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Monday, May 26, 2014

Tona Brown: Black Transgender Mezzo-Soprano & Violinist Sings Langston Hughes


Tona Brown checked off a lot of boxes as she got my interest in covering her in this blog entry. One, I love featuring the music of transgender artists, and I don't do enough to feature Black artists, and I certainly should showcase more artists who do classical music. Add to that three songs on her 2012 EP of the poems of Langston Hughes set to music. And, that poetry was set to music by Margaret Bonds, one of the first African-American composers, who collaborated with Hughes.

Brown has been getting a lot of recognition, including being asked to perform for President Obama, and she's going for her dream...a concert at Carnegie Hall, to be appropriately called "Stonewall to Carnegie Hall." To be accepted to perform at that famous venue is an honor itself, but it also takes raising a sizable amount of money, and she has been doing that by social media fundraising. She currently has a fund drive at GoFundMe.  And, a lengthy article at Huffington Post gives more of her background, links to videos...the article's headline says she's the "First African-American Transgender Performer to Take the Stage at Carnegie Hall." And you can find more videos at her YouTube Channel, along with her video blog. The vlog gives her "It Gets Better" message and many interview clips. And she has a regular blog.

The first CD release by Tona Brown was a 6-track EP called "This Is Who I Am," and is from 2012. The poetry by Hughes are all represented by short tracks, none over two minutes, and you can hear those three at the link.






 And, this EP can be found on iTunes, CDbaby, Amazon and the usual suspects.



Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Montrose Men, a 1979 Houston Singing Act


The Montrose Men were a short-lived local Houston group, and at least on this rare recording they were Very influenced by The Village People and the disco sounds of the day. Below are every mention of them from the publication This Week in Texas (TWT), spanning 9/21/79 to 3/21/80. The flip side was an instrumental version. You can't get much more "gay Houston" than this 45.

Listen




Members were: Bo, Calvin, Charles and Greg
I've not seen any mention of last names, if you can provide
them, or any additional information, photos or clippings,
please let me know, at jd@qmh101.com








 Members were: Bo, Calvin, Charles and Greg
I've not seen any mention of last names, if you can
provide them please let me know


 It appears at this point Calvin left the group




I believe this is the same "M Richard Askin" who produced the group and wrote their song.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

What if Marlene Dietrich Was in a 1960s Girl Group?


In the 1930 film "Blue Angel" Marlene Dietrich introduced her signature song "Falling In Love Again," and the song become iconic. See the clip below...the songs starts at 1:40.



Now, there are some interesting cover versions of this song to be found on YouTube, such as by Bryan Ferry and Klaus Nomi, but the one I wanted for this blog wasn't there, so I created a slide show video for it myself. All because I love, Love the Girl Group sound of the 60s. 

And I wanted to share the version by Polly Perkins, who recorded it in 1964. It didn't take her long after that to come out of the closet, and in a big way. In 1976 she recorded a song called "Superdyke," which she performed on stage in London. Now, That song can be heard on a show in which I featured a number of her songs, on QMH Part 2 for that show, at this link



And here's the slide show for the main attraction


As the A-side is so, so very short I included the flip side as well.

I also have a page of my site devoted to photos,
a discography and clippings for her



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Micah Barnes - New York Story

My 200th Blog Entry

I have been following the music of Micah Barnes for quite a few years, starting with his stint with the Canadian a cappella group The Nylons in 1989, on to his more rock and award-winning 1998 CD "Loud-Boy Radio," though several released in the 2000s ("Hard," "Micah Barnes," and "Domesticated). The "Micah Barnes" CD by the way made my Best of the Year show for 2007, with what he called a cabaret noir style. Every few years he would come out with something, I would love it, and then wait impatiently for the next one.

The next one is almost here. At least the first single from his next album is. Micah has just released a more jazz-styled arrangement of a track called "New York Story," and you can check it out on his YouTube page.





Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Day I Met Ray Hill


[ I've been thinking of Ray a lot this week after watching the wonderful preview of the documentary film on him ]

I met Ray Hill on April 20, 1981, and I even took notes. You may wonder how I know that so specifically and what I was doing.  I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, from 1978 to 1981 and my last year there I decided to take a cross-country trip, and I kept a journal, 110 hand-written pages. From April 1 to August 17 I trekked through the south, southwest, west coast and back to Norfolk via a northern route. I visited 25 cities and tried to soak up the gay culture wherever I went. 

As I had just finished a stint as editor of the gay newspaper in Norfolk I had some entree to other gay newspapers and visited them and tapped right away into what was going on and what to experience. I also tapped in the night life, going to 160 gay bars (23 in Houston) and it was during that trip I decided to move to Houston, which I did by the end of that year. So as luck would happen, I met Ray Hill. Here's my journal entry from April 20, 1981.



