Script for June 2004, QMH:
[Note: there are in a way two versions of this show. I could only air an hour show on KPFT, but there was much more I wanted to include for my internet listeners, so the text in red represents the extra minutes I've added, and can only be heard in the net version]
From high atop the magnificent Altoona Motor Hotel overlooking the twinkling lights of the magic city. the WQMH Network proudly presents the light and lilting sounds of your favorite music makers for your listening, dancing and romancing pleasure. Good evening, America, this is smiling Eddie Budusi speaking to you from downtown Altoona where we've got toe-tapping, hand-clapping, finger-snapping sweet melodies designed to help you forget... the cares of the day. Music from one of the world's great motor hotels will soothe the savage beast, warm the heart and tickle the toe-sies, songs of love and laughter, joy and tears, here while the lights of the city shine below we proudly offer you the music of yesterday, singable, danceable music. And now to get our program off and running, here are the soft and subtle sounds of Sam Lanin's Famous Players, to remind us of when our hearts were young and gay.
Sam Lanin's Famous Players - The Man I Love (1927)
Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and I'm here on the 4th Monday of each month to bring you an hour devoted to our culture's music. That little bit of nonsense at the beginning was my way of getting you in the mood for a special journey on tonight's show. We're going to explore Queer Music Before Stonewall. Regular listeners to this show will know that from time to time I've slipped in a number of songs from prior to 1969, whether it be the blues of Ma Rainey or the campy big band music of the 20's and 30's, or even Noel Coward or Frances Faye. But tonight I'm going to try to approach that in a more organized manner.
Gay music, then and now, is a difficult genre to define. Is it music by gay or lesbian artists? Is it music gay people listened to and adopted as their own? And, does it include those novelty songs that are jokes at our expense? I'm covering all of those areas and a grouping I particularly love is one I'm calling "cross vocals." You've already heard one example, as I started the show with a jazz band called Sam Lanin's Famous Players and their male-to-male version of "The Man I Love," from 1927. These are songs, for example, intended to be sung by a woman but are instead sung by a man, keeping those pronouns intact. They sound pretty gay now, but are only gay in hindsight.
Here's the explanation. In the late 20s and early 30s music publishers had a stranglehold on the rights to their catalogs. Singers could not change a word, period, so it was not uncommon for a man to seemingly sing a song to a man, or a woman to a woman. The public knew of the restrictions on singers and did not really pay attention to any gay connotations. But today we do, which make these a lot of fun. That also explains my second example, from 1928, by none other than Bing Crosby. I just love the title of this song. It's called "ain't no sweet man worth the salt of my tears".
Bing Crosby - aint no sweet man worth the salt of my tears (1928, part)
You may have noticed by now that it was the style of many of the jazz band songs of those years to have long instrumental introductions before they ever got to the vocals. I'm skipping that intro for one of the few female examples of Cross Vocals. From 1936 here's Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol singing "Copper Coloured Gal."
Dolly Dawn & Her Dawn Patrol - Copper Coloured Gal (1936, part)
And on to another major star singing a surprising song.
Judy Garland - Bidin' My Time (1943, part)
The song was called "Bidin' My Time," from 1943, and yes, that was Judy Garland and yes, she said, "That the kind of guy I'm" which gives us another example of pronouns being ignored and also a chance to mention Judy Garland in another context. Like today, before Stonewall gay men had their divas and she was probably the ultimate diva of those years.
Before I leave the area of cross vocals, I want to slip in a quick medley of four more of them. Three are standards, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "I Got Rhythm," and "Am I Blue," and the fourth is another very gay song by Bing Crosby.
& Johnstone - Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man (1928)
Just for the record, those were all from the years 1928 through 1930 and were by Layton & Johnstone, Fred Rich & His Orchestra, The Travelers, and you heard "Gay Love," by Bing Crosby.
Over in England in the 30s the gay subtext of the music was perhaps more in the open, and I've got some prime examples. Noel Coward included a song in his 1933 musical "Bittersweet" that dealt with the gay life in the times of Oscar Wilde, where high society gay men reportedly wore green carnations.
