Obituary: Art Porter 1961-1996

Contemporary jazz saxophonist Art Porter
John Hilderbrand Avatar

Arthur Lee Porter, Jr. perished in a tragic boating accident in Thailand on Saturday evening, November 23, 1996. Porter and four others were floating on the River Kwae when their raft sprang a leak. Porter, a boatman, and a married couple who were music teachers in Bangkok all drowned. The only survivor was Alan Burrows, a guitar player in Porter’s band. Porter and the band had just played at the Golden Jubilee Jazz Festival in Bangkok and were on their way to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lampur, as part of the Thailand International Jazz Festival 96.

Contemporary jazz saxophonist Art PorterAlthough Art is best known for his saxophone playing, he originally played the drums in his father’s jazz trio at age 9. Growing up in the Porter household in Little Rock, Arkansas, he was exposed to the sounds of Coltrane, Bird, and Gene Ammons. He was soon barred from playing with the trio by the state’s Beverage Control Board. However, then state Attorney General Bill Clinton pushed a law through allowing underage performers to work if a parent or guardian acts in a performing/supervisory capacity. The law is commonly known today at the “Art Porter Bill.” At the age of 15, Art was ready to step up and take center stage. After deciding he no longer wanted to serve as a support player, the saxophone “just became more natural to me.” The following year, young Porter attended the Berklee College of Music for a semester. He later received a scholarship to Northeastern Illinois University, where he played in local bands, including Von Freeman’s, every week. After receiving his degree in music education, Art began his journey as a professional musician, playing with Jack McDuff, Pharoah Sanders, Gene Chandler, and serving as musical director for the vocal r&b group After 7. On the road, Art developed a solid following and was soon signed with Verve/Polygram. His debut solo album, Pocket City, was released on Verve Forecast in 1992. Although he was primarily exposed to traditional jazz in his youth, Pocket City was an album definitely in the contemporary jazz vein. “I grew up on the standards,” he said in 1992, “but I didn’t grow up to be a jazz purist. In high school I got into a new wave kind of thing, and I’ve always liked funk. So when I got my own band, the challenge was to put all these things together. I wanted to do something that would be considered commercial and still have some integrity to the music.” The same style was evident on his three releases following: Straight to the Point, Undercover, and Lay Your Hands On Me (all on Verve Forecast).

David Bendett was the manager for Art’s band during the Southeast Asian tour. Bendett said that the President had been informed of Porter’s death. “President Clinton knew Art ever since he was a boy and they had always kept in touch,” Bendett said.

“Art Porter was a treasured member of the Verve / Polygram family,” said Chuck Mitchell, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Verve Group. “He was a great musician and a tremendous performer. More than that, Art was a warm and generous spirit who touched all who met him and heard his music. Our deepest condolences and sympathies go out to Art’s family in this time of sadness.”

Art was an engaging performer and continued to earn rave reviews for his live performances. One person recounted her experience at seeing him play: “He came down into the audience, walked through our row and stopped right in front of me and played! It was such a thrill. Even though I had never met him, he just gave you this warm sense of being.” In a recent profile in Jazziz magazine, he recounted his father’s advice to him about playing for the people. “I think what it’s really about is giving to people and moving them. And hopefully, there’s some people out there to appreciate it.”

Art Porter was 35 years old. He is survived by his wife, Barbie, and two sons, Arthur III and Arrington, ages 6 and 3.

Tagged in :

John Hilderbrand Avatar

25 responses to “Obituary: Art Porter 1961-1996”

  1. Stan Stanovich Avatar
    Stan Stanovich

    Mr. Porter is one of my all time personal favorites. All of his releases are very nice, however to me, “Pocket City” is of monumental proportion. I listen to him on a regular basis and probably always will. Apparently God considered his life’s purpose fulfilled and called him home way early. Though he’s not alone in this category, I perceive his recorded work as music from heaven. His legacy lives on. May he rest peacefully eternally!!!

  2. Jonathan porter Avatar
    Jonathan porter

    Art Porter is my older cousin i never got to meet, i love music and when i was younger my dad spoke of him a lot. I was only five when he passed and don’t remember much about him, but it’s a blessing to know that his music was and still is touching so many lives.

