Jason Howard Green

Jason Howard Green

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Nona Hendryx: Social Justice Warrior

First time I saw Nona Hendryx perform live, it was on Live at the Apollo.  I didn't know who she was. I didn't know she previously shared the stage with Patti LaBelle as one third of the LaBelle girl group. I did not know at that point that she already had over two decades in the music game.  What I did know was that I was being blown away by the performance happening before me.

The song was Winds of Change (Mandela to Mandela).  I was young and closeted but I was oddly attracted to Nona and this song.  This was before the internet so I had no way of researching her.  But I did know when the show would be airing again and I grabbed a tape so I could record this performance on the VCR so I could watch it over and over again.

It would be years later when I say her performing again [and this time the internet was available] that I researched her.  What did I learn?  I learned about her tenure with LaBelle.  I learned that she has a history of activism taking up issues like Apartheid, HIV/AIDS and LGBT rights.  In 2001, in an interview with The Advocate, she discussed why likes to an advocate of equality but does not like to talk about her personal life. The article when she was asked how she can be out but uncomfortable with disclosing and she replied about her life, "It's an open book, really. I don't want to brand myself one way or another. I'm attracted to men and women. People want to lump you into a group."

Please check my all-time favorite performance of hers below (I still get goosebumps when I hear this dedication to Nelson Mandela) . . .

Billy Porter: Her Name Was Lola

Billy Porter.  Some call him The Voice.  I call him an inspiration.  He is out and proud.  He is African-American.  He is a star of the big screen and of the stage.  He is a Tony award winner.  He is an R&B recording artist.  And he slays everytime he steps up to the mic.

I first learned of Billy Porter in the 1990s.  I was in college when he dropped his hit Show Me.  It was in heavy rotation in my little dorm room.  Interesting little point, this song came out about the same time I was getting comfortable in my skin and starting to come out of the closet.  At the time of its release, I was unaware that Porter was gay.

The next time I would see Porter was when he appeared on Oprah in 2005.  The topic of her show was being gay and being in show business.  Billy had shared his story with the author of When I Knew, and several contributors were on the show to share their coming out stories. On the show he discussed how his family went into denial after his attempt to come out to them.   On Oprah he shared . . .
It was a powerful case of denial—Billy says he had to come out to his mother three times! "I come from a very religious background," he explains. "My mother is a Pentecostal preacher, and she just didn't want to hear it." After two failed attempts, Billy decided to bring home a man he was in love with. "It's not about you," he told his mom the third time. "It's about me. I have to live this."
Then I fell in love with him again when I saw him in one of my all-time favorite movies Broken Hearts Club.  Billy played Taylor, the tightly wound, over the top, relationship oriented guy who learns not long into the movie that his boyfriend is leaving him for a trainer named Dash. This makes for one of my favorite movie lines ever.  "I've been dumped for a punctuation mark."

Mr. Porter would really step into his greatest when he took on the role of Lola in Cyndi Lauper's Broadway production of Kinky Boots.  Billy was cast in the role of Lola.  In an interview regarding the show, he said, "You know Lola is a force of nature human being who is on the planet as a conduit for change." He says he was born to play this part.  I believe him because he owned this part.  His performance was so spectacular  that it earned him a Tony Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.

In January of 2017, Billy married his long term partner, Adam Smith. Smith is co-owner of the eyewear company Native Ken.  The two met in 2009 and dated for a year but eventually broke up.  They would connect again in 2015 and this time things moved rather quickly for the two of them.  They would become engaged on December 29, 2016 and  their actual nuptials happened shortly thereafter. According to Smith, it was important for the two of them to get married while Barack Obama was still in office as President of the United States.

Billy has such a strong voice and there are so many recordings of his that I admire.  But there is one that stands out a bit more than the others for me.  "Love Is On The Way" is from The First Wives Club Soundtrack.  It's a song I cannot hear this without getting emotional.  For me, tears come every time he belts "love is on the way on wings of angels." Please take a listen below . . .

DeJuaii Pace: The Anointed One

In 2011, DeJuaii shocked the world of gospel music and her siblings by coming out of the closet.  The Anointed Pace Sisters are one of the most accomplished groups in gospel.  In 2011, DeJuaii joined the cast of OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) reality show Addicted To Food.  On the show DeJuaii revealed some very personal  things about herself including the fact that 1) she was a compulsive overeater and she was addicted to food. 2) She was a virgin. And 3) She is sexually attracted to women.

At 45 years of age, DeJuaii had never had sex with another person and for the first time in her life, she revealed that she was a lesbian to a national audience.  The reaction from her sisters was quick and it was not pleasant. Her sisters were upset that the revelation came on the show and not with them personally and annoyed by the fact that she identified as lesbian because this "preference" according to how they were raised was sinful and against the will of God.