Coward - green carnation (1933)
I couldn't resist going from Coward's version to one from 1967 by Edward Earle & the Satisfactions. It was from a tribute album off-Broadway producer Ben Bagley put together. A more curious English song, from 1934, was by Judd Rees and in it he made no bones about explaining his song's title, "The King's A Queen At Heart."
Judd Rees - The King's A Queen At Heart (1934)
As you can see, that song had surprisingly blatant lyrics for those days, and Judd Rees was probably referring to King Edward VIII. Also in those years the English seemed to love songs about fairies, with the most open one being "Let's All Be Fairies" from 1933 by the Durium Dance Band.
Durium Dance Band - Let's All Be Fairies (1933)
That same year Beatrice Lillie recorded her song about fairies. Now, she was raised in Toronto, Canada, so really wasn't British, but she moved there at age 20 and had great success in England, so here's her fairy song.
Beatrice Lillie - There Are Fairies in the Bottom of My Garden (1934)
Beatrice Lillie, with her signature song "There Are Fairies in the Bottom of My Garden." She was a great friend of Noel Coward, who commented "I should love to perform "There Are Fairies in the Bottom of My Garden" but I don't dare. It might come out "There Are Fairies in the Garden of My Bottom."
The English weren't the only ones to indulge in this silliness. Over here John Ryan proclaimed "I Wish I Were A Fairy."
John Ryan - I Wish I Were A Fairy (1940, part)
From 1940, John Ryan's "I Wish I Were A Fairy."
In the 20s and 30s there were a number of artists who performed as female impersonators. This had been a vaudeville tradition for decades. One very rare example was the duo Savoy & Brennan. Bert Savoy did his part of the act in drag and was pure camp on and off the stage. In their only recording you can hear how convincing he plays the woman's part.
Savoy & Brennan - You Must Come Over (1923, part)
That was Savoy & Brennan, and the title "You Must Come Over" was one of the catch phrases in their act. In the early 30s there was a brief phenomenon known as the "Pansy Craze." Straight people would flock to the gay nightspots to see the drag acts. Of major interest during that time was Jean Malin. He began his career as a female impersonator and then donned a tuxedo when he became the most sought-after nightclub host in New York. He took his success to Los Angeles and was well known for hosting parties for Hollywood celebrities. He recorded one very rare record and here's a little of both of the very gay sides. First is "That's What's the Matter With Me," followed by "I'd Rather Be Spanish Than Mannish"
Jean Malin - That's What's the Matter With Me / I'd Rather Be Spanish Than Mannish (1933)
Again, that was Jean Malin.
There was another artist that cashed in on the Pansy Crazy with kind of a sophisticated and campy bitchiness in his recordings. His name was Bruz Fletcher, and "Bruz" is spelled B-r-u-z. His career only ran from about 1934 to 1940 and when he committed suicide in 1941, at age 35, it was generally reported that he was despondent over his inability to find work as a gay performer. One of his more risqué recordings was called "My Doctor."
Bruz Fletcher - My Doctor (1935)
That was Bruz Fletcher, from 1935, with his song "My Doctor." And from the same year here are some more comments about a doctor from a surprising source. From the king of sophisticated lyrics himself, here's Cole Porter, and "The Physician."
Cole Porter - The Physician (1935)
Yes, that was Cole Porter.
This next song will probably sound very strange. It's by Kelly Harrell and is the only example I've found of same-sex lyrics in an early American folk song. I strongly doubt Harrell was gay, and as he wrote the music and lyrics to this song, it was just probably written to be sung by a woman. From 1926, the song is called "Beneath the Weeping Willow Tree."
Kelly Harrell - Beneath the Weeping Willow Tree (1926)
Again, that was by Kelly Harrell.
I can't leave the 20s & 30s without talking about the blues artists, who were in their own way the most blatant and true to themselves. The blues from those years had a casualness toward sexuality, which often extended to homosexual behavior. And the classic example, from 1928, is the song "Prove It On Me Blues" by Ma Rainey, often called the mother of the blues.
Ma Rainey - Prove It On Me Blues (1928, part)
Ah yes, "went out last night with a crowd of my friends, they must have been women cause I don't like no men." That was Ma Rainey. And on to Gladys Bentley. While she didn't sing about it, she was by far the most blatantly lesbian blues artist of that time. She would mostly perform in male attire, usually wearing a tux. Here's a little of her song "Red Beans and Rice."
