Pittsburgh native Billy Porter makes history – Wins Emmy for Best Lead Actor in Drama Series

BILLY PORTER, a Pittsburgh native, won the Emmy Award for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Sept. 22.

by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer

From Reizenstein Middle School, to Allderdice High School, to CAPA High School, to Carnegie Mellon University, to making history.

Billy Porter, Pittsburgh born-and-bred, had the national stage all to himself on Sunday, Sept. 22, as he won the Emmy Award for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He became the first openly gay Black man to receive the honor, beating out actors like Sterling K. Brown (“This is us”), Jason Bateman (“Ozark”), and Kit Harington (“Game of Thrones”). In all, Porter beat out five other nominees in the category.

Porter won the Emmy for his role as Pray Tell in the FX show, “Pose.”

“I was told that who I am is never going to work,” Porter said to the media after winning the Emmy. “I was told that who and what I am is never going to be successful. Period. That’s what I was told. I did not believe them.”

Porter, who, one could say, got the best 50th birthday present one could receive (his birthdate is Sept. 21, 1969), had found success on Broadway and as a vocalist. But he told the Los Angeles Times that when it came to Hollywood, the TV side, he almost gave up on those dreams.

“I wasn’t having a whole lot of luck crossing over from theater into film and TV,” Porter told the Los Angeles Times in early 2019. “(There was) lots of dismissal, dismissive energy surrounding what I do, what I bring, whatever. But a few years prior, I started looking at the landscape and going, ‘Well, who would get me? Who’s in the showrunning position that could get me?’ And Ryan Murphy came up and I just went—Ryan Murphy, and started typing him in my journal, started saying him in my prayers—so when the phone rang, and they said, ‘Ryan Murphy, “Pose,” and it’s set in the LGBTQ ballroom culture,’ I just started laughing.”

The character of Pray Tell is a gay man who is living with HIV. Pray Tell deals with losing his partner, and finds new hope through activism. “Pose,” created by Murphy, had six Emmy nominations total, and just finished its second season on FX.

“We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet,” an overjoyed Porter said onstage, Emmy award in hand. “Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth. I love you all.”

Porter has Tony and Grammy awards to his credit. He won the 2013 Tony and Drama Desk awards and a 2014 Grammy for his performance as Lola in the musical, “Kinky Boots.”

Being a Tony and Grammy award winner is already a huge deal. Of course, it came after years of professional work for Porter, which included solo albums “Untitled,” “At the Corner of Broadway + Soul—LIVE” and “Billy’s Back on Broadway.”

On the acting side, his Broadway credits include “Miss Saigon,” “Five Guys Named Moe,” “Grease,” “Dreamgirls” and “Shuffle Along.”

Kerry Washington, a four-time Emmy nominee and winner of multiple awards for her acting prowess, proclaimed that “once again we watch history unfold” as she announced Porter’s name as the winner of the Emmy Award, Sept. 22. The audience collectively cheered and seemed ecstatic that they were in the building the moment one of Porter’s biggest professional dreams became reality.

“I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day,” Porter said onstage, his sister, Mary Martha Ford, in attendance. Quoting African American novelist James Baldwin, Porter said: “It took many years of vomiting up the filth I was taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this Earth like I had a right to be here.”

“I have the right,” Porter said. “You have the right. We all have the right.”


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