"I was looking for a way into 'What does protest music look like in the 21st century?'" says the Emmy, Grammy, and Tony-winning star of Pose.

By Sarah Rodman
April 24, 2020 at 03:25 PM EDT
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There's something happening here, and what it is, is crystal clear. Billy Porter has released a cover of the classic 1966 Buffalo Springfield protest anthem "For What It's Worth."

The Emmy-winning star of FX's Pose said he felt moved to use his voice during this election year to spur people to action — and specifically to the polls. He certainly put his own, deeply soulful spin on the Stephen Stills-penned lament for everyone to examine "what's going down."

"I grew up first-generation, post-civil rights movement and then, I came out and went straight to the front lines to fight for our lives during the AIDS crisis," Porter tells EW. "Activism is in my DNA. It's in my art. It's how I communicate and give back and try to inspire. So, I was looking for a way into 'What does protest music look like in the 21st century?' We know what it looked like in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. I haven't seen a dedicated push towards that these days because I feel like a lot of artists are afraid to alienate fans. But we're in a time where we, the people, must speak truth to power."

Porter's manager Bill Butler reminded him of "For What It's Worth," and it clicked, with the Tony -and Grammy-winning singer-actor and his producer Zack Arnett dressing up the folk-pop song with galvanizing backing vocals and hand claps, gospel-inflected fervor, and a funky, staccato groove. "What I wanted was to inspire the space for a solution to emerge, for action to be ignited."

Noam Galai/WireImage

One person already impressed with the cover is Stills himself who said, "I am both proud and delighted that Billy Porter is covering my song... For many years no one tried to ‘make it theirs’ as covers are supposed to do. That an artist of Billy’s caliber has chosen to add his flourish to my song from so many years ago is totally in keeping with what I intended.”

You can check out Porter's version here and, he notes, with most folks staying at home at the moment, it would be a great time to register to vote.

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