The actor/singer/director received numerous awardsincluding two Tonys (for his role in Kinky Boots and as a producer of A Strange Loop), a Grammy (for the same production) and an Emmy (for Pose, becoming the first gay Black man to be nominated and win in any lead acting category at the Primetime Emmys), not to mention his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition, he’s released his own albums, helmed a film (Anything’s Possible), become quite the outspoken LGBTQ+-rights activist, and has even established himself as a fashion icon.
Now, Porter has embarked on his first career-spanning pop music concert tour: The Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1. Attendees should expect a full band, backed by a video installation, as Porter tells his compelling life story through song.
Windy City Times: With the awards you’ve gotten and everything you’ve achievedincluding the James Baldwin biopic you just acquireddo you feel like you’re living your best life?
Billy Porter: Of course! How can it get any better than this? Every dream I’ve ever had is in the middle of coming true[including] dreams that I never knew existed. The star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? That wasn’t on the bucket list. I didn’t even think about that.
So I feel really blessed to have this kind of success because of my authenticity. I told myself, “Be positive.” I was told my queerness would be a liability.
WCT: You were the reason I saw the film The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy. What do you remember about filming that, by the way?
BP: Wowthat was 23 years ago!
[The filming] was very fast; it was a 21-day guerrilla shoot. We had a blast.
I probably had to drive an hour-and-a-half to two hours every day to shoot outside of L.A. because we didn’t have the money to shoot in L.A. A lot of the locations are not West Hollywood, except for when we were actually walking down the street. We became very close very fast. And it was my first [feature film]; I was very nervous.
WCT: And now you have The Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1 happening. What can people expect?
BP: It’s redemption. My first album came out in ’97; the industry was really homophobic and things didn’t work out so well for me then. Now,  years later, there are all these things I’ve been able to accomplishand now I’m back on my own terms in the mainstream music industry. I’m able to stand in the fullness of my authenticity. This is a story of redemption.
The album, [Black Mona Lisa] [which] is coming out in late summer/early fall, and the tour are celebrations of life, love, joy and peace. My intention is to give the world a big bear hug and remind ourselves that we’re better together. Love always winseven in the face of the darkest, darkest evil. We’ve been dealing with a collective trauma for years, and my music is my ministry. My intention is to, hopefully, be a healing salve.
Also, the concert is going to be a retrospective of my life and career. So there’ll be songs from the new project, songs from my ’90s R&B albumwhich I haven’t sung live for 25 yearsKinky Boots and some of my political stuff. Then, the last 30 minutes or so will be a celebratory dance party. That’s what I’m trying to do because we need some hope.
WCT: I have to say that you have one of the most moving songs I’ve ever downloaded. It’s from the album At the Corner of Broadway + Soul, and it’s called…
BP: “Time.” AhI love that song. Thank you. I love performing that in concert.
WCT: You’ve talked about this a bit but, for you, what is it like being Black and part of the LGBTQ+ community in today’s America?
BP: Well … I have hopea lot of hopeand I have a lot of rage.
The hope [lies] in the fact that I’m 53 years old and I’ve been through this before. I’ve been through the AIDS crisis, and I’m first-generation post-civil rights movement. When I came out in 1985, we went straight to the front lines to fight for our lives. And being in the theater/Broadway community, with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Actors Fund [now known as The Entertainment Community Fund], that taught us how to be activists. So that part was the only life I had ever known.
So I look at what’s going on now [and] it doesn’t scare me; it doesn’t terrify me. Those words need to be stricken from the lexicon because this shit… The thing is those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. Love always wins and life is cyclical. We’ve lived in a progressive state for decades and now we’re notso what are we going to do about it? Instead of being scared and terrified, it’s time to get back out in the streets. Look at [late Congressman] John Lewis: There wasn’t a day in his life that he wasn’t fighting for justice and equality.
That’s what it’s always been. The LGBTQ+ community was treated just like this during the AIDS crisis. It ain’t new. All I have to say is “Fuck y’all. The answer is ‘no.'”
Billy Porter’s “The Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1” will stop at The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., on Friday, May 26. Visit https://www.msg.com/calendar/the-chicago-theatre-may-2023-billy-porter.