I have to say that I am having too much fun blogging about frivolity while the world’s economy comes crashing down, McCain & Palin pull every stunt in the book short of a physical attack, and the gays can now rock a Vera Wang in Connecticut–perhaps I should have never left acting! I could have ignored politics forever! LOL!!! Anyhoo, this is the next-to last in this installation of So Black and So Gay.
It’s hard to select one video or song from dance music artist Jody Watley that is Black and gay. They kind of all are. But I am gonna narrow it to two. Watley began her career as a regualar dancer on Soul Train in the 1970s, and then joined the group Shalamar, and had several hits with that band, before going off on her own with the release of her debut solo album in 1987. The second single, Still A Thrill, was the least successful as a single, but I think is one of the funkiest tracks of the decade by any artist, period. The Andre Cymone (a high school friend of Prince, and the Minneapolis sound is all over this track) produced track is about a love affair that remains steamy after many years, and has a killer bassline, and a funky guitar lick over a synthesized drum. The video is simply Jody and Tyrone Proctor a dancer, clearly a Black gay man (who’s name I can’t remember nor locate), who vogues with Watley through the video. This video pre-dates Madonna’s “Vogue” by 3 years, and is often given credit for being the first mainstream video to feature voguing. Shot in Black & White in what looks like Paris, the video is super sexy, and I also see a lot of where Aaliyah got her look and movement influences, which I had never thought of before.
I could not mention Still A Thrill and not talk about Real Love, from Watley’s second album, Larger Than Life, which definitely was a move toward a sound more associated with the 1990’s, though it was released in 1989. A much bigger hit for her than the previous single, but is no less relevant. This song kills as a dance track, it’s still fresh and interesting to listen to 20 years later. And the video, so black and so gay, is a tribute to Jody’s career as a model, and as someone who was very fashion-forward. Watley is giving you looks in this video. She’s giving you fierce runway (in an over the top way reminiscent more of the Ball/Vogueing scene than an actual fashion runway show), and even though it’s a video that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the song, it somehow completely fits it. Real Love, and Jody Watley in general, is so Black and so gay!
If you’re a Black gay of the Classic Era (meaning you’re over 30, or at least have Classic Black Gay Sensibilities, or CBGS), you’ll know that Stephanie Mills‘ “Home” is really the Black gay anthem. The song, written for the 1975 Broadway play The Wiz for which Mills was cast as Dorothy (and Diana Ross played in the 1978 film version and does a lackluster version of the song. In fact, it is Lena Horne’s “Believe” that becomes the showstopper in the film. But I digress.), is the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” of this black version of the Wizard of OZ.
Why is this song, so Black and so gay, you might ask?
One reason that the Black gays of the classic era love this song, in my opinion, is that it speaks to the pain of feeling cast out of the larger Black community–we have no “home” in a sense. The song is about a stateless person–someone who has dreams of a physical place, but the lesson that they learn is that home has to be made in the family and community we create.
But Mills re-recorded the song for her 1989 album “Home” (with a Capella group Take 6 singing the background vocals). She has said that she recorded the song after the deaths of Kenneth Harper (The Wiz Producer, whose mother told the New York Times he died of cancer at age 48 in 1988) and Charlie Small, The Wiz Composer who died in 1987 of a burst appendix. I think that many Black gay men from the Classic Era were in the throes of so much death due to HIV (and sometimes violence) that this song became a song about the losses they were feeling too. I started going to gay clubs when I was 18 or so, and this song was a staple drag performance for about a decade. I think the part that really cinches it for the Black gays, me included, is at the end of the 1989 recording, when she sings “I can hear my friends tellin’ me, Stephanie, please, sing my song.”
Because it so much speaks to the Black gay experience, Stephanie Mills’ Home is So Black and so gay! The video below is a live verson from the Apollo in the 1980s. To see yet another un-embeddable music video from the theives at Universal Music Group, click here.
No one brought Black gay culture, in terms of the language and the unique kind of camp/pretense of Black gay life to the mainstream in the 1980s more than Bernadette Cooper. Consider her lyrics, which open her band Klymaxx’s first single from 1984, The Men All Pause…
I knew I was looking good
I had my Kenneth Cole shoes on, My Gianni Versace blue leather suit.
