Sounding OFF is Salute Magazine’s weekly music column, authored by Music Editor Daniel Offner. The column is a weekly analysis of all things music. This week’s column focuses on LGBTQ influence in modern music.
June is a time for tolerance in our country… even if our current POTUS doesn’t wish to acknowledge it. All month long people will be waving colorful flags and marching in the street, to celebrate LGBTQ culture and the impact it has had on the world. But the origins of Pride Month, actually stem from a gesture of defiance, made in the face of discrimination.
Pride month began in 1970, just one year after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, prompted outrage from New York City’s gay and lesbian community that escalated into violent demonstrations and riots.
In the days and nights that followed, Gay Rights activists came together to organize advocacy groups dedicated to helping create places for LGBTQ residents to socialize openly about their sexual orientation, without fear of being persecuted.
Today, the United States has become one of the world leaders of LGBTQ equality, following four landmark decisions carried out by the U.S. Supreme Court, between 1996 and 2015, which struck down prohibitive state laws, struck down nationwide sodomy laws, redefined marriage, and made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
But, the work of Gay Rights advocates is still far from over—as of last year there were at least 72 countries and five sub-national jurisdictions that still have laws criminalizing homosexuality. That is why, in the spirit of LGBTQ Pride month, we take a second to look at the many ways that Gay and Lesbian culture has impacted modern music.
One of the earliest influencers of LGBTQ culture, Liberace was at one time, the highest-paid musician in the world.
Throughout his musical career, which spans four decades, Liberace was known for embracing a more flamboyant lifestyle, earning him the nickname, “Mr. Showmanship,” for his over-the-top costume designs and overall charisma on-stage.
By the early 1940’s, he started to move away from more traditional classical performances, to reinvent his act into what he called, “pop with a bit of classics.”
Liberace never publically acknowledged that he was gay, as homosexuality was still greatly frowned upon at that time, which some feel was why he chose to keep the diagnosis of his terminal illness a secret.
Without seeking any medical treatment, Liberace died of cytomegalovirus pneumonia, as a result of AIDS, on Feb. 4, 1987, at his home in Palm Springs, Calif.
The Village People
While I couldn’t imagine it being any “fun to stay at the YMCA,” disco sensations, The Village People, sure as hell did. These six men: an Indian chief, a construction worker, a cowboy, a soldier, a police officer and a Leatherman, came together to make hit-after-hit and were unafraid to express who they are.
Undoubtedly one of the most influential musicians of all time, Sir Elton John, has been open about his sexuality since 1988 and continues to be a champion for LGBTQ social movements worldwide. Over the course of his career, which spans nearly five decades, Elton John has released more than 30 studio albums and has composed the original score for nine different films and Broadway musicals.
Elton John has been a long-time advocate for marriage equality, having entered into a civil partnership with his soon-to-be husband, David Furnish, in 2005—almost nine years prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
He has also been heavily involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Between 1992-93, he created the Elton John AIDS Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has helped raise more than $200 million to support HIV-related programs in 55 different countries across the globe.
Never was there an artist so bold, so unafraid of being himself, that he would unabashedly name his band Queen. Lead singer, Freddie Mercury, was badass incarnate. He had the vocal range of a rock’n’roll legend and was the living definition of badass.
Born of Parsi descent, Mercury only lived to the age of 45 before he tragically died of AIDS, just one day after having confirmed he had contracted the disease. However, his spirit lives on in the hearts and souls of thousands who look up to the singer-songwriter’s thunderous stage presence and unearthly vocal range.
Whether you “believe in a life after love” or not, Cher is without a doubt an LGBTQ icon. Apart from being an Academy Award-winning actress, she has long been revered by the LGBTQ community, for both her negligee style outfits and her acceptance of her eldest daughter, Chaz Bono, who first came out as a lesbian at age 17; and later, as a transgender male in 2009.
Cher was the keynote speaker at the national Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) convention in 1997. The following year, she was awarded the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD) Vanguard Award for making “a significant difference in promoting equal rights for LGBT people.”
