A rising star jazz singer, a world-class symphony orchestra and selections from the Great American Songbook: this exciting combination made for a spectacular concert at the 29th annual Corporate Night at Symphony Center.

Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter and his band of four musicians joined more than 90 members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to perform a tribute to Nat King Cole at the event, presented on June 11. As an additional treat, special guest pianist Marc-André Hamelin dazzled in a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, as arranged for orchestra and piano by Ferde Grofe. The program also included a performance of Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. The result was an evening of American music favorites performed by stellar artists in beautiful Orchestra Hall.

For Gregory Porter, the influence of Nat King Cole on his life and music runs deep, a line that reaches back into some of his earliest childhood memories, and culminated in the release of the two-time Grammy-winning vocalist’s fifth studio album, “Nat King Cole & Me” (2017), a heartfelt tribute to the legendary singer and pianist, who grew up in Chicago. “He was one of a kind,” Porter said. “He left such great music — such beautiful things to listen to that you can’t help but be influenced by that extraordinary timbre, style and ultimate cool.”

When Porter was 5 years old, he wrote a song, put it on tape and played it for his mother, Ruth, after she came home from work one day. Upon hearing it, she exclaimed, “Boy, you sound like Nat King Cole,” a compliment that sent the curious young Gregory delving into her record collection. Porter’s love for Cole’s music blossomed so much that he adopted Cole, who died in 1965, as a kind of surrogate father. After his role in the Tony-nominated musical “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” — but before rising to international acclaim in his solo career — Porter dramatized his deep appreciation for Cole in a semi-autobiographical musical, “Nat King Cole & Me,” which premiered in 2004. At Orchestra Hall, Porter’s special affinity for Cole was on full display at the concert, much to the delight of the enthusiastic audience.

Along with the concert, the evening’s events consisted of a reception, dinner and awards ceremony. The pre-concert reception started at 5 p.m. with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. An elegant dinner featuring grilled fillet of beef was served at 6 p.m., followed by the concert at 7 p.m. Before the music began, the second annual Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy Award was presented to Northern Trust, in recognition of its outstanding support of Corporate Night and the CSO. Accepting the award on behalf of Northern Trust were Rick Waddell, chairman, and Mike O’Grady, president and CEO.

The 29th annual Corporate Night was chaired by Steve Shebik of The Allstate Corp. and his wife, Megan, representing the corporate community, along with Jennifer Bumbu and Cheryl Istvan, representing the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. The evening raised more than $1,000,000 in support of the CSO’s artistic, education and community engagement programs in Chicago and around the globe.

Corporate Night began in 1990 as a project of the Women’s Association, now the League of the CSOA, as a means of recognizing the strong relationship between Chicago’s business community and the CSO. It is an exclusive evening of fellowship and networking among Chicago’s most prominent business executives, civic leaders and orchestra patrons. This year’s corporate sponsors included Allstate, Bank of America, United Airlines, ITW, Kirkland & Ellis, Northern Trust, Exelon and Sidley Austin LLP, among others. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is grateful for the generous participation of all the sponsors, donors and attendees of Corporate Night 2018.

TOP: Gregory Porter and the CSO offer a tribute to Nat King Cole at the annual Corporate Night concert in June. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018