Billy Porter is a man in a hurry. “The world has finally caught up with me”(1), and he intends to make full use of the platform he now has. “We as artists have the capacity to reach into the real heart of people and change the molecular structure of their insides and change hearts and minds. My life was saved by the arts, so I hope to continue to do that for others.”(4) ‘Finally Ready’, his upcoming debut for Glitterbox in collaboration with The Shapeshifters, is part of that process. Speaking to Glitterbox, Billy says, “I’ve made a lot of different kinds of music – R&B, show tunes, ballads. But it should come as no surprise to anyone at all that disco is in my blood! I love to feel sparkly and have that light shine back into the audience. So, yes, I am ‘finally ready’ to make a classic disco record. And I am so very lucky and blessed to be working with the best in the business, Defected, Glitterbox, and The Shapeshifters. Now, let’s dance!''

As well as being another seminal Shapeshifters moment finely crafted by Simon Marlin, ‘Finally Ready’ is also a very personal song for his co-writer Billy. "'Finally Ready’ hits on so many levels for me. First, being ‘finally ready’ to experience what real love is. And thankfully, I have somebody who loves me enough to love me through trauma, to be present, and allow me to grow, into this. I’m also ‘finally ready’ to be who I am, who I’ve always been. It has been a rough road, I’ve been through so many changes, but I always kept the faith and now I’m here.”

Early years
A young Billy Porter first discovered the combined power of music and style at church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (“a fashion show from head to toe”(2)). At Reizenstein Middle School, “I was introduced to musical theatre and I fell in love - I found my tribe.”(3) However, he had no real inkling that this could be a career option until “that summer following, I happened to catch the Tony Awards on television and... Jennifer Holliday sang ‘And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going.’ She sang like the people sang at church. She sang like me and she was on television. So that was a really significant moment for me.”(4) (Billy would later record the number for his 2005 show tunes album On the Corner of Broadway and Soul). However, Porter’s childhood was far from easy, the rough road he alluded to starting young. “I was sent to a psychologist at five years old because I was a sissy and my family was afraid,” he told Allure magazine (7); adding in a New York Times article,“ I had been bullied and physically and sexually abused. I was also terrorised by a cousin who threatened to kill me if I ever ‘turned gay.’'(1) Against this challenging backdrop, he earned a drama scholarship from Carnegie Mellon University, then moving to New York City - and Broadway.

“I came to New York at 21. The first decade of my career was on Broadway. I also had an R&B record deal on A&M Records. The homophobia, the systematic homophobia, in the business at large, the attack on my masculinity really lead me to a crossroads because it was like, 'Well you have to fix yourself or you won't ever have success’”, Billy told W Magazine (4), further explaining his thought processes thus: ”I can choose my authenticity. I can choose my sanity... over this imaginary fame that can possibly happen if I butch up enough for what other people think I should be. It was really heavy, and it was a really difficult decision, I had to make it.“ (4) Billy determined to manage his own story from hereon in. He studied screenwriting at UCLA, began directing, worked with Stephen Sondheim, finally venturing back to New York in 2005 where he performed acclaimed one-man show ‘Ghetto Superstar (the Man That I Am),’ in addition to releasing the On the Corner of Broadway and Soul album, from which we feature here his spellbinding 'Last Midnight’ – but not before pointing you in the direction of his version of Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ from his 1997 debut album, turning it from proto-power ballad into the soul drenched, gospel-tinged song it always had the potential to be.
Angels in America
“When I went to see Angels in America was the first time that I had seen a black, gay character who was not the butt of the joke. Who was not the one to be reviled. Who was actually the moral, spiritual compass of this crazy world. And I thought, "Wow, that's who I am."’ (4) This early 1990s Broadway production had quite an impact on Porter when he had a night off from performing in the stage version of Grease, “prancing around with 14 inches of orange, rubber hair on my head. Like a Little Richard on crack. And I knew if I stayed on that trajectory I would never get to what my heart really wanted, what my soul really desired.” (4) So it is fitting that it was a revival of Angels in America in 2010 that started Billy on a decade long upward curve when he was cast in the role of Belize in the  play’s 20th-anniversary production after storming the audition – “my God, I had done it. It took me 15 years to do so, but the game had officially been changed.”

Signature Theatre's Angels In America: Billy Porter from Signature Theatre on Vimeo.

