Grammy and Tony winner Billy Porter is infusing his soulful style into the songbook of one of America’s most iconic composers — and he’s invited some very special friends along for the journey.
The 47-year-old singer and actor, known for his award-winning role in Broadway’s Kinky Boots, is teaming up with greats like India.Arie, Deborah Cox, Todrick Hall and more on his fourth studio album — Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers (out Friday).
PEOPLE’s got the exclusive first listen of Porter’s collaboration with a cappella supergroup Pentatonix, as they tackle Rodgers’ 1943 tune “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”
The track from Rodgers’ first musical with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, Oklahoma!, kicks off Porter’s album — his first as producer and curator.
“It’s a song about having a positive outlook on life, and we need that right now,” Porter tells PEOPLE. “I always want to lead with love.”
Collaborating with Pentatonix was a given for Porter, who hopes the album lets listeners see that musicians and their art can’t be be roped into one just category.
“What I love about Pentatonix so much is they’re an a capella group that has shattered that glass ceiling in the pop world,” Porter gushes. “They’re huge pop stars, and they represent everything I’m trying to say. It doesn’t just have to be one thing. Popular music can be many, many different things.”
Rodgers’ songbook provided the perfect source material to demonstrate that point.
“When material is classic, it can be reinterpreted until the end of the time,” Porter explains. “That’s the Shakespeare way. We’re constantly reinterpreting these stories because they’re human stories and the human condition is always involving. But the more things change, the more things stay the same. To be reminded of that allows us to continue to move forward.”
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Nowhere has that been clearer for Porter than in the way fans have been responding to songs as he’s toured the record nationally.
“It’s thrilling to be able to take this material and stand on the stage and watch audiences of all generations singing along with me,” Porter says of the tour, which began in March and continues through April. “It has a reach that is transcendent.”
In addition to the Pentatonix track, Porter’s album includes collaborations with many of his friends from the theater community — including Patina Miller (Madam Secretary), Cynthia Erivo, and Hamilton stars Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry and Christopher Jackson.
The full track list is as follows:
1. “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” (Pentatonix & Billy Porter)
2. “My Romance” (Leslie Odom Jr.)
3. “If I Loved You” (Renée Elise Goldsberry & Christopher Jackson)
4. “With a Song in My Heart” (Brandon Victor Dixon & Joshua Henry)
5. “I Have Dreamed” (Patina Miller)
6. “My Funny Valentine” (Cynthia Erivo)
7. “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” (Todrick Hall & Billy Porter)
8. “This Nearly was Mine” (Deborah Cox)
9. “Bewitched” (Ledisi featuring Zaire Park)
10. “Carefully Taught” (India.Arie & Billy Porter)
11. “Lady is a Tramp” (Billy Porter featuring Zaire Park)
12. “Edelweiss” (Billy Porter)
In addition to the album, Porter is still riding the high of his January wedding to longtime partner Adam Smith.
“It’s been fabulous,” he tells PEOPLE of married life. “It was never a possibility, so it’s all new to me.”
Much of their relationship can be seen in the album. “In choosing that material, it was based on the fact that I had fallen in love quite seriously,” he says. “So that is reflected throughout.”
The couple had a short engagement, tying the knot before President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“We were going to get married anyway, but then the election happened and it was like, ‘I don’t want to fight alone,’ ” Porter says. “I did that the last time, when I was fighting through the AIDS crisis when all my friends were dropping dead around me. So I really needed to do it this time with someone by my side and someone in my corner. It’s really comforting to know we’re here for each other.”
While he uses the word “fight,” Porter stresses his crusade is all about love.
“We need to be having a conversation of, ‘How do we understand each other and how do we come to the middle?’ ” he says. “We’re in this together. We can actually have different ideology and believe in different things and not destroy the world. It has to be constructive, and it has been constructive in the past. We need to figure out how to do that again.”