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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Jennifer Leitham's "Future Christmas"

In 2002 John Leitham became Jennifer Leitham, and of course her talent transcended that journey. Since 1979 this artist has performed with a who's who of the jazz world, from Mel Torme, Woody Herman, George Shearing, Doc Severinsin, Peggy Lee, Cleo Laine, and on and on. She has played on over 125 albums. You've got to be pretty talented to work that long in those circles. Her very public transition was difficult enough without also facing the unknown reception she would get in the less than liberal jazz world. It hasn't always been easy, for a left-handed bassist, and a woman. That hasn't slowed her down though, as she's just released her eighth solo album.

And it's a holiday one and I think it's up to her high standards. Leading the Jennifer Leitham Trio, the album mixes a blend of instrumentals and vocals, and classic holiday songs with originals. One original in particular, that she wrote, is "Future Christmas (The Global Warming Winter Holiday Blues)." I'm very pleased that she did a video of this one that I can share with you.

Other tracks, like Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home For Christmas," "Christmas Time Is Here," and a concoction of "Little Drummer Boy / Big Bass Girl" provide other highlights.

Also, check out the interview I did with her on my QMH show for August 2007

Friday, December 12, 2014

Jesse Hultberg - 20 Years Old

If ever there was a CD that I was predisposed to absolutely adore before hearing it, well, it's this one. And I do. Jesse Hultberg has remained a favorite artist of mine for many, many years, despite accomplishing that by only releasing one CD, in 1994. That CD was just called "Jesse Hultberg" and I loved his style, his voice, and those out-of-the-closet lyrics, especially in the song "Constant Thing (I Was Raised a Straight Boy)." A bonus was a just gorgeous cover of the Bee Gees song "If I Can't Have You."

But, like I said, that was 1994, before I even had a radio show. It took me several years after I started producing Queer Music Heritage to track him he had moved to France and pretty much dropped out of the music scene, but I finally got to interview him for my May show in 2005. Click to hear it.

He did have some music output before that, in 1982, though quite founding member of the band 
3 Teens Kill 4. I've seen their music described as "post-punk" and it is quite a departure from the folksinger style that came later. And he appeared in the 1989 film "Longtime Companion," where as part of the fictional group The Fingerlakes Trio he did an amazing ballad cover of "YMCA."

But I've digressed, it's the new music that has me very excited. It's everything I loved about the 1994 album, and more. And I guess it should. It's title "20 Years Ago" actually tells us that he wrote and recorded this music shortly after making the first album. So, it's the buried treasure, the lost basement tapes, and to me golden.

You can hear and download the album on Jesse's Bandcamp Page.

But he already has a couple videos to watch, done by his friend Rachel Wolf.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Deidre McCalla - Everyday Heroes & Heroines

Deidre McCalla is a long-time favorite recording artist of mine, and I was listening to the title track from her album "Everyday Heroes & Heroines" and realized that to me, though the song is from 1992, it spoke to the recent (and ongoing) efforts of countless people to pass and defend the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

The ordinance, which became known as HERO, was passed by City Council last May and before that Houston was the largest city with no laws protecting its citizens against discrimination.

For the Council sessions over 300 people from both sides spoke passionately, and many at home were glued to their television and internet screens to take it all in. I was proud and often quite moved to watch members of the LGBT community and our allies state our case from a variety of viewpoints, and that included several brave folks who were moved enough that they summoned up their courage to come out in that setting.

Then the usual cast of hate-driven bigots gathered thousands of signatures to try to force the issue onto the November ballot. Our community rallied again to undertake the massive effort to work with the City in determining if enough valid signatures were gathered. As a result of sloppiness, and perhaps fraud, the number came up short, and of course its proponents then filed a lawsuit, with the case now set to come before a judge in January.

My point is that our community should be very proud of our ground-swell of work, and it is encouraging indeed that spear-heading the effort is not the usual cast of activists. Yes, they were part of it, but this cause moved folks into activism who had never spoke up and/or volunteered before. We found that we indeed have a large community of heroes and heroines.