Kinky Boots 
Having kept faith in himself throughout and finally started to reap the rewards, in 2013, Porter landed the role of Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway. Inspired by a modestly received 2005 UK movie, the theatrical revamp proved hugely successful. Porter took the role of drag queen Lola. “For me having gone through all of the things that I went through in my life — choosing myself, choosing my sanity over my fame, choosing my authenticity and taking all the hits that come with that to finally get my shot — to be starring in a Broadway show as a drag queen and say that that character is straight would be irresponsible of me,”(5) he told Esquire. So, he made Lola gay – winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, followed by a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album.

Back in the Studio
This renewed Broadway success enabled Billy to get back in the recording studio for the Billy’s Back album (2014) – “what we’ve done is we’ve taken very well known songs from the Broadway canon, and then what I wanted to do was create an environment where stylistically, we can go from the classic to the contemporary.” This was followed in 2017 by Billy Porter presents the Soul Of Richard Rodgers, where Billy and guests contemporised the celebrated Rodgers songbook – “because of the time that Richard Rodgers grew up in, where theatre music was the pop music of the day, that was the Beyonce, that was the Kanye West, everybody on the planet knows a Richard Rodgers song.” These previews will whet your appetite.

Having presided over huge hits such as Nip/Tuck,Glee and American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy was dubbed “the most powerful man in television” after penning a mega-bucks deal with Netflix in 2017. By this time Murphy, already celebrated for the pro-LGBTQ+ storylines and representation in his shows, had embarked on one of his most ambitious projects to date. Pose would document New York’s marginalised but often vibrant, life-affirming Ballroom culture of the 1980s – and it would do so with the biggest transgender cast and crew ever assembled for a TV series. Writing for Vogue Porter, who won a Best Actor Emmy for his role as Ballroom MC Pray Tell, said: I’m a black, gay man, and I had little idea about the challenges the trans community have faced, the erasure of people of colour within the narrative of LGBTQI+ activism, the danger and difficulties of being a woman. The show is teaching me as much as it’s teaching everybody else. That’s what’s been so beautiful about it… We can move the conversation forward, we can make a difference collectively, but it has to start individually.” (3) Pose was lauded for putting these issues front and centre – it also put Billy Porter front and centre, an opportunity he has relished and used to great effect.

Art as activism
“The conversation is not about tolerance or acceptance. They are two words that we have thrown about for decades. For me, the demand is about respect for humanity — we are all human beings. That’s the space we need to get to.”(3) This theme has run through countless interviews that Billy Porter has conducted since the success of Pose. He intuitively understands the dominant role commerce plays in the entertainment industry, and that with Pose, Ryan Murphy succeeded in creating a space where the art and the entertainment collide, the message, the activism, where they collide and explode, then it's successful and everybody's making money.”(4) The next challenge? “We’re in this middle space of trying to figure out how social media and activism unite. Where do they come together for modern, real activism, not just likes on Instagram? I don’t know what the answer is. I’m trying to figure it out, but until you get out on the streets, nothing changes.''(6)

Billy has also recorded a haunting version of Buffalo Springfield’s late 1960s counter-culture protest song ‘For What It’s Worth’, re-purposing its message for 2020. The video juxtaposes the lyrics “there’s a man with a gun over there / telling me I got to beware” with images of a Black Lives Matter rally, while the release also promotes the #Vote2020 campaign, encouraging those who are often left disenfranchised in America to use their vote.

Style as activism
In addition to pushing the art as activism agenda, 2019 saw Billy own the red carpet at several major shows, every move, every outfit a carefully considered one. As he told The Guardian, “Fashion is one of the highest forms of art, and if I can be a walking piece of art when I show up, preferably political art, I love it.”(2) Vogue serenaded “the most fabulous entrance in Met Gala history”, but arguably the Christian Siriano gown he donned for the Academy Awards made an even bigger splash – but as Billy told Esquire, his end game extended far beyond Oscars night: “LGBTQ narratives and stories and arche types are initially very performative,right? So, you make the statement. What I'm interested in is the conversation that comes after the statement.” (5) As for those interested in working with him, they had best understand thatIf they can see my work, and still judge me because I’m gender-bendy in my regular life and minding my own black, faggot-ass business, I don’t want to work with them.”(8)

Oh, and Billy also stole the show inside at the Tony awards, not just on the red carpet…

Want to see and hear more Billy Porter? Check out these in-depth interviews.

With the Screen Actors Guild

With Carnegie Mellon University

With Ryan Murphy (Producer of Pose)

…plus: Billy’s YouTube channel


  1. New York Times, November 2017
  2. The Guardian, September 2019
  3. Vogue, January 2020
  4. W magazine, July 2019
  5. Esquire, June 2019
  6. Deadline, August 2019
  7. Allure, January 2020
  8. The Cut, May 2019