My nails were done, and my hair was FIERCE!
I was riding in a Coupe S Limousine…
The song get’s even gayer. But it is Cooper, with her not quite butch, not quite femme persona who continues the camp factor ripped right from the runways of the balls. It was as if she was writing songs for queens to get ready to the club to, or drag queens to perform…
‘cause they all love’d me
Slap me, no, somebody slap me
‘cause i know i’m lookin’ good
I’m givin’ attitude all over the room
People are starin’ at me
I just look too good for these people
As it turns out, I would meet Ms. Cooper years later when she lived in Jersey City, and operated a high-end vintage clothing store. She was still fab then. She also penned other such “I look too good” songs like Salt-N-Pepa’s “The Body Beautiful” and Bette Midler’s “I Look Good.”
For her camp factor and drag-a-licious performance, Bernadette Cooper & her band Klymaxx is so Black and so gay!
Since National Coming Out Day is this coming Saturday, I am going to do a new video everyday this week.
When Technotronic hit the scene in 1989 with Pump Up The Jam, it was one of the first house tracks to cross over to pop radio. Listening to the radio, we heard this hip-hop MC rhyming over the track with a husky, heavy voice that really made the track stand out. Well, the video for Pump Up The Jam featured a high-femme black model lip-synching the words. It wasn’t until the group performed on Saturday Night Live did we meet Ya-Kid K, the voice behind Technotronic (much like the Black Box and C&C Music Factory videos that featured models instead of Martha Wash). Was Ya Kid K simply considered too butch for music video?
Ya Kid K was dressed in a very butch/hip-hop effect, complete with cornrows, hat turned around, baggy clothes, and very little (if any) make-up–and everyone was shocked to see her, given the fraud perpetrated in the original video. But Ya Kid K was one of the first women to rock a butch hip-hop effect in pop music, inspiring many Black and Latina butch dykes across the country, if not the world! Here’s there most famoussong, Move This. Ya Kid K–so Black and so gay!
“Roll Out,” the lead single from Labelle’s first new studio album in over 30 years, represents just one dimension of the group’s genre-bending sound. The modern mid-tempo dance track produced by and featuring Wyclef Jean (and Jerry ‘Wonda’ Duplessis) highlights bouncing synth drumbeats and soaring vocals that deliver an empowering message to women. The single is from the upcoming Labelle recording, “Back to Now” to drop on October 21 on Verve Records.
From their formation in 1961 at the dawn of the girl-group era, through their pioneering years fusing rock, soul, and funk, Labelle’s innovation has set them apart in a genre all their own. With additional production by Gamble & Huff and Lenny Kravitz, ‘Back to Now’ embodies everything Labelle has ever been.
How the Labelle Reunion Came About:
After Nona found a song that was a tribute to civil rights leader Rosa Parks, “I asked Pat about us doing it as a group. Pat’s been talking about us getting back together for thirty years! I said, ‘we should either stop announcing it…or do it!’” For Patti, the idea of coming back together to record and tour was all about timing: “Every time it came up, I was working. I knew it was long overdue but each time, I was not ready to do it and I had so many things on my plate. My manager Damascene Pierre Paul kept asking me to do do this; he was begging me and finally, I gave in. Then I said, ‘I don’t want to half-step…I will make time to do this.” Adds Sarah, “We’d been talking about it and we had a meeting in 2007 to see what we could put in motion. We never did a farewell tour. We just stopped. This is a way of bringing completion for the fans who were with us from the beginning.”
The result of what Nona likes to call the trio’s “re-ignition” is a bold new album which embodies everything Labelle has ever been. With the group’s ever-distinct harmonies and high octane vocals, LaBelle, Hendryx and Dash bring something new and fresh to their latest work. Producers Lenny Kravitz, Gamble & Huff and Wyclef bring out the best in the trio. “I had just seen Kenny and Leon receiving their induction into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and Pat performed “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” recalls Sarah. “I called Kenny and asked if he would meet with us.” Nona brought Kravitz to the table: “We’re friends and admirers of each other’s work. We talked to him about the idea of us getting together and invited him to a session. He showed up that day at 5:00 and we haven’t stopped working since.”