The sisters got together on Iyanla, Fix My Life also on the OWN Network to discuss being overweight and to talk about their sisters revelation that she is a lesbian.  The bias that has resulted from their church upbringing reared its head and manifested itself in homophobia and judgement toward DeJuaii.  DeJuaii shared with Iyanla "I'm angry because I feel that my attraction to women is wrong."  She went on to state that she felt that "who I am is unacceptable and it embarrasses my family."

My prayer for DeJuaii is that I hope she can get to the point where she is comfortable with the fact that she is a lesbian.  And I hope that she can find someone she is attracted to and is attracted to her and that she is able to explore her sexuality and lose her virginity in a way that is healthy and leaves her happy.  My prayer for her family is that get over the religious doctrine they were taught that allowed them to judge their sister and someone that's sinful.  Hopefully they are able to love and welcome their sister for who she is, a same-gender loving woman.

My favorite song by The Anointed Pace Sisters is U Know.  Please take a listen here. Also, please check out this intense moment on Iyanla as  the sisters discuss DeJuaii's attraction to women.

Billy Preston: Born Again

As a solo artist, Billy Preston gave us such hits like "Will It Go Round in Circles", "Nothing from Nothing", "Outta Space", and "That's The Way God Planned It."  As a session keyboardist, he has backed such greats as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Ray Charles. He is the only musician to be credited on a Beatle's recording other than the groups fab four members.  Their number one song "Get Back" is credited as The Beatles with Billy Preston.  Stephen Stills approached Preston to ask if he could use his line "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" to pen the hit "Love The One Your With."  Additionally, Billy co-wrote the song "You Are So Beautiful" which would go on to become a number five hit for Joe Cocker.

Billy Preston would enjoy a long and productive career collaborating with and performing for The Beatles.  He managed to remain busy and continue recording even after The Beatles would break up. He worked with George Harrison for some time and then did some session work for Eric Clapton.  He played keyboards for The Rolling Stones on several of  the albums and on their tours.

Billy Preston did not share the truth about his sexuality publicly, but he did open up with some of those he became close with, including his manager Joyce Moore and Keith Richards.  In his memoir, Life, Richards discusses how Preston disclosed to him how he struggled with the fact that he was gay and how it conflicted with his religious upbringing.

Preston's story is just another example of the trauma I've witnessed inflicted on gay men by the church.  It's my story.  It's the story of many of my friends.  And I continue to read about it and hear about it on almost a daily basis.

Of all the hits he is credited with, my favorite will always be, "With You I'm Born Again."  Please get into it below:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Billy Strayhorn: Take The A Train

Billy Strayhorn may not be a name recognized in every home but he his music is probably much more recognizable than his name sake. Those that recognize the name probably know him best for his collaborations with jazz legend Duke Ellington. Strayhorn and Ellington's creative partnership lasted for over three decades and many believe that much of the music Duke Ellington takes credit for writing may have actually been penned by Strayhorn. Billy "Sweet Pea" Strayhorn was a quiet, reserved man that was much more comfortable allowing others to be in the spotlight while he played the supportive role. His most popular compositions include "Take The A Train", "Chelsea Bridge", "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing", and "Lush Life."

Billy was born November 29, 1915.  In 1938 Ellington was performing in Pittsburgh and Strayhorn went to see him.  Following the performance, Billy went back to met him.  During this meeting, Strayhorn showed Ellington how he would have arranged one of his songs.   The Duke was so impressed that he went and gathered other members of the band so they could also hear Strayhorn's interpretation of some of their songs.  The following year (1939), Strayhorn was moving in with Ellington and his family.

It was through Ellington's son Mercer that Strayhorn would meet his partner.  Mercer introduced Billy to  Aaron Bridgers.  Strayhorn and Bridgers would remain a couple until Bridgers moved to Paris in 1947.  Strayhorn was openly gay and Lena Horne would still call him the love of her life.  He was charismatic and charming and had a way of influencing everyone he would meet.

In 1964, Billy was diagnosed with a cancer that would take his life in 1967.  He passed away in the company of his then partner Bill Grove.

Please check out Strayhorn performing Lush Life below . . .

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tracy Chapman:Talkin' Bout a Revolution

The first time I saw Tracy Chapman, I was watching America's Top 10 with Casey Kasem.  My Saturday morning routine involved getting up early with my brother (before our parents), fixing a bowl of cereal, and settling in for our Saturday morning cartoons.  Cartoons got us from 6:00 AM until about noon.  