Whether or not you wanted to “hurt” him, or make him “cry,” English singer-songwriter Boy George, first became a household name with the new wave group, Culture Club.
Along with guitarist, Roy Hay, bassist, Mikey Craig, and drummer Jon Moss, the group is considered one of the most influential new wave groups of the ‘80s, and have sold more than 50 million records worldwide.
In 1985, English synthpop musician, Vince Clarke, took out an ad for a singer. One of the applicants, singer-songwriter Andy Bell, had heard Clarke’s work with Depeche Mode, Yazoo, and The Assembly, and had considered him his “hero.”
“In the studio, I was so enamored of Vince I just kept staring at him,” Bell told The Guardian in 2014. “I couldn’t believe I was there and kept running out of breath, especially on ‘Oh L’Amour.’ They were trying to get me to relax and they had me lying down on the floor and telling me jokes.
The weird thing was after Yazoo split up I was thinking of writing Vince a letter offering my services. We were listening to Alison’s first solo album and my mate said,’That’s going to be you in a year’s time’ – and then I met Vince.”
Bell, who is openly gay, and Clarke first hit the scene as Erasure in the mid-to-late ‘80s, with such chart-topping hits as “Always,” “Chains of Love,” and “A Little Respect.” Since then they have gone on to pen more than 200 songs together, selling more than 25 million albums worldwide.
George Michael was a trendsetter, an artist, an activist, and without question, one of the best-selling pop artists of all-time, having sold more than 115 million records worldwide. He not only reminded us to keep the Faith but he would defy artists expectations, by climbing to the top of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
Before his meteoric rise to stardom, Michael got his start as one-half of the ‘80s pop duo, WHAM!, who reminded us to “Choose Life,” which was a slogan created by artist/activist Katharine Hamnett as “an all-encompassing statement about ideal behavior.” She would later go on to design t-shirts with similar slogans for such artists as Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Queen.
Michael’s sexual orientation didn’t become public until 1998 when the British pop star was arrested by police for “engaging in lewd act” inside a public restroom.
In an interview with The Independent, back in 2007, Michael told of how he felt he needed to keep his homosexuality a secret from his mother, so she would not worry about the AIDS epidemic at the time.
Sadly, George Michael died last Christmas, of heart failure. He was 53.
During the ’80s and ’90s, lesbian culture started to make its way into Heartland rock. Canadian singer-songwriter K.D. Lang and GRAMMY Award-winning folk artists, The Indigo Girls, would help to pave the way for artists like Melissa Etheridge, who has been an outspoken gay and lesbian activist since coming out at the Triangle Ball in 1993.
That same year, she would climb to no. 15 on the Billboard 200 charts, with her breakthrough album, Yes I Am, featuring such mainstream hits as “Come to My Window” and her Top 10 single, “I’m the Only One.”
Etheridge is also a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for medical marijuana, environmental issues, and gay rights. She first entered into a long-term partnership with girlfriend Julie Cypher, who later gave birth to two children, before their breakup in late 2000.
In 2008, the state of California passed Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage. Etheridge, who had just announced plans to wed actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, in an act of defiance, announced that she would not pay her state taxes as an act of civil disobedience. This was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.
She was born Freddie Ross, but today, New Orleans Hip-Hop recording artist, Big Freedia, is revered in the LGBTQ community.
Apart from her work in the music industry, the 39-year-old drag queen also operates an interior design business and hosts her own reality show, “Queen of Bounce,” on Fuse TV, which is scheduled to return for its sixth season on Tuesday, September 12.
She has often been confused as transgendered, but told Offbeat Magazine in 2015, “I am just a gay male… I wear women’s hair and carry a purse, but I am a man. I answer to either ‘he’ or ‘she.'”
In 2012, Adam Lambert became the first openly gay musician to top the Billboard 200 charts with his debut album, For Your Entertainment. He first rose to fame in 2009, as the runner-up on the eighth season of the hit reality TV series, American Idol and has since gone on to collaborate on tour with the rock band, Queen.
Listen to more influential LGBTQ artists on our 2017 Pride Playlist on Spotify.