Gladys Bentley - Red Beans & Rice (1929, part)
On the male blues front, while there were a number of songs about sissies, the only actual gay performer I found was Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon. Called "half-pint" because of his height, Jaxon often performed comedy songs and songs as a female impersonator. He took the role of a woman in the songs, providing lots of sexual double entendre, with songs like "My Daddy Rocks Me With One Steady Roll." One of his songs I can play is called "Be Your Natural Self."
Frankie Half-Pint Jaxon - Be Your Natural Self (1940, part)
While Jaxon did female impersonation in his act, he was classified more as a vaudeville and blues singer. Up next is a true female impersonator who was by far the most prolific recording artist of that genre. His name was Ray Bourbon and he left a legacy from the 30s through the 60s of 78s, 45s and LPs. He performed with Mae West on Broadway and even did a show at Carnegie Hall. In the 40s and 50s he recorded a series of albums on his own label. As you'll see his style was more recitation than singing and it was accented by his famous giggle. From the album "You're Stepping On My Eyelashes," here's "I Must Have A Greek."
Rae Bourbon - I Must Have A Greek (late 40s)
In the mid-50's, to capitalize on the news of Christine Jorgensen's operation, Ray changed the spelling of his name from r-a-y to r-a-e and issued an album called "Let Me Tell You About My Operation." It was all hype though, and he milked it like the expert he was.
Another renown female impersonator was T.C. Jones, who in the 50s managed to appear in several movies and even on television, on the Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen shows. He was famous for impersonating actresses, like Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, and in this sketch, Kathryn Hepburn.
TC Jones - Just One of Those Things (1959)
That was from the TC Jones album from 1959 called "Himself." And I've got one more singing drag queen for you, this time a very obscure one who moved from the US to England and did sort of a comedy opera style. Here's Jean Fredericks, from her 1964 album "Recitals Are A Drag," singing a title that's true no matter how you read it. The song is "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."
Jean Fredericks - A Good Man Is Hard To Find (1964)
That was Jean Fredericks. Let's take a quick break to remind you that you are listening to Queer Music Heritage on KPFT, 90.1fm, in Houston. And, this is a good time to encourage you to be sure to listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Saturday night from midnight to 4 am, on KPFT. It's Queer Radio, with attitude.
Andrews Sisters - Gay Caballeros (1944, part)
And that was thrown in for pure camp value. Of course that was the Andrews Sisters with "Gay Caballeros," from 1944. Some of you may remember actor Jack Weston in the hilarious drag version of that song in the 1976 movie "The Ritz."
In the 50s and especially the 60s it seems the only gay presence in music was in songs where the singers were making fun of gay people, with results that were borderline homophobic. They somehow don't seem as offensive now as they probably were then. I've put together a quick collage of several of those songs. The first is folk singer Casey Anderson singing one called "Sweet Sydney." You'll recognize it immediately as a parody of the hit "Big Bad John." That song was the natural inspiration of at least half a dozen parody variations, though in the others our hero was given the stereotypical gay name of Bruce. Here's Sweet Sydney and friends.
Anderson - Sweet Sidney (1962)
Okay, who were those guys making fun of us? As I mentioned, the song "Sweet Sydney" was by Casey Anderson, from 1962. In 1967 comedian Peter Dana did a parody of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," called "Queen of the Beach." And from the 50s party album billed with the obvious fake name Saul T. Peter came the song "Queen of Fire Island." In 1966 the duo Teddy & Darrel parodied a lot of songs on their album "These Are the Hits, You Silly Savages," with the best one being their twisted "Strangers In The Night." The only song with some gay legitimacy was the last one, "Homer the Happy Little Homosexual." It came from the mysterious Camp Records label, which through the early 60s issued two albums and ten 45s which appeared to be more on our side in their humor.
Now, it wasn't just male artists poking fun at gay people, although these next two female artists seemed to be able to do so with more class and in a much more positive manner. Nan Blakstone sang risqué songs in night clubs and recorded a number of what were called party records in the 30s and 40s. In 1949 she gave us one called "He Should Have Been a WAC."
