Jazz, soul, and gospel singer, songwriter, and actor Gregory Porter was born in Los Angeles, California but grew up in Bakersfield, California, where his mother was a minister. As a child, he fell under the spell of his mother's Nat King Cole records, learning to imitate and sing like Cole, but his early aspirations were in sports. He was awarded a football scholarship to attend San Diego State University, but after an injury to his shoulder derailed his sports career, he began performing in local jazz clubs, which is where he met saxophonist, composer, and pianist Kamau Kenyatta. Kenyatta became Porter's mentor, introducing him to flutist Hubert Laws, who featured Porter's vocals on a track on his 1998 album Hubert Laws' Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole. Laws' sister, Eloise Laws, heard Porter during the studio sessions and was impressed with his singing; he helped him get cast as one of the leads in a new musical It Ain't Nothing But the Blues, which eventually enjoyed a run on Broadway. The gates were open for Porter.