Then the music part of our morning started.  It was American Bandstand, followed by America's Top 10, and then Soul Train.  Casey Kasem would always do his Top 10 countdown, showing videos of all the songs on the charts. He would sometimes close out the show with, "Artist to Look Out For."  Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" single had not yet made it into the top ten but she did make his list of those to watch because her single seemed to be rapidly rising to the top of the charts.

I remember seeing her video and looking at my brother and saying, "I really like that song."  I remember watching Tracy Chapman sing and not being totally sure if I were watching a male or a female (but I was leaning toward female).   And I remember after hearing the song for the first time on Casey Kasem suddenly hearing the song every time I turned on the radio.  And I remember days later becoming so enamored with the song that I would buy it as a 45 from our local record store.

Tracy Chapman would go on to have quite the musical career releasing eight studio albums, earning 13 total Grammy  nominations and winning four of those, and peaking at number three with her single "Gimme One Reason." Chapman considers herself very socially conscious and likes to perform at charitable events as often as she can, especially when the event is for human rights.

Oddly enough, Tracy never outed herself to the media, she was accidentally outed by her former partner Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple.  In an interview where Walker was asked about great loves in her life, she shared about her relationship with Tracy Chapman.  Oops!

Another favorite of mine is "Baby Can I Hold You." Get into it below:

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Yvette Flunder: Gospel Change Agent

Yvette Flunder is the senior pastor at the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, CA.  Her singing career began when she joined the Walter Hawkins Love Center Choir and she would later be ordained by Hawkins. She earned a M.A. and a certificate in Ministry Studies from the Pacific School of Religion and Doctor of Ministry degree from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

She is nationally recognized for her work as an advocate for HIV/AIDS and for her work in demanding churches recognize Christ's love and inclusion of the LGBT community.  In 2014 she was the keynote speaker at the White House for World AIDS Day where she discussed the effects of stigma and homophobia on those affected by HIV/AIDS.

As a kid that grew up in the church, I love the work Flunder is doing.  Institutionalized homophobia is a huge issue for the Black church and it must be addressed and Yvette is not quiet.  She is a loud and powerful voice and I would argue has influenced some pastors to change their stance on homosexuality.

As much as I love her for her advocacy,  I love her even more for her singing.  It was her voice that initially put her on my radar.  Her singing "Thank You Lord" with the Walter Hawkins made me a fan of hers for life. On Amazon she has recordings with the Fellowship Mass Choir and some CDs available where is singing old school spirituals and traditional gospel.  However, it is still "Thank You Lord" that I love by her the most.

Get into her performing my favorite below:     

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rahsaan Patterson: Prince of NeoSoul

Rahsaan Patterson's rise to stardom began when he was just a child.  After winning a school talent show, he decided to audition for Kid's Incorporated.  He won the part of the "Kid" and starred along side other soon to be big celebrity names like Fergie, Shanice, and Mario Lopez.  

Following Kids Incorporated he would do back up singing for artists like Martika and Colour Club and would write hit songs like "Baby" for Brandy and "Back to the World" for Tevin Campbell.  It was not until 1997 that he would record his own studio album.  The self-titled album would peak at 48 on  the Billboard Charts.  The two singles released ("Stop By" and "Where You Are") were well received by R&B audiences.

His sophomore project Love In Stereo made go a little higher on the charts, topping at 51. Two singles from this album would make it onto the charts, "Treat You Like a Queen" and "The Moment." This would be his final album with the MCA label.

Rahsaan would form his own label to record and release his following CDs.  In 2004 he released After Hours which gave us the hits "So Hot" which was featured on the "Brown Sugar" soundtrack "Aprils Kiss."  In 2008 he released Wines and Spirits and in 2011 he released Bluephoria.  

I sometimes wonder if the label decided to part with Rahsaan as an artist after he came out.  In a 2008 Logo interview, Patterson stated, "For me, it's not about being the gay artist.  I'm an artist."

Please check his video to Stop By below . . .

Monday, June 12, 2017

James Booker: Bayou Maharajah

Probably the world's greatest piano player that you've never heard of, James Booker was affectionately known around his home town of New Orleans as the Black Liberace.  Another local bayou legend, Dr. John would call Booker "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced. 

His story was unknown to me until I viewed the documentary Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker.   A tremendous talent, I would argue that success was limited because he managed to get in his own way.  He would record when he was clean, away from the booze and drugs, but he had a very tough time kicking those habits.  

He would record two studio albums, but the magic for Booker happened when he was live on stage. He recorded a total of ten live albums.  There are also six compilation albums to his credit. Following the viewing of his documentary I decided to do a little more research into this man. Fortunately there are quite a few YouTube views of his performance available.  Simply put, the man is amazing on stage.

He was wildly popular in New Orleans.  And at one point he went on tour and he started making a name for himself in  Europe.  Unfortunately the U.S. never openly embraced the man and his talent so he never became the household name he should have been.

