Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Resuming his music career, Pittsburgh's Billy Porter brings his national concert tour to Heinz Hall

Billy Porter's national concert tour stops at Heinz Hall on May 28.
Meredith Truax
Billy Porter's national concert tour stops at Heinz Hall on May 28.

It's not too unusual for Bill Porter to visit Pittsburgh: His clutch of Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards notwithstanding, the local native returns often, whether to shoot a film, give a commencement address, or serve as grand marshal for last summer’s Pittsburgh Pride parade.

But the next time he’s here will be something yet again. Pittsburgh — specifically, the grand confines of Heinz Hall — is a stop on Porter’s first-ever pop music tour. The five-week, 25-city national tour, dubbed “The Black Mona Lisa: Volume 1,” begins April 29, in Seattle, and hits Pittsburgh on May 28.

Porter will front a five-piece band and perform songs from throughout his career, including tunes from “Kinky Boots” — the Broadway smash that made him a star — and 10 songs from his forthcoming album, “The Black Mona Lisa.”

WESA Arts Newsletter

Love stories about arts and culture? Sign up for the WESA Arts newsletter, delivered every Wednesday afternoon.

“Music is the original gift,” said Porter in a phone interview last week (which took place, as it happened, during another of his visits to Pittsburgh). “I started singing in church when I was five years old. If I didn’t have the courage from the voice I was given from God, I wouldn’t be doing anything else. And none of this other stuff would have happened.”

There’s been a lot of other stuff indeed, from his Emmy-winning turn as Pray Tell in the FX series “Pose" to his 2021 memoir “Unprotected,” and from his feature-film directorial debut last year, “Anything’s Possible,” to his outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ rights. And, of course, countless red-carpet moments.

But Porter, 53, notes that long before he donned those iconic scarlet thigh-highs for “Kinky Boots,” he’d pursued a career as an R&B and soul singer.

His self-titled debut album, with its hit single “Show Me,” came out in 1997. Porter said record industry homophobia crippled his ambitions.

“Now, all these years later, I get to come back to the mainstream music industry on my own terms,” he said. “So this concert is going to be a celebration of life, a retrospective of my life, a celebration of life and love and joy and hope, and I just want to give the world a big bear hug.”

The upbeat vibe is reflected in the album’s first single, “Baby Was a Dancer,” about a singing and dancing child who is put down by preachers and teachers but is “born to be a legend.”

The song is autobiographical, Porter said: It’s about “overcoming the haters.”

“You will always have haters and naysayers in your life, and what one needs to do is release them and dance your way to heaven anyway,” he said.

As with everything Porter does, he said he plans to give the tour his all.

“I’m out for world domination. My music — I wanted to be the male Whitney Houston when I was a kid,” he said. “It’s time for that now.”

More information on Porter’s May 28 concert at Heinz Hall is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: