Stephanie Mills’ “Home”: 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.

TLC: So Black & So Gay!

Even though NYC Black Pride aka Pride In The City seems to be in, ahem, a state of disarray, I am going to continue with the So Black & So Gay! series…

This one is for T-Boz, Left Eye, & Chili, also known as TLC. I mean when they hit the scene, 3 women wearing baggy shirts, jeans and overalls, with condoms pinned to their clothes, they were not only an overnight pop success, but a sharp distinct break from the R&B Grown & Sexy look of artists like Anita Baker and Patti Labelle. These girls gave you butch–in their dress and their attitude! Also, T-Boz–who was featured as the lead on most of their singles–has a very distinct low singing voice that many people read as butch. There were many rumors swirling that the women were lesbians, and by default, T-Boz’s health problems were thought to be AIDS-related. The women have denied the rumors they were lesbians, and T-Boz had to publicly disclose her sickle-cell anemia battle to squelch the HIV gossip.

This video, Hat 2 Da Back, was a song that celebrated their unconventional style,  with the lyrics

Being that I am the kinda girl that I am
Nobody can make me do what I dont want to
I can be myself a lot and Im proud of what I got
So Ill never change for you

Being that I am the kinda girl that I am
Tight jeans dont hit the scene with one like me
I got to be feeling free and you better believe ill
Do what pleases me

I always read songs that are about being an “individual” and “doing what you wanna do” as implicitly about queerness–sexual liberation at the least. Anyhoo, TLC has influenced Baby Dykes all over this country. When I wander the West Village, and see the butch girls in fitteds, baggy jeans and hoodies, I think of TLC! Regardless of their own sexual orientations, TLC’s influence on Black Butch aesthetic is undeniable, and is what makes them SO BLACK AND SO GAY!

So Black and So Gay!: Jermaine Stewart

Some of you may remember that last year at this time (NYC’s Black Pride AKA Pride In the City hosted by People of Color in Crisis (POCC)), I did an entire series called So Black and So Gay!, where I featured videos with implicit and explicit queer themes by Black artists. Well I am gonna serve up a few this week, as well as a guest blogger tomorrow.

Today’s So Black and So Gay! video is none other than Jermaine Stewart’s 1986 smash hit, We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off!

It’s hard to find queens like this in the public pop culture realm anymore–especially Black queens. A lot of homophobic Black nationalist and middle class “racial uplift” Blacks were always deeply troubled by people like Stewart’s presence in the community and in mainstream pop culture, but they were there. Rather than seeing their images as troubling and de-stabilizing racist notions of Black masculinty, they were seen as undermining the Black community, and regressive masculinities that spoke to our defeat as a race of “men.” The HIV/AIDS epidemic became the physical manifestation of 30 years of increasing social death of Black queer men and transwomen from Black public life.

But Stewart was still able to push the Black sissy into public view during the early years of AIDS, even though this particular song is celebrating a kind of middle-class moralistic view of sex and relationships. But you know what? It’s still alot of fun!

For more on Stewart, please check out the Wikipedia entry, which is pretty interesting. Here’s to Jermaine Stewart, So Black and So Gay!