I was recently speaking to a 20 something year old about music and Gay Culture. I was mortified when he said “Uh…who is Donna Summer?” And in furthering our conversation the fact hit me that many of the young gays out there have no reference to who and what brought a lot of gay men to loving divas like Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross or Cher. These women were not just singers. They were actresses and stage performers….divas!
So, a phrase like “Friend Of Dorothy” would be lost on a young twink today. But years ago it was code in conversations to let other gay men know that you were gay as well. Although many attribute this phrase to being associated with Judy Garland in “The Wizard Of Oz,” many who lived in New York City knew it to be associated with celebrated humorist and critic Dorothy Parker who often threw parties at her place and invited her gay friends to socialize.
So, I decided this year I would try to share some of our Gay Culture that features some of the most important female vocalists of our past and as well as today who inspire and support our LGBT Community. Now…I could not cover everyone. So, don’t get upset if your diva is not in this mix. It just leaves more information and music to be shared next time.
First up is the one and only Barbra Streisand. The theme song from “The Way We Were” is not only a classic but a torch song that many gay men related to when reflecting on the hardships of being in the closet and living lives for others (or at least that was my interpretation). Barbra Streisand’s role in “Funny Girl” and “Yentl” used her being Jewish as a metaphor for gay life. Despite not looking like what Hollywood would consider to be a beauty, Barbra stood on her talent alone and showed that beauty comes from within and that sexy is whatever you want it to be. Old conventions were thrown out of the window. And as trends came and went, it was her gay fan base that kept her star reborn over the years. Plus she has a gay son. I believe Joel Dickinson really out did himself when he took on this classic ballad and transformed it into the “Werq’n Bitches Remix.”
Next up is another diva who was actually inspired by Streisand….I’m speaking of the legendary Diana Ross. This woman represents glamour and tenacity. There have been many stories about her and what she did to become the icon that still commands a room. As gay men…we all love a scandal. So, her “Love Child” with Berry Gordy (the man who ran Motown Records) inspired the story of “Dreamgirls.” The storyline was slightly changed but when you saw the play or movie you understood who Diana was and the untold story of Florence Ballard. And the story of three poor girls from Detroit being groomed for stardom gave hope not only to African-Americans but to gay men as well. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” seemed like the perfect fit for my tribute to divas. And the Joe Gauthreax & Leanh Remix was definitely the right speed and production for this set.
You can’t talk about Diana without mentioning that she received an Oscar nomination for her role as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings The Blues.” Unfortunately for her, a little movie starring Judy Garland’s daughter called “Cabaret” was up for best actress the same year. Liza Minnelli won. And because her character falls in love with a gay man who she ends up in a love triangle with yet another man this became a gay classic film. Her wild personality as Sally Bowles addressed women’s sexual behavior which gay men could compare to their own liberation in the 70s after the Stonewall riots of June 28th to July1st, 1969 (just six days after the death of Judy Garland). And I have to say….Joel Dickinson is a genius again for his reworking of the title track of this Broadway and cinema classic.
And speaking of Broadway…the stage and Hollywood owes a huge debt to gay men. If it weren’t for a lot of gay men there would be no vision of entertainment. Much of the music written for the stage and film was produced or written by gay men. So, our next diva is the lovely Linda Eder. Making her Broadway debut in “Jekyll & Hyde” in 1997 she tore onto the scene with a voice that was inspired by Garland and Streisand. With pipes like hers any gay man that appreciated Judy and Barbra couldn’t help but fall in love with her voice. So, no Gay Pride celebration would be complete without a rendition of “I Am What I Am” from the musical “La Cage Aux Folles.” Remixer Manny Lehman gave her version the right production to make it a classic dance floor hit.
I told you I was gonna not only talk about the divas from the past but also a few from today. This young lady has cemented her status in the LGBT Community with her anthem “Born This Way.” I’m speaking of Lady GaGa. Some of my older friends would say that she borrowed (a polite way of saying it) from such greats like Bette Midler, Grace Jones and Madonna. Let’s just say that she learned from the best and took it to the next level. Part songwriter, part performance artist…Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta burst onto the Pop scene with an appetite for greatness. And the legends she emulated may not have gotten the credit they deserved but for those of us who were around before she arrived we know who did it first. But in this age of internet and soundbites, you gotta do whatever it takes to be seen and heard. And she did just that with her fashions and her causes. I felt Phillipe Boulevard’s Tribal mix was a good fit for this set.