    1. Joi Avatar

      Oh WOW… me sincerest condolences… I absolutely LUV ❤️❤️❤️💙❣️ your cousin’s music and legacy ..HE LIVES ON …4ever Art Porter 🙏🙏🙏💯♥️💔

  3. Anthony Avatar

    Yes his music is graceful smooth jazz played a lot of his music my personal favorites are lakeshore drive and inside myself to this day I still listen to his music RIP

  4. John Jackson Avatar
    John Jackson

    Art Porter Jr. to this day is my inspiration for playing Sax. His style of playing is unmatched. Every note he played seemed to be in the right place at the right time – with awesome delivery. I saw him alive in Philly and was truly amazed at the entertainment value he possessed. I am so grateful for his 35 life years on earth. I am sure God is pleased with his angel.

  5. JAY COWANS Avatar


  6. Tiffany Cherry Avatar
    Tiffany Cherry

    Art Porter was my Jr high band teacher. He was an awesome musician and an amazing person. Never forgotten…

  7. Lester Avatar

    Art was a great preformer, I saw him live in my home town Philadelphia, he never missed a note, while dancing and moving on stage. He was one of the best artist I have ever seen perform. He will be missed. God takes the greats to put in his band. I know he’s up there jamin with greats of the past. Rest in peace.

  8. Michael,Evanston Avatar

    Art was headed to be one of the greatest sax players of all time. a great stage preformer and a crowd pleaser,bringing r&b an funk jazz style

  9. Roxanne Eggenberger Avatar
    Roxanne Eggenberger

    I had the great privilege to be his friend from 1988 until the tragic accident took his life in 1996. I was there when he decided to leave a close friends local Waukegan group, to create his own group in Chicago, getting signed to a major label Polygram Verve, touring the world, recording, composing, performing to the China Club, with Ramsey Lewis, on TV with Herbie Hancock for Verves 50 anniversary. We miss him very much. Roxcty 1.

  10. Liz Goodwin Avatar
    Liz Goodwin

    Art Porter Jr was a tremendous talent, as do many of us know. Though I never had the opportunity to see him perform live not meet him in person, I did have the privilege of interviewing him via phone on three separate occasions. This is a wonderful forum here to share kne’skne’ s thoughts about a genre of music that is often marginalized and misunderstood. Art Porter Jr, and countless others made their own signature statements in contemporary jazz. His talent defied categories. I was fortunate to have bern given a platform recently by All About Jazz.com Publisher and Editor Michael Ricci to write a tribute to Art Porter Jr. Thank you very much for this forum. It is an idea place to give respect to artists whose work will be steadfastly appreciated. Thank you so much and God bless.

  11. Fred Denekamp Avatar
    Fred Denekamp

    Still enjoying his music.

  12. Tracee Avatar

    Art was my friend! I met him when I was 16, I’ll never forget him!

  13. Fionna Avatar

    Art’s music keeps me going. I was introduced to his music as I was coming of age in the early 2000’s. When the jazz host on the radio would refer to the “late” Art Porter, I often wondered happened to him. He was called home early. May the Lord bless his soul. Art’s music lives on.

  14. Chuck Beckett Avatar
    Chuck Beckett

    I cried so much upon hearing about his death and when I lived in LA listening to a tune played by the the smooth jazz station out there at the time named “Autumn In Europe” Just so sad how life goes sometimes sooooooooooooooooo sad. My Condolence to Arts family. He is to this day missed so much. Listening to another tune “Touch” by Art, as I write this


  15. Charles Harris Avatar
    Charles Harris

    I was introduced to Art Porter’s music in 2007 by relative and have been listening since. Such a rare talent with tremendous energy and creativity that I feel I have known forever if only in spirit.

  16. David ROLLINS Avatar
    David ROLLINS

    I grew up with Art Jr. We were 2 years apart my senior. Art was so advanced that he attended the band class 1 grade ahead of him. Me and some of my school band friends formed a funk band. The horn section was made up first chair trumpet bro Morris Freeman and first chair trombone bro Emmanuel Brooks. We needed a saxaphonist to compliment this dynamic horn section. Well long story short Art came to my house, this was around 1975, it was a very productive rehearsal and we were excited at the energy that was created within this group of young musicians. Unfortunately Art Jr’s dad did not want Art distracted before he could build a foundation in his music studies. We were disappointed but understood that art was destined for greatness. Also Art and myself had the opportunity to participate in the first state jazz band or stage band competition for Parkview in 1976. The set we performed was recorded on PBS channel. 2 on a show called minor key, our Band director was Sterling Ingram, they’ve since destroyed all the tapes of that event. Beautiful memories of my brother Art. RIL.

