Writings, Essays, Lyrics, Musings, Commentary . . .
Article #5: Gay/Lesbian American Music AwardsEarly Fall, 2000 - by Gaye Adegbalola
Recently, Saffire played at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City. Paula Savarese, who was in attendance, gave me a photo she took when I was last in The Big Apple. That was April, 2000, at Manhattan Center. The event: the 4th Annual GLAMA (Gay/Lesbian American Music Awards) Ceremony.
It was a very special event because "Bitter Sweet Blues" had been nominated for debut Gay/Lesbian CD of the year. Other nominees were Kamys for the "Kamys" CD, Ellen Rosner for "The Perfect Malcontent," Patrick Arena for "Night Cap," Amy Simpson for "Circumstances Strange," and Cam Clark for "Inside Out." Bruce Vilanch hosted the affair, Meshell Ndegeocello received a special award and I was feeling on top of the world. No, I didn't win (Patrick Arena received the award), but it was an unbelievable honor. For the first time in my musical career, I was publicly out and this outing was being honored.
Mind you, I've always had full freedom with Saffire and support from Ann and Andra to truly be myself. (Ann once gave me a pin that said "closets are for clothes.") But much of my early Saffire repertoire was taken from the great blues divas of the 20's. In an effort to be authentic, I was true to their lyrics in songs like "One Hour Mama," "Wild Women Don't Worry," "Do Your Duty," etc. These were "my man" songs and although they were strong, independent women's songs, they weren't really honest for me.
Often, even the earlier songs I wrote were "my man" songs. Saffire's biggest hit, "The Middle Aged Blues Boogie," which I wrote, begs for a "young, young man."
In Saffire's more recent recordings, I performed mainly "uni-sex" songs--somewhat genderless songs. These are honest songs, but still did not say exactly who I am. There are lies of commission and lies of omission. I was simply omitting the truth.
So along comes "Bitter Sweet Blues." It is all me. Even on the classic diva tunes, I bend the lyrics to be honest to me. Where Bessie Smith says "I need a hot dog between my rolls" in "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl," I say "I need some jelly on my rolls." Where Ma Rainey says "Musta been women cuz I don't like no men" in "Prove It On Me," I say "musta been women cuz there sho weren't no men"--because I do like men--my son is a man. I sing my pure heart. I write my pure heart and......GLAMA nominated me.
For years, I have been out of the closet. . . even out of the room. Takes a major leap of faith to go out of the house. I've done that with "Bitter Sweet." Yet, I have not just taken this step for myself. I believe deep inside that the gay/lesbian/bi community needs the blues--the amazing healing power of the music, its joy, its strength. The music was born out of oppression and continues to empower.
On the other hand, the blues community needs the honesty of its performers. Sometimes it is hard to see teen-aged blues musicians singing of a broken heart and you know they haven't really lived that life. Or someone urbanized singing about picking cotton. While this community, over the years, has made it a necessity for gay/lesbian performers to be closeted, I hope to be respected for who I am.
And so it is that I am on a mission of sorts: to take the blues to the gay/lesbian community and. . . to take my lifestyle to the blues community. Hopefully, we can embrace each other. First, however, I had to embrace my/self. Feels good. Feels real good.