Queer Music and Its Impact

The LGBTQQI community has continuously struggled for equality and justice. With the rise in popularity of music, much of America is slowly starting to join in solidarity, or at least acknowledge the necessity for equality. Because music plays such an important role in the lives of the listeners, music can be used as a tool; introducing, fostering and reinforcing open minds.  I will share with you a basic history of LGBTQQI artists and music that is responsible for the rise of tolerance and acceptance, both socially and legally.

It all started in the mid 1920s, during a period called the Pansy Craze.. A string of underground clubs, called speakeasies, began popping up all around America, many of them being safe houses for gay performers and listeners. Gene Malin, Bert Savoy and Rae Bourbon, three openly gay performers in NY, were known to perform at these types of clubs. Ma Rainey, an out lesbian at the time, wrote a song in 1926 called Prove It On Me. She sings, “I went out last night with a crew of my friends. They must have been women ‘cause I don’t like no men.” In 1926, Merrit Brunies and His Friar’s Inn Orchestra wrote a song called Masculine Women, Feminine Men. This was an important song because it was one of the first instances where heterosexuals sang about androgyny. Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller were two examples of straight people who were known to sing and “hang around” gay people, exemplifying open mindedness in the 30’s.

In 1931, Jean Malin wrote a song called I’d Rather Be Spanish Than Manish. This song was about his obvious flamboyance and the fact that he was not ashamed of it. In 1935, Bessie Jackson, a bisexual woman, performed a song called B.D. Women Blues. The B.D. in this song stands for “bull dykes” which means masculine lesbian. She sings about the beauty of these Bull Dyke women and their heart-breaking ways. During this time, despite the rising popularity of gay artists, homosexual and bisexual relationships were still too underrepresented in popular music to make a dent. Cole Porter, a famous gay composer, wrote many songs about other men, and America interpreted, and even performed, these songs as straight love songs (Starr and Waterman 546)

The 1940s to the 50s showed a dramatic decline in out, gay artists, as society decided being gay was wrong, however, some LGBTQQI artists continued to stand by their sexuality. Billy Strayhorn and Dick Voynow were famous, gay jazz musicians. Voynow was a jazz bandleader in the 1930’s and became a record executive in the 1940’s. Two straight singers, Ruth Wallace and Nan Blackstone, were both outspoken allies who wrote songs in support of gay people. Elvis wrote a song called Jailhouse Rock that hinted towards homoeroticism in the prisons (Corte). In the 50’s, Ray Bourbon, a female impersonator and vaudeville performer, wrote a song called Let Me Tell You About My Operation. Although Ray never actually had gender reassignment surgery, this song was significant as it publicly spoke of trans people. A few other gay musicians of the 50s were Little Richard, who called himself “the king of rock and roll…and the queen too,” James Booker, a gay R&B musician who worked with Fats Dominoe and BB King and Frances Faye, a famous cabaret/show tunes singer and pianist and out lesbian.

During the 1960’s the number of LGBTQQI artists was at its height. Big Mama Thornton, who was an openly gay blues vocalist, made Billboard before Elvis did. Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Gary Glitter were three bisexual artists who were very well known and Dave Davies, of The Kinks was openly gay. Lesley Gore, a self proclaimed lesbian, was at the top of the charts with her song It’s My Party in 1963. This decade came to a head in 1969 when The Stonewall Riots occurred.

Following The Stonewall Riots, queer music of the 70’s was more politically charged. Dusty Springfield, singer of the popular song Wishin’ and a Hopin, came out as bisexual when she said to the Evening Standard, “I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t.” In 1960, Jose Sarria wrote a song called A Good Man is Hard to Find. Sarria then ran for board of supervisors in 1961, 12 years before Harvey Milk. LBJ, Don’t Take My Man Away, written by Minette, was the first song by a female impersonator that was not a parody. Lavender Country, America’s first gay country band, wrote a song in 1973 called Back In the Closet Again. They sing, “It’s a bummer being gay when I’m back in the closet again…” Also in 1973, Chris Robison put out the first openly gay rock album. In 1975, Valentino wrote a song called I Was Born This Way, which says, “I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay. Yes I’m gay.” During this decade, Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Long John Baldry came out of the closet.

The 80’s and 90’s continually progressed, in regards to openness for the LGBTQ community. Some of the most mainstream queer artists of these two decades consisted of Grant Hart and Bob Mould of Husker Du, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Derran Hayes of Savage Garden, Ani Difranco, Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes, Fred Schneider of the B52s, and the band The Pet Shop Boys. Although Boy George was not out yet, he popularized the androgynous look, helping normalize homosexuality without even coming out. Jill Sobule came out with a song called I Kissed a Girl, which was #67 on the charts; the first obviously gay song to make the charts. In 1983, Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert wrote a song called Singing For Our Lives after Harvey Milk was assassinated. This song is still performed at festivals to this day. Elton John was very close with Princess Diana and when she passed away in 1997, he performed Candle in the Wind at her funeral. This represented “a watershed moment in which the straight world acknowledged the cathartic power of a good old-fashioned queer tune.” These were crucial times for queer hip-hop, specifically because gay and tolerant hip-hop artists were extremely scarce, even more so than today.

