A fashionable stage actor, Billy Porter, knows how to own the moment, whether on the stage or not. He started his Broadway career starring at Miss Saigon and Grease and came a long way to Kinky Boots, where he earned his first Tony Award.
Billy Porter (September 21, 1969) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cloerinda Jean Johnson Porter Ford and William E. Porter. He attended the Musical Theater program at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School’s School of Drama, where he graduated in 1987. He also studied at the Carnegie Mellon University and graduated with a B.F.A. in Drama. He also earned a certification from the graduate-level program in screenwriting at UCLA.
From 1985 to 1987, he was a member of entertainment groups Flash and Spirit, which performed daily at the Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.
Porter’s first Broadway appearance was in 1991 when he was cast in the ensemble of Miss Saigon, one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. He went on to perform in big-title shows like Grease (1994), where he was cast as a Teen Angel, and in an off-Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice (1995), where he played the role of Solanio.
Throughout the 1990s, he continued to appear in Broadway musicals, including Smokey Joe’s Café (1995), Five Guys Named Moe (1995), and Jesus Christ Superstar (1998). Starting in 2000, Porter took a hiatus from acting on Broadway to perform in concerts and off-Broadway productions and direct productions like the Being Alive, Once on This Island, and The Colored Museum.
In 2005, Porter wrote a solo performance piece, Ghetto Superstar, that debuted at the New York City’s Public Theatre. He went to appear in the Pittsburgh premiere of Topdog/Underdog (2004), and in the off-Broadway revival of Angels in America in 2010.
His breakout role came in 2013, when he originated the role of Lola in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots, with songs from Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Porter earned a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award for this role.
In the following years, Porter wrote a semi-autobiographical play While Yet Live, and played the role of Aubrey Lyles in the 2016 Broadway musical Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.
In 2015, Porter reprised the role of Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway, where he did a 15-week run.
Film, Television and Recording Career
Porter starred in films as well. He played a major role as a drag queen Shiniqua in Twisted (1996). He lent his singing voice for The First Wives Club (1996) and Anastasia (1997).
He ventured into music and released three solo albums: Billy Porter (1997), At the Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005), and Billy’s Back on Broadway (2014). He got featured in the tribute album, It’s Only Life: The Songs of John Bucchino in 2006.
Porter released a tribute album Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers in 2017, featuring new and soulful takes on the classic Richard Rodgers Songs. He featured solos and duets from various artists, besides himself.
In television, Porter had starring roles in Law & Order (2004), The Big C (2012), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2013), The Get Down (2016), Saturday Night Live (2019), and The Twilight Zone (2020). He also performed in So You Think You Can Dance and appeared in various television movies.
In 2018, Porter became a series regular in the TV show Pose in the role of Pray Tell, and appeared on five episodes of American Horror Story: Apocalypse. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and won a Primetime Emmy Award for his performance in Pose, making him the first openly gay black man to win a lead acting category in the Primetime Emmys.
- Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Tony Awards (2013) – Kinky Boots
- Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (2013) – Kinky Boots
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical, Outer Critics Choice Award (2013) – Kinky Boots
- Favorite Leading Actor in a Broadway Musical, Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards (2013) – Kinky Boots
- Best Musical Theater Album, Grammy Awards (2014) – Kinky Boots