“Working with Lenny was a blast!” says Patti. “He played every instrument, even sang all the leads on the tracks. That’s how good he is. Kenny and Leon are like brothers to me. I trust them and they let me take credit for being myself.” Notes Nona, “Working with Lenny, Wyclef, and Kenny & Leon was meant to be. I really think the music led us to the people who would understand the new Labelle credo ‘back to now’. The past and the present, existing in the now!” Adds Sarah, “Lenny reminds me of the newness of today. I learned a lot from him. I really saw his vision for us. Our producers took the old and brought us right up to today.”
The songs are a perfect fit: “Without You,” began as an original idea from Nona: “The initial impetus for writing the song was as an ode to Labelle. You could hear it as a traditional love song or as the sentiment behind our re-ignition as a group.” Kenny Gamble “had an idea for another section for the song,” says Nona, while Patti added her input to the song (“from the first time I heard it, I loved it”). The final result: a dramatic, intense ballad in the best tradition of Labelle, building and building with soaring vocals.
“Our audiences came to expect all three of us to sing lead on different songs,” says Sarah. “That made us unlike any other female group. That’s what we do on ‘System’.” It is, Nona says, “an old song, something we performed thirty years ago that was intended for our next Labelle record in 1977. It means more today than it did even then. I love the rugged track Lenny created for it, reflecting the aggression that the ‘system’ represents.” Patti: “It’s about what’s happening now. It’s about the lies that have been told. It’s about not doing what the system tells you but about following your heart…”
Other album highlights include “Candelight,” a Hendryx original (“That’s old-styled Labelle!” says Sarah), “Super Lover,” a Hendry/Celli collaboration, and two G&H productions: : a rocking version of Mother’s Finest’s “Truth Will Set You Free” and a dance classic cover of Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.” Nona remembers, “I worked with Joyce Kennedy (of Mother’s Finest) with the ‘Daughters Of Soul’ tours I did in Europe and Asia. “Truth Will Set You Free” was a great song from a great band and I felt it was something we could do.” For the dance floor, what better choice than reviving a song made famous by a dear friend: Sarah smiles, “What can I say? Sylvester was an icon. I loved doing this. I got use all aspects of my vocal range on this track.” As Patti says, “It ain’t nothin’ but a jam. It’s gonna make you dance like a fool.”
Labelle, known for delivering a potent message-in-song have been given the perfect vehicle, courtesy Gamble & Huff with “Tears For The World,” a new 2008 classic, sweeping, driving, thought-provoking. Patti recalls, “I was in Kenny’s office. It wasn’t raining that day but it felt dark. Sarah had just shown me her diary in which she had written ‘Let’s pray.” Nona, “After he heard Pat talking, Leon (Huff) went away and came back with the song. It talks about all the things we want to change.”
Concludes Nona, “Our new album is like going home and eating your Mom’s cooking, if your Mom was a good cook, that is!” Labelle sings of change, of love, of sex. A genre-shattering female trio who had social, musical and political statements to make in the ‘70s, re-emerge with the same kind of triple-threat power, bringing it all back to now.
I JUST saw this video on Vh1 Soul and I think I am in love with it. It is a new video by Fonzworth Bentley, called “Everybody,” with Kanye West and Andre 3000. I like how playful it is with the choreography and the cute stylized winking and smiling, how hot they all look in their suits, and I think producers (the fellas in the band in the video) Sa-Ra Creative Partners are the next big thing in Black music. This new image of Black masculinity gives me hope that we won’t all perish under the hegemony of hip-hop. I know I’m being dramatic–this song is just as misogynist as most music these days, but I am happy to see the cultural swing away from artists selling Black death.
I’m sure you’ve heard this “No Homo” phrase for the last several years from Hip-hop artists and now regular people on the street, as a way to break the normal social mores around same-sex interaction, and still assure the person to whom you’re speaking that you’re not actually gay. I know, a mess. But Hip-hop blogger and radio host Jay-Smooth over at his blog Ill Doctrine (that has me jealous on the style/layout tip), made a pretty funny video spoofing and explaining the “No Homo” foolishness.
There is nothing funny about this recent performance of Whitney Houston. It makes me really sad, so sad I could really cry.