LGBT History Month UK: Where Would We Be Without Our LGBT Musicians?

Monday, February 3, 2014 - 09:00

Imagine a world without the contribution of LGBT musicians. Impossible argues LGBT History Month as the UK prepares to celebrate music during February.

Music exists in nearly all aspects of life and is generally viewed as a unifying force but it can also be controversial and divide opinion. Disco is widely attributed as emerging from the ‘underground’ clubs and gay scene that existed partly as a form of protest during Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Front as people united to demand equality. It is hard to believe that disco music had enemies in the form of the ‘disco sucks’ movement in Midwest USA in the late 1970s that expressed homophobic views in response to musicians such as Sylvester dominating the airwaves. Disco is now quite rightly identified as having a huge influence on music today leading to the development of house and other forms of dance music.

In 1971 Bunny Jones is credited with penning the first song that explicitly stated ‘I’m Gay’ entitled ‘I Was Born This Way’ although this wasn’t released until 1975 by Motown. Bunny wrote the track in response to the outrage she felt by the bigotry suffered by her mostly gay employees in the beauty industry. The Tom Robinson Band sang ‘Glad to be Gay’ in 1976 partly in response to the ongoing raids of gay pubs by the police in the UK and as an anthem for the Pride parade in London that year. For many people the sight of David Bowie with his arm around Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops in 1972 while singing Starman was a seminal moment.

As in other sectors of society, homophobia and transphobia still exist in the music industry as evidenced by debates about ‘gay’ rappers and twitter arguments between musicians. Some of the most homophobic lyrics can be found in hip hop and yet the tide has turned in recent times as stars such as Frank Ocean have come out and we have seen a number of artists who identify as LGBT for example RoxXxan, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, Angel Haze Naechene Valentino and QBoy.

However the LGBT contribution to music reaches much more widely than pop: from producers, broadcasters, choirs and composers to some of the most memorable moments in musical history. Composers and singers that represent each strand of the LGBT spectrum have been identified as of particular interest: Ethel Smyth, Benjamin Britten, Bessie Smith and Angela Morley and their stories can be read at: LGBT HM featured musicians.

Dame Ethel Smyth was an English composer, the suffragette who wrote their anthem ‘The March of the Women’, and a lesbian. Benjamin Britten, whose centenary was commemorated last year, was a gay composer who wrote many of his most moving pieces for his muse and lover Sir Peter Peers. Bisexual Bessie Smith was a tough pioneer of the blues in segregated 1920s America, who beat the racists at their own game by travelling the States in her own train. Angela Morley, who remained married to her wife after transitioning, until her death, and who wrote music for TV shows such as ‘Dallas’, the theme for ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ and incidental pieces for films such as ‘Watership Down’.

To ensure the legacy of the LGBT community is visible and take their rightful place in history, education is key. Sue Sanders, co-chair of LGBT History Month highlights this point:

“We know that in order to tackle prejudice it is necessary to educate people and dispel the negative stereotypes that such prejudice has nurtured. It is therefore crucial that we make clear all the wonderful achievements of LGBT people throughout the world and down the ages often at great difficulty when the core of who they were was abhorred or worse.”

The organisation has developed particular resources for schools such as inclusive music lessons from The Classroom website. These resources are designed for all ages to help 'usualise' and 'actualise' LGBT people in order to educate out prejudice.

As well as providing resources for History Month, the organisation is holding a Music Showcase on the evening of 7th February at Morley College in central London that is free to people who register at: LGBT HM Music Showcase Registration.

Elly Barnes, event organiser and founder of Educate and Celebrate said:

“We have a wonderful evening of musical entertainment lined up for you from both LGBT musicians and music composed by LGBT artists. We have the Diversity Choir plus representatives from the London Gay Men’s Chorus, Hertfordshire Chorus and The Fourth Choir along with performance poet Dean Atta. From education we have bands from schools in North London and the Morley College performing arts tutors will be demonstrating their skills through dance and song. The event is free so please come along!”  

A diverse and inspiring range of events are being held throughout February across the UK organised by many different groups. These can be viewed at: lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/event-calendar/

From the glam rock of the 70s to disco to the new romantics of the 80s and LGBT hip hop artists of today, it is difficult to imagine a world of music without LGBT musicians. LGBT History Month therefore argues we should all make a song and dance in February - Claiming our history, celebrating our present and creating our future.

 


 

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