of No Love Dying, the poetry, insightfulness or the gospel feel of Liquid Spirit or Revival, the absolute truth telling in the song, When Love Was King, the mutual respect I think of in the songs like Painted On Canvas, or even a simple message in Our Love. These are the foundations of what she taught us as children and as young men, and so she's in the music without question. She's in my new record as well, and so she has a very big hand in my success."