For a glimpse into his world and his mastery of the piano, please view the clip below:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

RUPAUL: Supermodel of the World!

"Once upon a time, there was a little black girl in the Brewster projects of Detroit, Michigan.  At 15, she was spotted by an Ebony Fashion Faire talent scout, and her modeling career took off."

He was born RuPaul Andre Charles but he is known quite simply as RuPaul.  He has taken drag out of the clubs and boldly thrust it into homes of people around the world via his hit television series RuPaul's Drag Race.  I, however, have loved him since I first saw him on MTV back in 1993 when his video for Supermodel hit the scene.  

I still find his rise to success odd.  His first CD Supermodel You Better Work was released on TommyBoy Records.  This was a predominately hip hop label.  How in the world this big black obviously gay man land a recording gig with them?  I don't know, I'm just glad that he did.

RuPaul's influence in the dance music industry and on the LGBT community is undeniable.  He has released a total of eleven studio albums.  Additionally his show Drag Race has launched the music careers of countless contestants like ShangelaBebe Zahara BenetAlaska Thunderfuck, and Adore Delano.

RuPaul's Drag Race (presently in its ninth season) has gained such popularity that it has transferred from the Logo Network to VH1.  I personally see RuPaul as a trailblazer and a pioneer for the LGBT community and for the drag community.  Some of my personal favorite songs of his include Don’t Be Jealous of My BoogieThe Realness, and her duet with Martha Wash  Can I Get an Amen,  But if I really want to get my life I go back to some of his earlier stuff like Miss Lady DJBack To my Roots, and R U Nasty.

But with all of her great music, my all time Ru favorite is still her very first single.  It's the song that put her on our radar and made her a household name.


I distinctly remember the first time I heard his voice.  I was watching Showtime at the Apollo. (Y'all remember when that was a show)?  He was performing "Personal Jesus."  I had never heard of this artist and I had never heard of this song before.  But his performance was so powerful that following the show, I immediately got in my car and drove to Walmart in an attempt to buy his CD. This was over a decade a ago and downloading music was not yet a thing (at least it wasn't for me yet).

I wanted to know everything there was to know about this young man that slayed at the Apollo.  His vocal control, his range, his annunciation, phonation, accuracy, and pitch - were all simply off the charts. This man could SANG.  This man who was up there singing for the gods was literally singing for God.  His name was Tonex and I would learn that he was considered "The Bad Boy of Gospel." The way he dressed and his stage performances were very atypical for gospel artists.

As a gospel artist he was doing quite well.  The winner of six Stellar Awards and two Grammy nominations, Tonex had carved a niche for himself giving him fame and success in  genre no one would argue as conservative and consisting of "family values."  Then came the moment that would shock the gospel community and force him to relaunch and rebrand himself and his career.

On the series The Lexi Show, Tonex revealed his truth about his attraction to men.  The gospel community was not having it.  Which ironic and hilarious to me considering how the church and gospel music are tremendously influenced by gay men.  Gay men are singing solos and directing the choir and almost every other black church, yet these men often have to live their lives in silence just to appease pastors and church members.  You can see the revealing interview with Lexi below.

Following that interview, Tonex was cast out of the gospel community.  After a short stint away from the public he re-emerged going by the name B-Slade.  He was no longer singing gospel.  He was now a secular artists.  Be that as it may, Tonex, in my humble opinion is still one of the greatest gospel artists ever.  But though I love his gospel, I'm also in love with the new music he is releasing as B. Slade.

I think freeing himself from the restraints of gospel music was one of the best things Tonex could have done.  He now has the liberty to address so many issues that he was not permitted to do as a Christian artist.  He can now freely address same gender love in his lyrics.  And I think young people need to her and see their lives reflected in art like his.

Whatever choice of music he's doing, the man is gifted vocally and there is no denying that. To prove that point I'm just gonna leave you with this performance right here.  This man can scat (and I mean that in a good way), like no other . . .  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Joan Armatrading: The Eternal

She has a music career that spans over four decades.  She has released 22 albums, five of which reached Gold status and three reached Silver status.  Though she has never gone home with the trophy, she has been a three time Gramy nominee.  She is Joan Armatrading.

Quite the accomplished musician, Aramatrading seems to have no desire to abandon the world of music.  She did announce that her 2013 world tour entitled Me Myself I World tour would be her final time on tour, but that doesn't necessarily means she is retiring from the industry (atleast that's how I interpreted her comment).  

Her music repertoire of music is quite impressive as you can see in the below chart that lists her album releases . . .  

