Bob Porter, the blues and jazz broadcaster, writer and producer, who shared his massive knowledge of these subjects religiously on WBGO radio for over 38 years, died on April 10 at his home in Northvale, New Jersey. He was 80.
The cause was complications due to esophageal cancer, as reported by WBGO Jazz radio.
Porter presided over a weekly radio show, “Saturday Morning Function,” on Newark’s 24-hour jazz station WBGO. His show was a healthy dose of R&B, classic soul and that deep down blues. His blues program “Portraits in Blue” had been featured on WBGO for more than 38 years. A third WBGO show, the WBGO Swing Party, debuted in 2015. He was the last of the original announcers who began during the station’s 1979 inception.
Porter was more than an on-air personality, he was a professor sharing his knowledge of R&B, blues and classic soul from the roots of Black music. He was one of the few jazz authorities, who managed to connect the dots with all three genres. He played Little Willie John and discussed the band; talked about Johnny Ace, followed by playing Ike and Tina Turner’s “Fool in Love” or Harvey and the Moonglows, Chantels, Shirelles or early Smokey Robinson & the Miracles when his wife Claudine was in the group.
He was at home talking do wop, bebop, R&B or straight up soul and jazz. Porter was the real cat. When Stevie Wonder talked about this music bringing folks together from different races and backgrounds he must have had Porter in mind.
“He loved our music, and he especially loved connecting jazz with the Black community,” says tenor saxophonist Houston Person, whose friendship and working relationship with Porter began in the late 1960s. “He was devoted to keeping alive that R&B link to jazz, though he was primarily a jazz producer. We were a part of the street.”
Porter’s keen ear and sharpness for details led him to become a prolific record producer. Along with dozens of Person sessions, Porter produced more than 175 albums of jazz and blues involving artists as diverse as Big Joe Turner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Gene Ammons, Arthur Prysock, Illinois Jacquet, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy McGriff and Charles Earland. He produced his first album in 1968 for Prestige Professor Soul, by organist Charles Kynard. That same year, Porter produced Person’s “Soul Dance!” and Harold Mabern’s “Rakin’ and Scrapin.’”
Porter’s wealth of historical knowledge made him a force in the preservation of label catalogs. He won his first Grammy Award in 1979, in the Best Liner Notes category, for “Charlie Parker – The Complete Savoy Sessions,” a five-LP set. (He was also its reissue producer.) He won another Grammy for Best Historical Album in 1986, for “Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974, Vols. 1-7.” He has served as a re-issue producer for Savoy Records 1975-1980, and Atlantic Records from 1986 to 1991 producing more than 200 re-issues of Jazz and Blues.
He was honored by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2007 with the Marian McPartland-Willis Conover Award for Excellence in Jazz Broadcasting. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2009. He was one of the emcees of the Chicago Blues Festival from 1990-2007. He has served seven different terms on the board of directors of the Blues Foundation. In 2003, he was given the Community Service Award by the Bergen County New Jersey Chapter of the NAACP.
Robert was born in Wellesley, Mass. on June 20, 1940, the son of David Porter, chairperson of David L Babson & Company and Constance Porter. He graduated from Whittier College and served in the Army, stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Porter contributed chapters on Blues history of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s for “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues” (Flame Tree Publishing, London, 2005). He was the author of “Soul Jazz: Jazz in the Black Community, 1945-1975” (Xlibris, 2016).
WBGO will pay tribute to the legacy of Bob Porter in the coming weeks and in perpetuity, considering the foundational role he played in building the station and its commitment to musical integrity.