History of Pride in Music
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Music as a form of expression has existed for a long, long time. We drown in the beauty of music to get the will to survive in the darkest of times, indulge in it to bring more festivity to our celebrations and just live life in the infinite, colourful wonder of music. The LGBTQIA+ community as we know it today, although still a taboo for many people, is more open and accepted than in documented history around the world. The emergence of sexual and gender identities in pop and rock music can be traced back to the 70s and 80s, although that is not the extent of LGBTQIA+ history in music.
Pride can be found in the music of Tchaikovsky, whose sixth symphony is interpreted by many as the emotions of a closeted gay man in suppressive Russia, going through phases of joy and sorrow. The 3rd movement of the symphony sounds immensely celebratory immediately after which the fourth movement sinks into a deep, increasingly personal sorrow. People regard this last triumph of Tchaikovsky as a suicide note, as he died nine days after the premier of this symphony. To incorporate musicality into the performances of his violin concerto, soloists often take into account his dilemma of being homosexual in a heteronormative society.
Skipping a few decades, we come to the 1890s, when ‘defiantly’ openly gay musicians like Tony Jackson were capturing the music scene. Ma Rainey, a pioneering blues musician who challenged the limited role of women in performance arts and whose lyrics talked of same – sex attraction as well as her occasional androgynous appearance. One such song, called ‘Prove it on me’ goes :
“Went out last night with a crowd of my friends,
They must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men.
It's true I wear a collar and a tie,
Makes the wind blow all the while
Don't you say I do it, ain't nobody caught me
You sure got to prove it on me.”
The lyrics refer to an incident in 1925 in which Rainey was arrested for taking part in an orgy at her home involving women. At the time, an ad for the song embraced the genderbending outlined in the lyrics and featured Rainey in a three-piece suit, mingling with women while a police officer lurks nearby.
Another legend was Liberace, a closeted pianist who, according to author Darden Asbury Pyron, "was the first gay person Elton John had ever seen on television; he became his hero".
The ‘sexual revolution’ that began in the late 60s and disco culture that existed in the 70s and 80s were directly associated with pioneering black and queer musicians. Many stars of the 60s were steered by gay managers, a few notable names being Brian Epstein of The Beatles (it was rumoured that the song ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’ was written for Epstein by Lennon), Joe Meek of The honeycombs and Larry Parnes of Bill Fury. Gender and sexual fluidity started shining in the spotlight in the 70s-80s like never before. The sexual ambiguity of many musicians like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Prince, etc. was a plus for the queer community. The 70s and the years after the Stonewall Riots gave a push to LGBTQ+ artists and their supporters, who could finally be open about who they were. In 1973, Jobriath was signed in the US as the ‘first gay megastar’. However, he retired in 1975. This ‘phenomenon’ wasn’t limited to big cities in the US; The Big Boys were a band from Austin, Texas who had an out and proud lead singer, Randy “biscuits” Turner. Another band, called The Dicks had a gay musician called Gary Floyd. Both these bands were major musical influences. Songs celebrating pride that were released in the UK, meanwhile, were not being broadcast on the radio.
And today, here we are, celebrating pride through music, celebrating artists who come out through music and supporting them without any cause for concern, celebrating love, celebrating freedom and celebrating life. Peace and love!