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Bakersfield's two-time Grammy winning jazz artist Gregory Porter comes home

Bakersfield's two-time Grammy winning jazz artist Gregory Porter comes home

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Two-time Grammy winner Gregory Porter has performed in front of sold out crowds all over the world, from New York's Carnegie hall to London's Royal Albert Hall.

But he started on the streets of Bakersfield.

"When you hear that soulful sound in any of my songs, that comes from these long prayers services that we used to have in churches around Bakersfield," explained Porter.

The celebrated artist is pure Bakersfield.

"39 years ago, we came here and I went to school at Eissler Elementary and was there until 5th grade and then I switched over to Colonel Nichols, and then I went to Chipman Jr High and then Highland High School.

But off the football field, the former homecoming king felt a connection on the streets, inside churches, in alleys.

"It was in this environment that I started to sing, my mother used to bring the PA system out on the street and I would sing to people on the street," said Porter.

For Gregory, his mother Ruth was his biggest inspiration.

"She grew up in Shrevesport, Louisiana, but the family moved from the South...I mean she was a young girl, and she picked cotton in Bakersfield when she was a teenager," said Porter.

A minister herself, Ruth led by example, showing kindness that would influence Gregory's songs.

One church was on Union Avenue.

"She would invite the prostitutes to come in, just like I got some food for you, there's gonna be some singing and they would come...and that was my audience as well. Yea, 'Take me to the Alley,'" explained Porter.

"That energy, cultural energy, food culture, worship culture religious culture, musical culture, that is what I was touched by as a young person singing in the churches in Bakersfield, and that's what I take to stages all over the world," he said.

But life was not easy.

"I have an empathy inside of me to help people who have been pushed down and I have that because it has happened to me, I have been called names and my family was attacked and we did have a cross burned on our front yard...my brother was shot because he was black walking home from work, coming home from Oildale, those things did happen," recalled Porter.

"But my mother raised us to believe that we were no better and no worse, we were equal to everybody and we should treat everybody with respect and give everybody love, even your enemies," said Porter.

Years after her passing, Porter's brother maintains Ruth's spirit to this day on Baker Street.

"He's doing what my mother used to do. The name of the church is the House of Ruth. And he gives out food on Sunday or anytime that anybody's hungry. They want something they call him, he gives food and clothes and any other nutrients he can give them," said Porter. 

With a young son, a wife, and a puppy the past few years have led him back to Bakersfield to the Oleander neighborhood.

He recently held his first concert in Bakersfield in years, at Cal State Bakersfield, benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

"I'm glad to be back in Bakersfield ... it was great to see people of Bakersfield embracing my music the same way the rest of the world does," said Porter.

Porter says one of his favorite country singers is Merle Haggard and down the line he hopes to wrestle with those songs.

Until then, as Porter sings across the globe he tells people stories of Bakersfield, as much his music, as his home.

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