Oddly enough, as much of a music junkee I am, I must admit I only recently started to learn about Joan although she has been recording since the year I was born [1972].  I came to realize I was familiar with quite a few of her songs even though I wasn't actually familiar with her.  Perhaps the reason I wasn't too aware of her or her story is because she likes to keep her life very private.  She once stated:

  "People who like my music have a legitimate interest in me, but I need to retain some privacy, not to be telling people what's going on, or what I feel. When you go home, the reason it's beautiful is because it's personal to you and the people you want to include in it."

Although she would like to live a private life, in this world we're living in, you can't stay private forever.  In 2011 it was revealed that Armatrading and her girlfriend had entered into a "civil partnership."

Personally my favorite song by Joan is "The Weakness in Me."  It's a beautiful ballad that tells the story of a love that should not be.  This song is definitely in top 10 of all-time favorites.  Please get into it here: 

B.O.Y. Alex Newell

Alex Newell  became a household name playing Unique Adams on Glee. This part was a bit revolutionary as it was the first transgender character on prime time television.  How did Newell get the part?  Well that's an interesting story.  The Oxygen channel started The Glee Project where they were looking for a candidate that would win several appearances on the series Glee.  The contest garnered over 34,000 video submissions from contestant vying for the role.

Alex made it to the top four in the competition but unfortunately he would not win.  However, the producers were so impressed with Alex that they penned him into to episodes of the show anyway. The character that was supposed to only be a two part appearance was so popular that Newell returned the following season as a regular.

As much as I love Newell for the character he played on Glee, I love him even more for the music he has created outside of the show.  As I listen to many of his tracks, I feel as if I have been transported back to the 70s disco era.  It is pure dance music. His powerful vocals laid over the syncopated beats makes for something groovalicious to the ears.  His first EP, Power, was released in  February of 2016.  And from that EP we got the release of his fun and fabulous video B.O.Y. (Basically Over You).   He partnered with DJ Cassidy to record a single for the HBO show Vinyl.  That single "Kill The Lights" maybe my favorite song by Alex thus far.

With the impressive music he has created thus far, I can't wait to see what Alex is going to do next. Please get into Kill The Lights below:

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Frank Ocean: Game Changer

Frank Ocean's debut studio album arrived is the midst of a whirlwind of controversy and conversation.  An accomplished artist as a member of the hip hop collective Odd Future, and having already witnessed a successful mixtape release with Nostalgia, Ultra, Ocean's debut solo project was already eagerly awaited by many within the hip hop community.  But when Ocean penned a letter on his blog confessing his love for another man when he was 19 years old just before the release of his CD, many wondered why? And all wondered what will this mean for his album.  This was a rather bold move for a hip hop artist when this is a genre notorious for homophobia and not taking kindly to anything considered less than manly.

No one knew what consequences were in store for the artist who comes out immediately before the release of his CD.  As it turns out, with great risk comes great reward.  Leaders in the hip hop community rallied in support of Frank Ocean. Beyonce and Jay Z publicly backed Ocean's decision to come out. Tyler The Creator took to Twitter to announce his support. And the Godfather of Hip Hop Russell Simmons would state, "Today is a big day for hip hop.  It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be?  How loving will we be? How inclusive are we? Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear."

Let's recognize this for what it is.  This is a cultural shift for the hip hop community.  This is transformative for a community all about hyper-masculinity and one that was harsh to any signs that reflect "weakness" in men.  Hip hop leaders applauding Ocean for coming out gave permission to members throughout the community to be okay with it.  And this was/is a big deal.

Channel Orange sold tremendously  well upon its release in 2012 and would go on to reach number 2 on the Billboard charts.  We would see three singles released from the album including my favorite "Thinking About You" plus "Pyramid" and "Sweet Life."  Frank Ocean was suddenly in high demand.  He was on magazine covers, he was being interviewed by virtually everyone, and he would even be performing at the Grammys the following year.

His influence on hip hop community has been momumental and oddly enough it was not for his music, although the music is great too.  I don't want people to think that Ocean is the first artist in hip hop to come out.  There is a community of hip hop artists that were already out before Frank Ocean would pen that letter.  Rappers like Tim'm West, Tori Fixx, Caushun were already making out.  But I likes to keep it real and hip hop was not embracing most of these artists.  These artists managed to have some level of success in their circles but none of them were what I would call "mainstream" artists.  Ocean was the first big name to come out, but he was not the first.

And if we want to continue to keep it real, some would argue that some others of out mainstream hip hop artist are also living in the closet, they just chose to remain closeted because of the negative impact that coming out could have on their careers.  In the revealing memoir by Terrance Dean, Hiding in Hip Hop, although names are never mention; Dean discusses several hugely successful and incredibly popular hip hop artists that are gay but will not publicly disclose the truth about their sexual identity.