Find out more:
Deidre McCalla Website
Equal Rights Houston
Equal Rights Houston on Facebook


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.


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

 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.

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

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," 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

Downton 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."

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."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Young Jessie's Transphobic 45 RPM Record


Okay, you're wondering....who the hell is Young Jessie? (You may also be wondering why you might care, but hey, this is a queer music history blog). Obe Jessie is the real name for an artist who got a lot more attention, and a long career, as Young Jessie. Go to Youtube and search that name and you'll find pages of songs. In the 1950's he was with the well-respected group The Flairs, and stepped in briefly as a member of the Coasters around 1957 ("Searchin'" and "Young Blood"). Just after that he had his main claim to fame for his song "Mary Lou," covered with much success by Ronnie Hawkins, in 1959, and others.

But then what? Well, not too much until the 1980's when his records began being reissued in Europe and there was demand for his performances there. However the focus of this blog entry is a song he released in 1972 that is quite transphobic. Produced by Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, it appears it was Young Jessie's last single release, and is only widely available now (as a download) as it was part of a compilation CD of Williams' productions.

And, as you can see, it was not released as by Young Jessie, but under his real name, Obe Jessie. I wonder what prompted that change? When you have a "name" in show business, why use another unless you were unsure of the material or knew it was an outspoken release. And that description fits for this one.

Above is the 45, and below a sample of the lyrics...

"Somebody please tell me what kind of world are we living in 
where boys want to be girls, good God, and woman, she want to be men....
who's the blame?" 

It continues on that path, and you can hear it...

As Young Jessie he's still performing. Below is a poster with cool retro artwork for a November 2013 show in London.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Yes, a Lyrically-Gay Song from 1957!

I am always delighted to find a song with gay references from before Stonewall, but this one was even more of a treat as it was from the 1950's. That's rare indeed, and I thank my friend John Trudell for pointing me to it. And better yet, it has a Youtube video.

The group was called the Three Flames, and they were quite successful, even having their own radio and TV shows in the 1940's. They scored a top ten hit in 1947 with "Open the Door, Richard," and performed at the Bon Soir club in Greenwich Village for several years. If the name of that club sounds familiar to you trivia bugs, that's where Barbra Streisand first performed, in 1960. It was an elegant venue where gay and straight clientele mixed, hosted by popular gay entertainer Jimmie Daniels, who gained fame during the Harlem Renaissance.

But I've gotten side-tracked, back to the Three Flames. The group was led by Tiger Haynes, who was also known as an actor. He was in the Broadway variety show "New Faces of 1956" and was the original actor to portray the Tin Man in the Broadway version of "The Wiz," in 1975, the role taken over by Nipsey Russell in the 1978 film.

The 1957 album where I started my research is at the top of this post, but here are the back jacket notes.

And....ta ta....the song that inspired this post, "I'm In Love With You." It was written by Don Raye and Gene DePaul (both in the Songwriter's Hall of Fame), and it's the surprise ending that delights.

So, yes, this was a lyrically-gay song in 1957, and even more amazing, it was on an LP on a major label, Mercury.

Finally, yeah, I've got something from the juicy gossip department, I found this description in a column by Warren Allen Smith:

"Musical accompaniment at the Bon Soir usually was by the Three Flames, an all-black bass (Avril Pollard), piano (Roy Testamark), and guitar featuring Tiger Haynes. Cruisers who were three-deep at the bar focused on Tiger’s tight pants as the big St Croix-born musician sat on a high stool, his trousers purposely failing to hide the merchandise. His pearly teeth and his consummate musicianship gained him much notoriety. “No, Mary,” explained someone ingenuously at the all-male bar one night, “ ‘Big 10 Harmony’ refers to the size of his LP album.” The gossip was that, when in New Faces of 1956 with drag queen T. C. Jones, Tiger had a white wife and, alas, was not bisexual."