This afternoon I visited the radio station that airs the gay programs here in Houston, station KPFT, 90.1 fm. They broadcast on Thursday nights normally, but were having a special all-day program as a fundraiser, and they had open house at the studio, which is just three or four blocks from the guest house (Houston Guest House). Ray Hill is station manager and is also known as the father of Houston's gay movement. I didn't really talk with him--he was very busy, but I watched him in the studio give part of a news broadcast. He is very articulate, and to hear him talk on the air, you would swear he had the copy written in front of him, but he didn't. He is very involved in the court hearings in a case in which a gay activist (Fred Paez) was shot at point blank range by a cop. The activist had been doing a lot of research into police discrimination of gays. The shooting was just before Gay Pride Week last year. 

Ray's lover is Kent Naasz, whom Michael Collins (a NYC activist friend) suggested I look up in Houston. Kent happened to be the first person I talked to at the station, so it was kind of coincidental that we met that way. The station of course is all volunteer (except for Ray) and as expected, they program gay news, interviews, group discussions, records, and about anything else they can think of. It seemed like they had their shit together.

I did get to talk to Ray Hill later. He saw me at a nearby restaurant and sat down at my table for about an hour. He is very interesting. He should write a book on his experiences.



Above, January 2014, with Ray at The Banner Project display at Hilton Americas, during Creating Change 2014.

For my blog visitors outside of this area, Ray has for decades been ubiquitous with the gay movement in Houston. And, yes, this is one of my rare blog entries Not dealing with queer music.

Houston gay bars I visited during my trip:

Montrose Mining Company
Galleon
Wildwood Saloon
Brazos River Bottom
Baja Sam's
Mary's
Dirty Sally's
The Hole
Parade
Venture 'N
Midnight Sun
Mary's II (Galveston)
Bunkhouse
Copa
Briar Patch
Different Drum
The Barn
Babylon
The Loading Dock
Grant Street Station
Miss Charlotte's
Montrose Pub
Badlands

Friday, February 14, 2014

Everyone Is Gay


Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino have exploded onto the pop scene, and very quickly. As the act A Great Big World they have been very visible. For example, their song "This Is the New Year" got great exposure by being performed by the cast of Glee last season, but that was just the beginning. They were working on their debut album, to be called "Is There Anybody Out There?" and their version of the single "Say Something" was released early. The folks who rep Christina Aguilera got her to hear it and she loved it. Much to her credit, instead of easily grabbing it for herself, she wanted to do a duet with the act, which happened on the show "The Voice," and...as they say...the rest is history. It went platinum.

But I want to back up. I first heard of them back in June of 2012 when I stumbled upon a various artists benefit comp called "The Gayest Compilation Ever Made." I mean, how could I resist? 

They were billed as Ian & Chad then and the album folks, at the site Everyone Is Gay, requested a very gay song. They came up with...the song "Everyone Is Gay," and it's gay for days. Here's the video...well, actually there are two versions, the original from the comp and the more polished one on the new CD, I'll give you both.


And, the new one:




How's the rest of the album? I like it a lot, it's VERY pop. You can hear full versions of almost all of it on their youtube channel, and find them at their website. And for the record Ian is straight and Chad is gay. Their career will be interesting to watch.




Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dowton Abbey: The Inspiration of the Jack Ross Character


I am one of those totally addicted to "Downton Abbey," and as a fan of old music I could not help noticing the direct inspiration of the character Jack Ross to cabaret legend Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson.

Leslie Hutchinson was one of most famous cabaret singers in the world in the 1920's and 1930's, and was a toast of society both in the U.S. and England. He was also known for his scandals and his bisexual affairs with high profile people including Ivor Novello, Tallulah Bankhead, Edwina Mountbatten (of the Royal Family), and Cole Porter, and he recorded a number of Cole Porter's songs.

This Youtube clip shows an apt Cole Porter song choice, "Just a Gigilo," from 1929.





Hutch and his affairs with celebrities of both sexes were the fodder of English tabloids, which must have been working over time trying to keep up with him. It is difficult to read about him without a mention of his reportedly huge, er, endowment. In fact, that's what google thinks as well. If you type in the name Leslie Hutchinson one of the first search prompts that show up is "well endowed." 

Another search result, "gigolo," leads you to the fact that in the UK in 2008 a documentary was produced with the title "High Society's Favourite Gigolo." But he certainly could sing, here's another example in this rare clip...



And searching in Youtube will get you a lot more to sample. I like his singing style, and have a couple of the many CD collections now available, with him doing many of the classics of our best composers.

But, if you want more scandal, check out this UK article, entitled "The scandalous truth about Downton Abbey's royal gigolo Jack Ross."