Ocean decided to come out not knowing what it would mean to his CD or to his career.  It was a very brazen move but it fared very well for the young man.  He changed hip hop and he influenced a lot of young people.  For that I say kudos.

Please check out his video for the song Novacane below . . . 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Little Axe" Broadnax: Transgender Gospel Singer

As well versed as I am regarding the African-American LGBT community, I was totally unaware of the story of Willmer "Little Axe" Broadnax until recently.  The video below is a short (under 5 minutes) but very informative documentary that tells the incredible story.  Please take a moment to view.

WOW! Willmer lived his entire life as a man and everyone except for his brother was unaware.  He accomplished fame and notoriety in the gospel community.  But if this community [the community of Black Christian folks] had been aware of his truth, he would have never have been successful as he was.  I would say the fact that he was able to pull this off was a miracle.  

The story of Little Axe is a remarkable one.  But I'm sure the story of Little Axe parallels the story of many individuals that identify as transgender, especially during this era. Today, trans folks don't have to live under the radar or off the grid.  Gender norms are being destroyed everyday and folks that self identity as trans can walk proudly and demand to be labeled as they see fit.  But not that long ago, for many in the trans community found it necessary to live stealth.

I love gospel music and I love this spectacularly interesting story of Willmer "Little Axe" Broadaxe. It is a story that I feel needs to be a bit more commonplace.  Kudos to him for achieving what he wanted to achieve as a gospel artists inspite of  his very unique circumstance.  And kudos to his brother for keeping his secret for his entire adult life.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Monifah: R&B Diva

I distinctly remember where I was in my life when Monifah dropped her hit single "Touch It." The year was 1998. I had recently become a new resident of Phoenix, AZ having moved there from Alabama shortly after college.  I had managed to secure a job with Xerox.  But trust, every minute after work was spent hanging out with friends and every weekend I would make my way to somebody's dance floor.

"Touch It" was my jam.  It still gets me moving and grooving to this day. But as much as I loved this anthem to promiscuity, I must admit, Monifah did not stand out to me as an artist to watch.  Yes she was beautiful and talented.  And yes, her song was amazing.  But in reality, she existed in the shadows of some of the bigger divas of the 1990s.  In my defense (and in her defense) she was competing against artists like Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton and Mariah Carey.  It was easy during this time for my focus to be elsewhere.

It would be many years later when I would fall in love with Monifah the person.  In 2012 I had almost given up on television.  It seemed like the only thing available to watch was reality TV and I was not a fan of it.  But then came the show R&B Divas.  As a lover of R&B music and a fan of all the women listed on the first season of the show, I had to tune in.  Imagine my surprise when Monifah announced not only was she bisexual but that she was in a long term relationship with a woman. For black same-gender loving folks, this was a big deal.  We were here for the show and we were here for Monifah.  She was unapologetically out and that made me proud.

Considering this bizarre and complex intersection queer people of color must live in, it is always appealing to me to see people comfortable with who they are and announcing to the world that they are happy with their dual citizenship in both the African-American community and the LGBT community.

Monifah and R&B Divas forced black folks to continue to have a conversation about homophobia within the black community.  Let's be real, this is a conversation that is not going to go away anytime soon. Spiritual abuse, social stigma and institutionalized homophobia run rampant in society in general, but black folks are not yet ready to admit that they exists within our community.  So for Monifah to walk proudly in her truth, in spite of all this, I admire her.

In the third season of the show, Monifah would go on to marry her partner Terez.  All the other divas on the show flew to Hawaii to celebrate her and her relationship.  

As much as I go on about her single "Touch It", please do not think of her as a one hit wonder. Monifah would have seven total hits that made it onto the U.S. R&B charts including songs like You Don't Have to Love Me, Bad Girl, and Suga Suga. Following the success of season one of the show R&B Divas, founder of the show Faith Evans would record an album of the same name and invite the ladies from the show to join her on the single "Lovin' Me" which would go on to earn a Grammy. In 2014, Monifah would return to the studio to record her latest single "The Other Side."  Please check her out below:

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Celebrating Nell Carter

Nell Carter was a phenomenal singer, actor, and comedienne. She is remembered by most for her starring role in the TV sitcom Gimme A Break. She had a personality that you just had to love and a smile that just made you melt. I grew up in rural Alabama and I think I saw her as a kindred spirit because she too was from this Southern state. Though she will live in infamy for Gimme A Break, I will always remember her for her amazing voice.

Before her breakthrough on television Nell was a very accomplished Broadway performer. She would always bring down the house in her stage performances in Hair and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Little known fact, Nell was the person originally offered the role of Effie White in Dreamgirls. Before the Dreamgirls cast would start production Nell was also offered the starring role in Gimme A Break and she decided to make the break from stage and move into television. Imagine how different things would be for Nell and for Jennifer Holiday if that had happened.

