Stunning, Reserved, A Queen: Lorenza Brown Porter
The curation of this magazine involves an immense amount of labor, filled with love and enriched by magical moments only this profession could give me. As I stood in the presence of Mrs. Lorenza Brown Porter, the enormous room around us seemed to shrink in comparison to her elegance. Sitting comfortably in her recliner chair, the famed singer truly made me feel the magic of the moment.
There have been various times in which I have been left speechless, perhaps not the best thing for a writer to confess. However, the radiance before me could have outshone Time Square during New Year’s Eve. As is typical when met with such beauty, the human eye cannot resist capturing the overall scene in which this light had graced us. The room only added to her brilliance, creating a harmonious visual symphony rivaled only by rival Porter’s signature claim to fame: her voice.
Embracing her presence was a treasure for me. Most importantly, being there to capture footage was the focus. I was fortunate to play her signature song for her, “Near The Cross,” which she recorded with The Argo Singers. It was worth seeing her emotional reactions. During the entire song her lips gently moved, while in a low voice she sang each lyric, not missing a word. Her eyes were healing; moist enough to “wash away worry” yet evidence that she was rejoicing in remembrance. That was a mission accomplished for me: the world saw her savoring her signature song, and I was sentimental, knowing my embrace was accepted.
Right in the golden age of gospel (1950s), Mrs. Porter was reckoned to be a force in the gospel arena. Bob Marovich summed this up in his book, A City Called Heaven, sharing that she was an influence on Vee Jay Records’ talent selection. She introduced acts such as the Helen Robinson Youth Choir. Considering the record label’s success with The Staple Singers and Maceo Woods’ Amazing Grace, being trusted by Vee Jay Records tells us a lot.
With the Argo Singers, Porter poured her heart out through song. She sang with conviction. According to Porter, she sang about a God she believes in; by doing so she has touched countless lives. As we watched a clip of her singing and she murmured along with the music, I can vividly attest to her singing from her heart. She had certainly reached mine.
The later set of Argo Singers included my godfather Willie James McPhatter. He made his claim to fame under the tutelage of the Alex Bradford Singers. I have been diligently searching for more information about his career. An extra benefit of my time with Lorenza was being afforded photos of him in Porter’s company, and her own memories of him, despite how faint they had become with the passing of more than half a dozen decades.
My visit with Lorenza was the strongest two and half hours of my life. In my laborious fight to hold back tears, my heart was swimming in excitement. I had reached a pinnacle in my career as a gospel enthusiast by sitting with a gospel music pioneer in her living room. Though words were faint, her presence was overwhelming. When I left, I felt officially christened.