Not many people get the honor of singing at the National Day of Prayer in front of dignitaries, senators and former President George W. Bush. But for soprano soloist Beth Porter, singing at the White House was trumped by an event much more personal.
“It will sound funny, but I was privileged enough to sing at my mother’s funeral, and I feel like that was really the culmination of everything for me,” Porter said. “To sing at the White House was a tremendous honor but on a spiritual and emotional level, the (highlight for me) was to sing at her funeral and honor her in that way and not fall apart. It was not my best singing, but it was my most heartfelt singing. I felt God’s presence with me in a powerful way and it was pretty incredible. ”
Family has played a tremendous role in the life of Porter, who was the third artist to perform at the Center for Worship’s Christian Artist Series Monday, Oct. 8.
Accompanied by pianist Amy Hutchinson, Porter sang a diverse selection of songs in front of students and faculty.
Two of these songs were written by her father James D. Cram, who died when Porter was only 13.
“I haven’t had my dad in my life for the past 37 years, so singing his music reminds me of when I had a dad and what a good dad he was. It makes me feel connected to him,” Porter said.
The daughter of a college professor of music and musician, Porter grew up constantly surrounded by music.
She played piano and violin as a child, but discovered her love for singing when she joined the choir in high school.
She then went on to get a degree in music at Baylor University and a master’s degree in voice at Western Carolina University.
She began teaching at Cedarville University in 1997 and is now the chair of the Department of Music, Art and Worship as well as the Women’s Choir director.
In March 2004, when Porter sang “Jesus, Lover of my Soul” for Cedarville University’s daily chapel service, the chapel speaker was especially impressed.
The speaker that morning was Tim Goeglein, who at the time was the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and worked closely with Bush. When he got up to speak, he turned to Porter and complimented her generously.
“I’ve never been complimented like that in my life. It was so elegant and sincere, it was amazing,” Porter said.
After chapel ended, Porter thanked Goeglein for his kindness and introduced herself, adding that she was from Texas and would love to sing for Bush one day.
“I really thought I would never hear another thing about it,” Porter said. “But then four or five weeks later, my phone rang after chapel and this gentleman called from the White House.”
Porter was then invited to sing a solo at the National Day of Prayer, an experience that she called completely surreal.
“We were in the east wing of the White House, there were no barriers. We could sit in the furniture, we had a reception in the state dining room, the chaplain from the Senate and House of Representatives was there, (along with) all these dignitaries and President Bush. It was a beautiful day,” Porter said.
Vernon Whaley, director of the Center for Worship, said that all this experience is not what sets Porter apart as an artist. Rather, it is her ability to make the music relatable.
“What I like most about her is that she is able to take what is potentially very complicated music and make it understandable and enjoyable for the audience,” Whaley said.
Porter explained the historical background and message of each song she sang, relating to the audience the way the song was written correlates with the message the composer was trying to get across.
“Knowledge is power and truth is freeing. A lot of people say they don’t like (something) because they don’t know anything about it,” Porter said. “When they know something about it they feel intelligent when they listen. So I’m empowering my audience to listen with knowledge and truth. It makes music so much more real.”
Not only does Porter think it is important to educate the crowd, but she places special emphasis on having fun with her music and giving it life by expressing a wide range of emotions while she sings.