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Billy Porter heals the nation with powerful post-election song of unity – with an important message hidden in the lyrics

Emma Powys Maurice November 5, 2020
Billy Porter

Billy Porter had an important lesson about love in America (Jenny Anderson/Getty)

Billy Porter is here to heal the soul of the nation with a powerful post-election message of unity delivered through song.

The Broadway star teamed up with singer-songwriter India Arie for a stirring performance of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”,  a show tune from the controversial 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific.

The pair gave a raw, soulful duet that could’ve been taken straight out of Pose – and just like Pray Tell’s musical numbers, there was an important lesson to be learned from the lyrics.

“I want you to turn to your neighbour or look at yourself in the mirror and ask: ‘Do you have the courage to love somebody?'” Porter asked before the performance.

“Because you see, it seems like in today’s day and age, love is an act of resistance. So I want to let you know that we’re here to resist with love until the day we die.”

The classic song is one of Porter’s favourites and featured on his 2017 album Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers.

The musical it came from received heavy scrutiny for its commentary on relationships between different races, and “Carefully Taught” was hit with particular criticism. When the musical first debuted the song was judged by many to be too controversial or downright inappropriate for the stage.

The heartbreaking ballad is sung by the lead character, whose lover rejects him when she discovers he has Black children. He pointedly reminds her that racism is “not born in you – it happens after you’re born”, before musing on how racist beliefs are “drummed in” from an early age.

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late / Before you are six or seven or eight / To hate all the people your relatives hate / You’ve got to be carefully taught,” he sings.

Billy Porter explained the significance of the song, which he sees as “the soul of Richard Rodgers”.

“We were investigating his canon, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart,” he said. “They were pushing the envelope back in the golden age, and they were dealing with issues and topics in their musicals that were really hard to talk about, trying to reach across the aisle and have a comfortable conversation.

“And so when we were working on this record, it took a little bit of a while, and then the election happened, and I just thought we need to make sure that we’re speaking to what is going on in the world, so that’s how that song happened.”

As India Aira adds: “Children are only born with two fears – loud noises and falling. Everything else is carefully taught.”

More: Billy Porter, Broadway, India Aria, pose, south pacific

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