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by Eddie Sayago
Pride Month was very different last year, and it has changed dramatically since the festivities of 2019. (This year’s Chicago Pride Parade is scheduled for October 3.) No one would have imagined that 2020’s Pride Month would consist of protests and marches for Black Lives Matter, protesting police brutality and calling for the defunding and abolishment of police departments around the world.
And Pride is different for each person. It is either a celebration of being proud of who are you or a continuation to call out the discrimination of various groups--particularly trans, double minorities, leather/kink communities--who are often left out of the parade in favor of the traditional (*cough* white cis Ken dolls *cough*) type of gays corporate America is comfortable slapping on their ads and merch.
We had a march for that reason in the formerly-named Boystown neighborhood as various leaders of the drag community confronted the white cis-male establishment that dominates the city’s primary LGBTQ+ commerical center.
This short list of Pride songs focuses on black artists from all genres, eras and locations, including a few local artists who make this queer Chicagoan proud that they are from his hometown. However you celebrate this season, I hope you seek out these and other queer-identifying artists and add them to your music collection.
From the EP Be Yourself (2018, Tay Bennett Entertainment)
Coming out of his older brother’s shadow to become a successful musician (and Instagram thirst-trap) in his own right, Taylor Bennett came into his own with the 2018 single, “Be Yourself”, where he came out as bisexual in the song.
More importantly, Bennett is fully showing off his confident rap delivery and lyrical prowess (“I knew since birth I was certain that I was sent with a purpose/While you competin' with crabs in a bucket I'm in the ocean”) while saying to the naysayers who question him (“And n---s still call me f----t, but b---h my sh-t lookin' fabulous”) to get out of the way. His confidence continues on his next album The American Reject and subsequent work. (See his performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.)
From the album A Weekend In The City (2007, Wichita)
While Arctic Monkeys and Muse were arguably the biggest rock bands to come out of the UK in the 2000s, Bloc Party was able to briefly break stateside thanks to their infectious single “Banquet” and their debut Silent Alarm. Lead singer Kele Okereke stood out amongst the Alex Turners and Matt Bellamys primarily due to his emotionally bare performances on “Like Eating Glass” and “Flux”, and also the fact that he was possibly the only Black man to lead a British rock band at the time.
In their sophomore album A Weekend In The City, Kele sorta comes-out in the song “I Still Remember”, a love story about an encounter that doesn’t become consummated (“We left our trousers by the canal/and our fingers, they almost touched”). Kele’s vocal delivery here showcases his vulnerability, something not heard in their previous songs.
Fans and the media speculated about Kele’s sexuality (a “highlight” of this attention was an interview with The Guardian that hasn’t aged well), even as he wasn’t ready to discuss such a personal topic publicly. He finally came out in 2010 to great fanfare, even appearing on the cover of Attitude Magazine.
From the single "Honey" (2017, Warner Music)
All Kehlani needs is a guitar and her voice for “Honey,” a love song where she tells you what is looking for (“I like my girls just like I like my honey, sweet/A little selfish”) while presenting what she can provide ("Oh, I'm a heartbreak vet/With a stone-cold neck, yeah, I'm charmin'"). The most I can expect when viewing potential mates on dating apps are a face pic and maybe a movie or song quote, while the woman on the receiving end of Kehlani’s affections gets serenaded.
A member of a girl group growing up (Poplyfe, which I guess was formed thanks to America’s Got Talent) before becoming a solo artist, Kehlani has collaborated with numerous artists since then, from Ty Dolla $ign and James Blake to Jhene Aiko and Pink Sweat$ (on his new single “At My Worst,” which is a solid summertime song.)
From the album Funkdafied (1994, Sony)
If you haven’t heard, Da Brat is part of the LGBTQ+ family. In a 2020 feature for Variety, the native Chicagoan discusses her journey, which has never had a dull moment.
The first female rapper to go platinum (as a solo artist), she has since became a radio personality in Atlanta and has appeared in numerous reality TV shows such as Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta and Celebrity Fit Club. Then there was that time she co-starred in Mariah Carey’s movie Glitter AND appeared on the movie’s lead single “Loverboy.” (Damn, summer 2001 was wild.)
“Funkdafied”, her debut single, is a breezy hip-hop track sampling the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” as Da Brat references Janet Jackson (and I guess Rocky Horror with the line “I’m on “I'm on a roll in control like Janet, damnit!”), fellow funkmasters Parliament, and the R&B duo Ashford & Simpson (the folks behind “Solid [As A Rock]”) over the course of three minutes.
Da Brat walked a fine line between who she could be to sell records and singles and how to be herself. “I was always told you want to be f—able to men and women to sell records — you don’t want anybody to discriminate,” she said to Variety, citing how others who came out suffered professionally and personally.
From the single "Ready This Time" (2021, self-release)
While countless musicians spent the first(!) year of the pandemic at home either performing covers online or collaborating with new people on brand new material over wonky video chat and email [sidebar: I really hope Taylor Swift gets to meet Bon Iver someday in person.], Bronze Avery explored genres and styles on a series of catchy dance-pop songs with simple, colorful music videos throughout the year.
His first single of 2021, “Ready This Time”, is a homage to the baby-making R&B songs of the 1990s, the ones that Usher, Babyface, and Toni Braxton somehow managed to get on the radio in between the ballads and bangers. “I could asleep right now/In my dreams I can see, you and me, getting into something I might care about”, reminds me of Braxton’s Secrets era, which is the album that features “You’re Makin’ Me High (which should be played immediately after “Ready This Time” if you need music for that special occasion).
From the album Any Other Way (reissued in 2017 by Numero Group)
If it hadn’t been for an NPR feature in 2017, I would have never come across Jackie Shane. Born in Nashville, Shane survived being a trans black woman in the Jim Crow South then headed north to Canada at age 19. She began to perform professionally and had a moderately successful career in Canada during the 1960s, particularly popular in Toronto amongst the R&B/soul crowd.
Written off, if written about at all, as a drag performer at best (and other pejorative terms by others) for decades, Shane was able to get the respect she deserved in her final days (she passed away in 2019): a remastered edition of Any Other Way was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album in 2019 and her music was being discovered by a new generation of fans.
“Comin’ Down” is a beast of a song. Shane croons while the trumpet and sax are belting in the background. It should be included along with Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” and Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul” in every essential soul mixtape, collection and party/cookout soundtrack.
From the album Greatest - Frankie Knuckles (1991, Trax)
No Pride playlist (or any dance playlist or party) is complete without Frankie Knuckles. What more could be said about the Godfather of House Music, whose contribution to music inspired countless people to become DJs, producers, musicians, and fans of a remarkable genre of music that has become popular in every corner of the globe?
“Your Love” is his signature song, so I figure I would shine a light on “Ride The Rhythm,” an 8 minute journey that can kick off a party or end a long mix of feel-good music.
Born in The Bronx, Frankie began to DJ at clubs while attending New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, where he studied textile design. In 1977, he moved to Chicago to play at The Warehouse, where house music would be developed and spread across the city, country, and globe by the 1980s.
In 1983, he opened his own club, The Power Plant, so that black and brown queer crowds could continue to dance as The Warehouse’s demographic began to cater to cis-het white crowds. In 2004, a section of Jefferson St. near where the Warehouse once stood was renamed the Honorary Frankie Knuckles Way. By then, both clubs had closed and sadly Chicago no longer has a space where house dance can dominate. Perhaps one day, someone will open up a house music venue where everyone is welcome to dance the night away.
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