From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Grainger, Porter Parrish

(born: 1891) 

Porter P. Grainger was a prolific songwriter, pianist, and arranger who on occasion was also a singer. He can be heard playing piano on records of noted musicians and singers during the 1920s and 1930s.

Porter Grainger was born in Bowling Green, KY on October 22, 1891; he and his sister Ursula were raised by their grandparents, Patience and Joseph Coleman, in Hickory Flat, KY [sources: 1900 U.S. Federal Census, where the last name is spelled "Granger"; and World War II Draft Registration Card #2841, 1942].

Much has been written about Porter Grainger's musical career, but not much is known about his life prior to 1916. In 1908, Porter and his sister Ursula were living in Bowling Green on State Street; they were among the seven persons with the last name Granger listed on p. 122 of the Bowling Green, Ky. City Directory, 1908, vol. 1. At the time, Porter was a porter at Farnsworth & Stout. By 1912, he was living in Louisville, KY, working as a waiter, and in 1913, his name again spelled as "Granger," he was working as a laborer [sources: p. 518 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville, 1912; and p. 537 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville, 1913].

On November 7, 1914, Grainger, living in Chicago, married Alies Kieth [source: Cook County, Illinois, Marriage Indexes]. According to All Music Guide to the Blues, edited by V. Bogdanov, et. al., p. 206, Grainger's professional music career started as early as 1916. On his World War I Draft Registration Card #89, dated June 5, 1917, Porter Granger (his name was spelled without an "i") listed his occupation as a composer of songs in Chicago, IL. He was still living in Chicago in 1920, according to the U.S. Federal Census. 

By 1924, he was living in New York, where he and Robert Ricketts were partners in Grainger & Ricketts, located at 1547 Broadway [source: p. 1010, Polk's Trow's New York, 1924-25: Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronxs, vol. 134]. Grainger & Ricketts is listed under the heading of "Music Publishers and Dealers" on p. 2727 of R. L. Polk & Co.'s 1925 Trow's New York City Classified Business Directory: Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx.

Grainger also worked for Bessie Smith: in 1928 he was the musical director, composer, and arranger of her musical show, Mississippi Days. He was also the writer of her first released recording, Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do and Alberta Hunter's Downhearted Blues [source: I Went Down to St. James Infirmary, by R. W. Harwood, pp. 13-20].

Grainger published a number of musical scores and performance scripts. He worked with a number of performers, appearing on recordings such as Fats Waller and His Rhythm, 1926; Ethel Waters, 1938-1939; Edna Hicks,1923; Duke Ellington: the Beginning, 1926-1928; The Duke in Harlem, 1926; and many, many more. In 1929, he was the piano accompanist for singer Mamie Smith in the movie Jailhouse Blues.

In 1940, Porter Grainger was a boarder at the home of Viola Albury on 7th Avenue in New York City [source: U.S. Federal Census]. It is not known when Porter Grainger died; one of his last documents was his 1942 World War II Draft Registration Card. Some online sources give his death date as 1955.

For more listen to the recording of Porter Grainger: in chronological order, 1923-1929, published by RST Records in Vienna, Austria (which has hundreds of other recordings); the musical score 'Tain't Nobody's Bus'ness If I Do: blues, by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins, and the many other scores; De Board Meetin: the script and music, by Porter Grainger and Leigh R. Whipper; and the Leigh Rollin Whipper Papers at the New York Public Library. Porter Grainger and B. Ricketts were the authors of the musical score How to Sing and Play the Blues Like the Phonograph and Stage Artists, written in 1926.

*NOTE: Porter Parrish Grainger (also spelled as Granger) should not be confused with Percy Grainger.

*NOTE: Robert Ricketts, partner in Grainger & Ricketts, was born c. 1885 in Ohio; his parents were born in Kentucky [source: 1930 U.S. Federal Census]. Robert Ricketts was African American and is listed as 40 years old in the 1925 New York State Census. Robert Ricketts died November 26, 1936 in Manhattan, NY [source: New York Death Certificate #25601].

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Warren County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Hickory Flat, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Bowling Green, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Grainger, Porter Parrish,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 23, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-10-18 12:31:25