New Jersey (April 22, 2021)—Bob Porter, who made his mark on jazz as a reissue producer and syndicated blues, soul, jazz and R&B radio DJ on NPR, died April 10 of esophageal cancer. Over the years, Porter was nominated for five Grammy Awards and won two, recognizing just some of his efforts across a career that saw him involved in the creation of hundreds of jazz and blues albums.
Born June 20, 1940 in Wellesley, MA, Porter made his mark across jazz and blues with his archival work for a number of labels, overseeing compilations and reissues, first for the Prestige label in the Sixties, then later for Savoy Records (1975-1980) and Atlantic Records (1986-1991). Curating and re-contextualizing the work of then-underappreciated artists who would come to be acclaimed by ensuing generations, Porter often chose which artists’ work to reintroduce to new audiences, arguably creating a blueprint as to how history now regards the mid-20th Century oeuvre of both genres.
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As part of his reissue work, Porter wrote liner notes for hundreds of albums for numerous labels—an effort that was rewarded when he won his first Grammy in 1980 for his commentary that accompanied The Complete Charlie Parker on Savoy. Six years later, he took home his second trophy, for best historical album, as the reissue producer of the mammoth box set, Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974, Vols. 1-7. An archivist at heart, Porter discovered while compiling the set that numerous masters had been lost in a fire, so he tracked down pristine original pressings to preserve the music and expose it to a wider audience through the project.
Porter’s career as a producer was not solely defined by reissues, however. Over the decades, he produced more than 170 jazz and blues albums, working with artists like Illinois Jacquet and Big Joe Turner. Porter also served nine times as the governor of the New York chapter of NARAS (today known as the Recording Academy), and additionally a member of the nominating committee of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.
Despite these industry efforts, Porter likely was best-known for proselytizing on behalf of jazz and the blues in mass media. Beyond writing liner notes, he wrote for Jazz Times, Down Beat, Cash Box and others; blogged at his own site, Jazzetc.net, authored the book Soul Jazz: A History of jazz in the Black Community-1945-1975, and most prominently spent 40 years in radio, hosting syndicated radio shows such as Keeping The Blues Alive (for which he won a WC Handy Award in 1986), Saturday Morning Function, Portraits in Blue, Beale Street Caravan and more.