Another diva that burst on the scene in her day and changed musical history was the “Queen Of Soul,” Aretha Franklin. Columbia Records tried to groom her into a standards artist like a Sarah Vaughn or Dinah Washington. But it wasn’t until she moved over to Atlantic Records and was allowed to mix her Gospel roots with Rhythm & Blues that she became the iconic vocalist that we know today. Her anthem “Respect” represents so much more than a Pop song. It was a cry for Civil Rights and still is relevant today. When she covered Clivilles & Cole’s “A Deeper Love” in 1993 for the soundtrack of “Sister Act 2” it became a huge Pride anthem. And the Tribesman mix became the battle hymn for the month of June.
Earlier I mentioned that we all love a good scandal. Well. Aretha has had her share over the years. But a meme of her walking past our next diva sparked a debate over “was it shade or was it a diva moment?” I’m speaking about a clip from a performance at The White House for the Obamas where Aretha looks as though she is not acknowledging Patti LaBelle as she makes her entrance singing. I personally think it was just a diva moment where the person is singing and can’t break from the note. My husband thinks it was a complete snub. All I know is, it makes for a bitchy shady moment that makes me laugh every time I see it.
While Aretha is the “Queen Of Soul,” Patti is definitely the gay man’s “Soul Songstress”. She too brings her church upbringing to the stage and is not afraid to let it all go. For many black gay men, Patti embodies the freedom of getting the holy spirit in the presence of God and not being ashamed of who you are. So, I had to include her hit “When You Talk About Love” ‘cuz I was definitely think of huh! My early years of drag were surrounded by Patti LaBelle impersonators. She is a staple in black gay bars. And she has always embraced her gay fans.
Now…we cannot talk divas without this lady on the list. Mariah Carey is a diva. There are not too many in the business who have a 5 octave vocal range. Many things have been said about her. Some true, some legend and some just insane. Some of her choices have given her a reputation for being difficult. But hey…who doesn’t love a good train wreck sometimes. However, her talent is undeniable. Plus the Billboard charts tell the whole story. From original songs to covers, Mariah nails it every time. So, it felt fitting to use the Chew Fu Club Fix of “I Want To Know What Love Is” for this set.
Our next young lady definitely changed the game when she decided to go solo. Like Diana Ross with the Supremes, Beyonce was the front woman of Destiny’s Child. It was not hard to see that she would be a solo artist soon. But I don’t think anyone would have predicted that she would not only become a dominant force in the industry but also change how R&B/Hip Hop would be received around the world. Her vocal delivery and lyrical content transformed how these genres are written and sang today. Smart, intuitive and a stage show presence that draws millions Beyonce has become the “Queen Of Pop.” So, I chose the RedTop Club mix of “I Was Here” to tell her story in this mix.
Now, our next diva is probably the newest on the block. But I felt Keala Settle deserved a seat at the table for her anthem “This Is Me” from the film “The Greatest Showman.” Her Broadway career is very recent compared to the rest of the ladies on this list, but with all that is going on in the world today the message behind this song is so important right now (especially for our young people who may be struggling with identity and self image). Keala starred in “Hands On A Hardbody” back in 2013 and was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award. I expect big things for her after winning the Golden Globe for Best Original Song for her role as Lettie Lutz (The Bearded Lady). And Dave Aude did a phenomenal job with this song.
Our next diva comes from musical family royalty. Being the younger sister of Michael Jackson might overshadow your career, but for Janet it was never a problem. From the moment I saw her as Penny on “Good Times” in its fifth season, I knew she was going to be a star. Acting, dancing, singing….in my opinion she picked up where Michael couldn’t. No one can reinvent themselves like a woman. And Janet came out strong with her third album, “Control.” Many felt the message behind this album was the soundtrack to them coming of age and into their own. To me, artists like Beyonce and Britney Spears owe Janet a huge debt. She helped bring female artists to the forefront of Pop music. The unfortunate “Nipplegate” incident at the 2004 Superbowl really hurt her career and really put in perspective the standards for black female artists. She was blacklisted from radio play for many years. Her 1997 hit “Together Again” was originally written as a ballad after discovering a friend had died of AIDS. It was later rearranged into an uptempo dance song. I used the Vincent Bastile reword version for this set.
