from the Outlines Chicago archives

One GLAMA-rous Event
Gay and Lesbian Music Awards in New York
by Gregg Shapiro

April 1998

If you were fortunate enough to have been in attendance at the 1996 Gay and Lesbian Music Awards (GLAMA) ceremony, you probably couldn't wait until the next one. Due to a multitude of circumstances, your wait extended to a period of a year and a half. So, was it worth the wait? Yes, and no. In a way, the year and a half between the first and second annual GLAMA ceremony was a time of unprecedented productivity and expansion within the gay and lesbian music community. Openly gay and lesbian performers increased their visibility substantially. If there wasn't at least one new album a week released by a queer performer, then it sure felt like it. Openly gay performers such as Daniel Cartier and Catie Curtis released albums on labels distributed by majors, while k.d. lang and the Indigo Girls still have the star-making machinery, of Warner Brothers and Epic respectively, to support them in their endeavors.

Not that everything that happened was all good. One major label's "gay marketing" department was hit hard during record-industry-wide cutbacks, causing performers with still untapped potential (such as the band Extra Fancy and singer/songwriter Jill Sobule) to find themselves without a label. Another major label's division for developing gay artists, known as "the pink tank," has yet to produce anything of note.

That's part of what makes the GLAMAs such a gallant affair. Performers on major labels are recognized alongside artists who record for struggling independent labels. You never really see too much of that happening when it comes to the Grammy awards. This year's festivities kicked off on the night of Monday, March 9, with a silent auction. I know there were other things on the table (was that a picnic basket full of Barbra Streisand CDs? something signed by Sophie B. Hawkins?), but I gravitated towards the poster for the album Turbulent Indigo, signed by Joni Mitchell herself. The bidding, which I could see on the form, had begun at $150. It was already too rich for my blood.

At the press conference, GLAMAs co-founder Tom McCormack was cordial and informative. One look around the room, and I could sense that my fellow press mavens were anxious for the headliners (with apologies to McCormack). Before I knew it, there was Sonia Rutstein (of disappear fear). Daniel Cartier and Jackie Beat were in a corner, putting the finishing touches on Ms. Beat's make-up. I was so happy to see Jill Sobule and Richard Barone. Jill was nice enough to have her picture taken with me. If you haven't heard Jill's wrongly overlooked 1997 album "Happy Town," you don't know what you're missing.

The press conference reached its peak with presence of k.d. lang (at the GLAMAs as a nominee, as well as to receive the honor of the Michael Callen Medal of Achievement) who was very accommodating, followed by Leisha Haley (Ms. lang's paramour) and Heather Grody of the Murmurs.

The evening's festivities got off to a rousing start with a performance by GLAMA-nominee Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely. Suzanne Westenhoefer, who was the host of the show, as well as a nominee, was in rare form. Her new material is absolutely inspired and received a positive response from the audience.

Highlights of the performances at the GLAMAs included Fred Hersch (performing a Rogers and Hammerstein number from his GLAMA-award winning album), Kevin Aviance's histrionic performance of his dance hit "Din Da Da," and the Murmurs. RuPaul, in man-drag (white Hush-Puppies, black slacks, a long white trench-coat, shaved head and black-framed eyeglasses), accepted his Outmusic Award ("given to a recording artist who has advanced gay/lesbian music through their work as an out musician") with humility and style. It was never more clear to me how much of a persona RuPaul the diva was. RuPaul Andre Charles is the gentle man behind that foxy lady.

There were all sorts of revelations in store for us at what I had expected to be a fairly straightforward evening of awards. For example, I can understand Tom Robinson, who has certainly earned his status as a legend in our community, winning one award. How he managed to walk away with three (Male Artist, Out Recording and Original Out Song), I will never understand. If you could have heard Kristina Boerger, of the Champaign-Urbana-based lesbian/feminist chorus Amasong, shriek when she heard that her choir had won the Choral Group GLAMA, then you would know that she was surprised. Suzanne Westenhoefer also seemed genuinely surprised (or was she just kidding) to win the GLAMA for comedy.

I managed to go the year and a half between GLAMA ceremonies without ever hearing any of the Debut Artist CDs until it came time for nominating and voting. In any event, previous GLAMA Debut Artist recipient David Clement (with co-presenter Maria Walsh, of Zrazy) bestowed the award on Karen Pernick, for her album Apartment 12. Perhaps the two biggest award-related surprises were when disappear fear won in the newly instated Band category, beating out such bands as Indigo Girls, Luscious Jackson, The Murmurs and Chainsaw Kittens. I knew that Catie Curtis self-titled disc was one of the best albums of the year, but I wasn't sure if the other judges knew it as well. Apparently they did, as Curtis won for best album of the year. This year's GLAMA will look wonderful next to the two Curtis won in 1996 for Out Recording and Original Out Song.

Me'shell Ndegeocello's two GLAMA awards (Female Artist and Video) were almost predictable, but I'm glad that she won if only to confirm my hunch. The Indigo Girls' GLAMA in the Duo/Group category helped soften the blow of their not winning the Band award, and Joi Cardwell's winning of the Dance Music GLAMA was a step in the right direction for the out lesbian diva.

If you were unable to attend this year's (or 1996's) GLAMA ceremony, there's always next year. If you can't wait that long, and want to get a sense of what the GLAMAs are like the CD GLAMA: One (GLAMA/Reprise) might be just the ticket. The 14 tracks are comprised of GLAMA nominees (such as Pussy Tourette, Margie Adam, and The Klezmatics) and 1996 GLAMA winners (Melissa Etheridge, the aforementioned David Clement and Catie Curtis). The disc's finest moment occurs on track six, which was recorded at the 1996 GLAMA ceremony. Male Artist nominee Gregory Gray performs a haunting and chill-inducing version of his song "Three Minute Requiem." That song, alone, is reason enough to buy this CD.