    1. Liz Goodwin Avatar
      Liz Goodwin

      That’s a beautiful memory, Mr. Rollins, and it’s so befitting, given that today (as you know) would have been Art Jr.’s 57th birthday. Thank you so much for sharing! God’s Blessings to you and to Art Porter’s family…He possessed such talent, grace, and class!

  17. Linda Gray-Berdell Avatar
    Linda Gray-Berdell

    Art Porter taught music at the school that I then taught;
    St. Columbanus, on 71st. and Calumet. Art Porter was:
    . talented
    .Generous with his time/ talent, ( students/ staff )
    We were blessed to have met him…

    Linda Gray-Berdell

  18. Jacqueline Gordon Avatar
    Jacqueline Gordon

    I attended Art Porter’s live concert at Chene park in Detroit MI, the same year that he passed away. I was a big fan of his and listened to his CD “Pocket City” faithfully,. His wonderful, beautiful music relaxed me to sleep every night. The world lost such a talented musician. I felt like I knew him and I cried and was so heart broken, at the lost of a talented man who took the time out to send me his autograph. He will forever live on through his music. My all time favorite CD is Pocket City and Lay Your Hands On Me. 23 years later, I still enjoy his music! Ccontinue to rest in peace
    Art Porter Jr., gone way too soon!

  19. Isaiah McCommons Avatar

    I became a fan of Art Porter on a whim while shop for new jazz music back in 1992 when I first heard “Pocket City.” I became an instant fan and bought all of his CDs. Thanks to Art Porter, through his music he introduced me to Jeff Lorber, whom I became a fan of as well because of his production credits. While was I flying back from a trip from Cairo, Egypt, I ran across new thank Art Porter has pass in a boating accident, and my heart sunk because all I saw was a gifted ‘Brotha’ with some much potential. I still faithful listen and enjoy his music till this very day. RIH Art!

  20. Roxanne H Eggenberger Avatar
    Roxanne H Eggenberger

    Miss Art’s sense of humor, in eight years I knew him others and I followed him to The Cotton Club on Michigan, legendary The Backroom on Rush st, and the Jazz Bulls by Park West in Chicago Il where he was signed by Verve/Polygram.
    No ego, just a energetic composer, performer and a beautiful person.
    At Backroom, my daughter told him I used to be a singer, so he announced I was going to sing “Bye, Bye Blackbird”, I shook my head “no”, and he began to play. The room was full of men from a convention, from a foreign country and did not understand what Art said. Suddenly 30 men began to sing the song!!
    The bartender, Art, and the band where in shock! Live Jazz Kareoke?
    The bartender said that never happened before, and Art was in shock.
    My daughter and I laughed a long time, the audience had no idea they were not the intended singers. A great time was had by all.
    Art just shook his head, and said “fun things happen when you arrive”.
    Bless his sense of humor, and genuine heart of gold.

  21. Sidney Watkins Avatar
    Sidney Watkins

    Me and Art Porter were great friends.. He lived with my family while he went to Northeastern Ill. University. He used to keep me up at night while he practiced the Saxophone. Of course, I did not mind because he was so talented. We rode to school together and hung out together afterwards. We would go to different clubs in the area and he would bring his sax with him. He would ask the managers at the different clubs if he could join the band that night. He would also play on occasion at Second Baptist church of Evanston. Everybody loved his music. I introduced him to his wife Barbi. He saw her at a dance and asked me if I knew her. I think it was love at first sight for both of them. His sons Arrington and Art Porter III never really got to see their father at his greatest. His sons are very talented now that they are grown. Arrington is a great artist. I really miss my buddy. May he rest in peace.

  22. Shannise Scott Avatar
    Shannise Scott

    RIP Art Porter. Listening to the music of Art Porter now. 2024

  23. Cheryl Dinnie Avatar
    Cheryl Dinnie

    I met him at the Montreal Jazz festival a few months before he died. He was so talented as well as warm and friendly. A great loss.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.