Another diva who started when she was a teenager as well. This French Canadian powerhouse vocalist is none other than Celine Dion. Many gay fans love her for her passion while singing. There are some vocalists that you can just see the joy and love that is in their eyes when they are singing. Celine is one of those vocalists. And besides huge hits from movies and her long standing residency in Las Vegas, her compassion after Hurricane Katrina and what she had to say on Larry King Live on CNN showed that even though she was not an American she cared deeply about the people who suffered and was not being helped after this terrible event. The Maurice Joshua Vocal mix of “I’m Alive” is one of my favorite Celine songs.
And speaking of a Las Vegas residency….I don’t think anyone has spent as much time on stage in Las Vegas as Cher. And her appearance at Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia was a huge media event for the LGBT Community around the world. Cher has always embraced her gay fans and has always been supportive of LGBT rights. She has a transgendered son, Chaz Bono. We watched Chaz grow up in the spotlight as the daughter of Cher and Sonny Bono. And Cher’s outrageous fashions and outspoken political views have cemented her place as an all time diva. I have forgotten who made the joke but some comedian once said that when the world ends there will only be Cher, Tina Turner and cockroaches left. And honestly…I believe that to be true. Only Cher and Tina have traveled and worked as much in this business. They’ve got a lot under their belts. So, the Yastreb Remix of “Believe” was perfect for this Pride mix!
We are still finding out the troubles that our next diva had in her life. The name Whitney Houston means a lot of things to a lot of people. An angelic voice and undeniable talent that struggled with identity as a black female artist and with personal struggles that led to drug use. Like past divas such as Billie Holiday, her art mirrored her pain. And while Clive Davis tried to present her as this clean cut beauty from New Jersey, a dark past and self image problems would plague her career until her untimely death in 2012. Tragic figures have always had places as icons in Gay Culture. So, I chose the DJ Amanda mix of “The Greatest Love Of All” to be my next selection.
When we speak about game changers in the music industry, we cannot go on without naming another Pop figure who goes by only one name…Madonna. This woman defined the MTV era. And like I said earlier of Janet Jackson, no one can reinvent themselves like a woman. This is why Prince and Michael Jackson could not compete when it came to visuals. Madonna studied and borrowed (there’s that word again) from legends like Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe to solidify her place as an all time diva. Her connection with Gay Culture is so obvious. From her early dance in New York’s gay clubs to employing many gay dancers over the years, Madonna has absorbed our culture and contributed to it as well. I don’t think “vogue-ing” would have crossed over into the mainstream if it hadn’t been for her. And while many would say she stole from the Ballroom scene others give her props for sharing it with the world. My next choice for this set was the Victor Calderone Club Edit of “Ray Of Light.”
And finally to close out this year’s mix, I chose the Hex Hector & Mac Quayle Vocal Edit of “I Will Go With You (Con Te Partiro).” Probably best known by opera star Andrea Bocelli, Donna brought this classic from the opera to to the dance floor as she had done for so many years before. Her breakout hit, “Love To Love You Baby” in 1975 was the soundtrack for a more free sexual revolution on the dance floor. She gave us many hits like “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” and “This Time I Know It’s For Real.” But like with many divas, there was controversy. Okay…first let me point out that I was not there when it was said, but I will give you my best interpretation of what happened. Miss Summer received quite a backlash after a 1983 appearance in Atlantic City where she allegedly made anti-gay remarks and said that AIDS was a punishment for homosexual behavior. A letter she wrote to ACT UP in 1989 started circulating shortly after her death in 2012. In it she denied making the statements and apologized if she had hurt or offended anyone.
Some said it took too long for her to respond and was too late. Others like me, never believed she would do such a thing. Artists like her, Bette Midler, Grace Jones and Cher owe a huge debt to their gay fans. They were the ones who supported them when they were just starting. And like folklore like when the 90s group Snap were being boycotted, I believe this was a situation taken out of context. Beyonce faced the same thing back in 2003 when a UK reporter said her religious background conflicted with her gay following. To squash it immediately, Beyonce booked a surprise show at The Roxy where Peter Rauhofer was spinning. I know this because I was onstage with her that night. Unfortunately for Donna, fixing the backlash was not that easy because it was way before social media. News and rumors traveled from mouth to mouth. It could not be squashed with a simple tweet. And as she pointed out in that letter, she had legal problems with labels and was pregnant twice during the time of the Atlantic City show and finally addressing the issue in ’89.
So, like I said….I didn’t cover everyone this time. I’m hoping to share some more musical history with you next year for Pride. Hope that you enjoyed this mix and we here at KINKSTER wish everyone a Happy & Safe Pride Season!