Many television viewers would have first encountered Gregory Porter when he led the sang with the London Community Gospel Choir at the Beacon lighting ceremony on the first day of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. Portly, middle aged, and always in a cap that resembles a deerstalker, the Grammy winning singer songwriter is not a typical pop star.
In the stellar performance of Bill Withers' Grandma's Hands in the video below, Porter is joined by the popular French singer Ben l'Oncle Soul. As one might expect, Ben L'Oncle Soul is a pseudonym. When Benjamin Duterde started singing in public he habitually wore a bow tie. This resulted in his friends nicknaming him after Uncle Ben's Rice.
Born in 1971, Gregory Porter won Grammys for Best Jazz vocal in 2014 and again in 2017. He was raised by his single mother in Bakersfield, California, where he regularly sang in church. Porter's mother died of cancer when he was 21. On her deathbed, his mother entreated him to "Sing, Baby, Sing". Porter released his first album in 2010. From the beginning, he was critically acclaimed and he went from strength to strength. He performed on Jools' Annual Hootenanny, on New Year's Eve 2021.
Ben L'Oncle Soul – the "Soul" was added to avoid copyright problems – opened the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2011 and he has appeared as a guest on many television shows. Both Porter and Soul have strong resonant voices and a feel for timing that are perfectly suited to Withers' Grandma's Hands. Released in 1971, this song was part of a string of hits for the down-to-earth Withers that included the stone-cold soul classics Ain't No Sunshine and Lean on Me, which can be heard in the next video.
Born in 1938, Bill Withers was raised in a small coal-mining community called Slab Fork in West Virginia. His father was a miner, and his mother was a maid. Withers started a seven-year stint in the navy at seventeen. In the Navy, Withers worked on his singing and song writing.
On his discharge, Withers worked on assembly lines. When he landed a record contract in 1970, he continued working at his day job, as he believed that the recording industry is fickle. This attitude would stand Bill Withers in good stead when he was unable to perform as a solo artist between 1977 to 1985, due to his strained relationship with Columbia Records.