I remember rushing home every evening from school to watch “Gimme A Break.” Her success in TV still amazes me. Nell was not your typical Hollywood starlet. Nell was black. Nell was female. Nell was short. And Nell was a person that struggled controlling her weight. Others may have seen these as obstacles but not Nell. With her dynamic personality and her tremendous talent she was a force to be reckoned with. Today there are still not that many roles for African-Americans, but Nell’s success will stand in time as a symbol of the phenomenal person she was.

Nell was not out during the height of her celebrity. This was one of those unfortunate circumstances where the fact that she was a member of the LGBT community did not become common knowledge until after she died. Upon her death family and friends discovered that she had been living a closeted lesbian life when custody of her children was left with her partner.

I cannot fault Nell for being closeted. She was successful in spite of being black and gay and weight challenged. I imagine she did not want to add the stigma of being same gender loving. Or maybe she did not embrace this part of herself until later in her life. Whatever the case, I am proud to be able to list Nell Carter to the list of LGBT African-Americans I adore.

There is a remarkable bio about Ms. Carter that has been uploaded to YouTube.  Please take a moment to review it below:

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Anthony Dixon: Happy Birthday 2U

I met Anthony several years ago when he was performing at the Phoenix, AZ Gay Pride Festival.  I knew he looked familiar when he took the stage but I was unsure where I knew this beautiful and gifted young man from. He took to the stage and everyone was mesmerized by the amazing voice coming from before them.  An amazing balladeer, he also has the ability to get everyone up and moving and twisting and jumping.  He was simply terrific.

His CDs were available at the venue for purchase.  After hearing him perform there was no way I would be leaving without picking up a copy.  I got my CD and then I tracked him down because I wanted him to autograph it for me.  Needless to say, I met one of the most genuine, sincere individuals I've ever met.  Approachable and charismatic, we ended up talking for some time and I invited him to a local party that was happening the next day.  It was also during this conversation that I realized where I knew Anthony from.  I was unknowingly already a fan of this young man.

Anthony's first video, "But I'm Just Saying" was a huge hit within the black same gender loving community.  I knew the video and I loved the song, but I didn't recognize him right away. Since meeting him I've become an even bigger fan of the man and his music.

All Outta Words his first CD, showcases Anthony's songwriting talents and his vocal prowess.  "Have a Good Time" was in heavy rotation in my house.  It gets the feet tapping and the head bobbing. May I suggest that on your next Mother's Day you play "Where Honor Is Due" for your mom, I promise you there won't be a dry eye in the room.  But my favorite track from this CD was "Won't Be the Victim." This track stands an an anthem of self love and overcoming obstacles.

A year after meeting him I found out he released another CD. His sophomore project, Up On The Roof was/is as incredible as his first. Anthony Dixon is an exemplary artist to continue the legacy of black same-gender loving greats like Billy Strayhorne, Gladys Bentley, Billy Preston and Nona Hendryxx.  I highly encourage you to check out the items he currently has available on Amazon.  You can find them  here and here.

And please check out the video that made me a fan of Anthony below . . .

Friday, June 2, 2017

Frankie Knuckles: Godfather of House Music

Frankie Knuckles has deservedly earned the nickname the Godfather of House Music.  If you are a lover of house music, then you probably know Frankie Knuckles. If you have ever lost your mind on the dance floor and used the rhythm as an escape from your daily troubles, you probably know Frankie Knuckles.  If house music is a spiritually transcending experience for you; one that takes you to another place, another time, and another world, then you probably know Frankie Knuckles.

Some may not recognize him by name.  Just trust me when I say, if you love house music, then this is the man you need to thank for putting this genre on the map and helping to make it the global phenomenon that it has become.

Born January 18, 1955 in the Bronx, Francis Nichols loved disco and would frequent clubs in the New York area.  He would become a DJ in two important clubs in NY, namely The Continental Baths and The Gallery.  In 1970, Frankie would move from NY to Chicago and would become the primary DJ for a newly opening club called The Warehouse.  

The Warehouse was primarily a black gay club. However, Frankie's music became so popular that everyone (black, white, gay and straight) began to frequent the establishment. The music Knuckles played had such a unique sound that people needed to give it a name because it was so different from what was being played else where.  The name house music (shortened from the Warehouse club name), would become the label attached to this new sound.

I was first introduced to house music in Loretta's in Atlanta. Yes, it was a spiritual experience for me. I didn't know the name for what I was listening to, I just knew I liked it.  I would soon learn that I had just had my first experience with house music. She was a sound I loved and wanted more of. Once you meet her, you don't want to let her go.