The 2000’s have been the most revolutionary time for the LGBTQQI community and current popular music is comprised of many gay artists and allies. Jay-Z, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and Brittany Spears have spoken out against homophobia and Macklemore performed his song, Same Love, with Mary Lambert at the 2013 VMAs as 33 same-sex couples got married on live TV. Laura Jane Grace, of Against Me! came out as transgender, Boy George, Ricky Martin, Chuck Panozzo of Styx, Frank Ocean, and Lance Bass of NSYNC were a few of the most popular artists to come out as gay. Queer-friendly hip-hop is also prevailing, despite the majority of mainstream hip-hop being influenced by homophobic male artists. Some of the top queer hip-hop artists consist of Qboy, Angel Haze, Johnny Dangerous, Big Freedia, and Cakes Da Killa, and the scene continues to grow.

Being gay was, essentially, illegal in America until the slow breakdown of numerous discriminatory, confusing and hate-filled laws. This deconstruction is mostly due to the change in America’s attitude towards the LGBTQQI community. LGBTQQI people have gone from secrecy and shame to out and proud. From the Pansy Craze to 21st century mainstream music, you see a constant breakthrough of gay musicians and allies who speak for equality. Queer music, with all of its power, has played a large role in the societal acceptance of the gay community and everyone’s right to love.


Women in the Renaissance

Up until the Renaissance, a individual’s life was entirely devoted to the church. In comparison, during the Renaissance, people broke free and began to focus on themselves and the good of humanity. It was a time of self-discovery, education, travel, music and art and with this came a substantial desire for education and expression. During these times, women were also affected in their own way, by the changes in education, ideal beauty marriage and gender roles.

In the beginning, only wealthy women were known to be educated. If you were not wealthy, you had to enter a convent or become a courtesan to learn. If you were a wife or a mother, your education was for the purpose of being a better mother and wife, and only for that reason was it okay for you to be educated. Throughout the renaissance, the priority always remained their domestic role but education became more accepted and, in some cases, encouraged. One example of this was Henry VIII’s oldest daughter who was educated in Greek, Latin, logic, Philosophy, theology, astronomy and math. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some men labeled educated women as “unmarriable” and compared them to female warriors and amazon women. Despite this, women continued to gain knowledge. They were learning how to speak different languages, make art and dance and they also learned how to play instruments. In regards to who taught them all of these subjects; often times it was their husband, father, brother or private male tutor who taught them, as it was still unacceptable for women to teach.

Although there was much change in education for women, marriage remained archaic. Women spent the early part of their lives under their families’, or should I say fathers’, rules and were then passed on to a husband around the age of sixteen. Renaissance girls had no say in who they were to marry and they were passed off at such a young age to ensure that there would be enough time to have as many heirs as they could. When they were married, the husband received a dowry, or payment, for marrying the wife. In this time, marriage was not about love, it was about a gain in wealth and social or political standing. Marriage also meant that the body of the wife was then property of her husband. Once married, if the husband found the wife to be “rebellious” or “disobedient,” abuse of the wife was completely permitted. In the case that her husband died, her age determined where she would be “placed.” If she was young, she would be sent back to her family’s home and if she was older, she was advised to stay with the family of her husband. Regardless of the age, though, a woman never lived alone.

Throughout each time period, the standards of beauty, in regards to women, continued to change and it was no different in the renaissance. During this time, a painter named Botticelli created a piece called Venus and Mars. In this painting, there is a woman (Venus) lying elegantly across from her lover, Mars. Many people thought that Venus was modeled after a woman Botticelli had met, but in reality he painted Venus based on what he envisioned as a beautiful woman. Botticelli’s preference reflected what was ideally beautiful in the renaissance; curves, yellow hair, supple breasts, high forehead, ruby lips and alabaster skin. Dark red lips were achieved with vermilion, hairlines were plucked, hair was lightened with Saffron and onion dyes, mixed with alum and soda and alabaster skin could be made with a mixture of white lead and vinegar. This time period held more realistic expectations, but women would go to more dangerous lengths if her body was not a complete match to the current idea of beauty.

Feminism. There were a handful of women who were already radically pushing the boundaries of womanhood and what was considered “normal” for women in that time period. Lucrezia Marinella wrote a piece of work called “The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men.” This piece was written in response to a piece that Giusepe Passi created, stating the alleged defects of women. Marinella’s piece consisted of the reasoning behind her thought that women were actually superior to men in many ways, including morally and intellectually.

Isabella d’Este was the wife of Francesco II Gonzaga, the Marquess of Mantua. In Francesco’s absence, and later death, Isabella took his place. Isabella was not only an important political figure but she was a patron of the arts, played the lute and was a very large part in the development of a musical style called frottola. Another example of this is a woman names Laura Cereta. Laura put feminist issues and her friendships with other women in the forefront of her writings. She wrote from a feminist perspective, about women’s education, war and marriage and her pieces were not only intended for women, but for everyone, as to further spread her ideals.

The renaissance was a time for change and exploration and that was absolutely reflected through many women and their perceived roles. Presently, it seems like it was a dreadful time to be a woman, and it’s true. However, it was a nudge in the right direction. It was a time for women to experience education, make music and to create art. It was a time for them to write stories and poems, to speak, rule and start the shift towards being a separate entity to their partners. In some cases, it was even about smashing gender roles completely and fighting for women’s rights.