Frankie would be the DJ at The Warehouse until 1982, when he opened his own club called The Power Plant.  The Power Plant would be open until 1987 at which point Frankie would move to the United Kingdom for a short period to spin at the popular club Delirium.  

We cannot simply label him just as a DJ.  Frankie Knuckles was a very in demand producer and would record for himself and produce albums for others.  He has reworked tracks for Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross and Toni Braxton.  When the Pet Shop Boys released their third album Introspective, he would produce their track "I Want a Dog."

Frankie lived his life as an openly gay man.  In 1997, he won a Grammy for  Remixer of the Year: Non Classical. August 25, 2004, the city of Chicago would celebrate Frankie Knuckles Day and then senator Barack Obama would rename the part of the street where The Warehouse once stood as Frankie Knuckles Way. In 2005, he would be inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996,

Frankie Knuckles will always be a legend to me and to most who love this genre he helped create. If you're a fan of house, I'm sure you'll enjoy the music below.  If you're unfamiliar with his sound, please take a moment to expose yourself to this great man and this music that uplifts so many of us.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ma Rainey: Mother of the Blues

Gertrude Pridgett has been called the Mother of the Blues.  She is known by most as simply Ma Rainey.  Although her actual birthdate has been questioned, it has been assumed that she was born in April of 1886.  She was born in Georgia.

She was the second of five children of Thomas and Ella Pridgett, from Alabama. She had at least two brothers and a sister named Malissa.  She came onto the performance scene at a talent show in Columbus, Georgia when she was 12–14 years old. A member of the First African Baptist Church, she began performing in show tents. It was around 1902 when she was first exposed to blues music after hearing a girl sing in a tent in Missouri.  She was so captivated by the performance that she began to incorporate it into her performances.

Pridgett met a singer, dancer and comedian named William "Pa" Rainey and they married February 2, 1904, when she was 18. From then, she performed as "Madame Gertrude Rainey", and later, "Ma Rainey".They sang and danced together in Black minstrel shows, and for several years toured with F.S. Wolcott's Rabbit Foot Minstrels. From 1914, the Raineys were billed as Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. During the winters she lived in New Orleans where she met many blues musicians including Joe "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster. As Blues music increased in popularity and Ma Rainey would become very well known

From the time of her first recording in 1923 to five years later, Ma Rainey made over 100 recordings. Some of them include, Bo-weevil Blues (1923), Moonshine Blues (1923), See See Rider (1924), Black Bottom (1927), and Soon This Morning (1927).

She was known for her very powerful vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and a ‘moaning’ style of singing similar to that of folk tradition. Though her powerful voice and disposition are not captured on her recordings, the other characteristics are present, and most evident on her early recordings, Bo-weevil Blues and Moonshine Blues. Ma Rainey also recorded with Louis Armstrong in addition to touring and recording with the Georgia Jazz Band. Ma Rainey continued to tour until 1935 when she retired to her hometown.

Around this time, Rainey met Bessie Smith, a young blues singer who was also making a name for herself.  This was during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Though rarely identified as homosexual, same sex relationships were fluid during this time. Men and women were expected to marry. But in their circle, performers such as Bessie Smith " The Empress of the Blues", Ma Rainey " The Mother of the Blues", Alberta Hunter, Jackie "Mom" Mabley, Josephine Baker and Ethel Waters all cultivated a lesbian or bisexual image. For female jazz and blues singers, being attracted to other women was chic.

According to the book, Making Gay History by Eric Marcus, Ma Rainey several times was in trouble with the police for her lesbian behavior. In 1925, she was arrested for taking part in an orgy at home involving women in her chorus. Bessie Smith bailed her out of jail. Ma Rainey's album "Prove to Me Blues," a monologue about women who love women, showed reference of a women in appearance to Rainey, in hat, tie and jacket talking to a flapper. In the distance a policeman observes. The copy reads "What's all this? Scandal? To look at the words, the song goes: "Went out last night a crowd of my friends. They must 've been women, cause I don't like no men... They say I do it, ain't nobody caught me, They sure got to prove it to me..."

Towards the end of the 1920s, live vaudeville went into decline, being replaced by radio and recordings. Rainey's career was not immediately affected. She continued recording with Paramount and earned enough money touring to buy a bus with her name on. In 1928, she worked with Dorsey again and recording 20 songs, before Paramount finished her contract. Her style of blues was no longer considered fashionable by the label

In 1935 Rainey returned to her hometown, Columbus, Georgia, where she ran two theaters, "The Lyric" and "The Airdrome" until her death from a heart attack in 1939. She was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Ma Rainey died in Rome, Georgia in 1939.