Nan Blakstone - He Should Have Been A WAC
Nan Blakstone - He Should've Been A Wac
we all know the draft caught some fellows who would have felt more
at home in the WACS
Blakstone - He Should Have Been a WAC (1949)
I followed Nan Blakstone with Ruth Wallis and her song from 1948 called "Queer Things Are Happening." Her style was very saucy and she was called "the high priestess of the double entendre" and "Queen of the wicked ditties." Wallis did it all. She sang, wrote her own material and had her own record label. A musical based on her life opened on Broadway in 2003 and ran for almost a year. It was called "Boobs! The Musical: The World According to Ruth Wallis."
Now we're up to what I'm calling some 50s style women's music. Beverly Shaw was a night club singer who moved to Los Angeles in the early 50s and performed at the Flamingo Club, and after several years bought her own night spot, the Club Laurel, where she starred for almost 15 years, making it one of the most popular gay clubs in the city. Probably in the late 50s or early 60s she issued her own album, called "Songs Tailored To Your Taste." From it here's a bit of "Secret Love."
Beverly Shaw - Secret Love (50s, part)
I chose the song "Secret Love" deliberately, because it's one of those songs that were kind of adopted by gay people of those years, because we could identify with loves that had to be kept secret. One of the contemporaries of Beverly Shaw was Lisa Ben. Now, Lisa Ben is a pen name, and is an anagram of the word 'lesbian." She's quite historic in her own right for producing the very first lesbian or gay publication, in 1947, called "Vice Versa." She's in her 80s now, and lives in Los Angeles. About a year ago when I was planning a trip there I contacted her and requested an interview. She declined, saying she had gone into seclusion, but she did write me a nice letter back. I had specifically asked about her memories of Beverly Shaw, and she told of seeing her often and admiring her singing.
Anyway, Lisa was at the Flamingo Club one night and one of the female impersonators told a rude joke, referring to Beverly Shaw. Lisa decided right then and there that she would write some parodies of popular songs and that they would be positive gay songs, so she did, and later performed some of them at that same club. In 1960 the lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis released a 45 rpm record of two of these and I'm very pleased to share with you one of these very rare songs, a parody of "Frankie & Johnny."
Lisa Ben - Frankie & Johnny (1960)
"Frankie & Johnny" by Lisa Ben.
In 1960 Bobby Marchan had a #1 R&B hit with the song "There Is Something On Your Mind," and he had quite a colorful background. In 1953, he organized a troupe of female impersonators called "The Powder Box Revue" and when it was booked in New Orleans for a while he decided to stay, and worked in the clubs as a female impersonator, emcee and singer. He was signed to Ace Records and worked for a while with Huey Piano Smith, producing some of the finest New Orleans Rock & Roll. He recorded for various record labels through the 70s but never matched his hit "There Is Something On Your Mind."
Bobby Marchan - There Is Something On Your Mind (1960)
That was Bobby Marchan.
I've got two more early 60s artists I want to slip in. One was a soul singer who performed mainly in the Toronto area and was known for his flamboyant effeminate stage persona. His name was Jackie Shane and he even had a top ten hit in Canada, with some lyrics fairly blatant for 1963, in his song called "Any Other Way."
Jackie Shane - Any Other Way (1963)
And I'm moving from Jackie Shane to Troy Walker, with the song that he's said stopped his career.
Troy Walker - Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe (1962)
From the 1962 album "Troy Walker Live," that was Judy Garland's song "Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe." Walker was also a very flamboyant artist and even for Los Angeles standards, his style was probably a bit too much.
Troy Walker, circa 1999
There were of course, gay and lesbian artists who were successful, some who were fairly open, like Frances Faye, and a whole list of those who were quite closeted, like Johnny Ray, Kaye Ballard, Tab Hunter, Johnny Mathis, and of course Liberace.
Well, now I bet you thought I was going to do this whole show and not play the campy queer classic "Masculine Women, Feminine Men." Now, how could I do that? From 1926, here's Merritt Brunies & His Friars Inn Orchestra. It's one of ten versions I've collected of this song, but I think it's the best.
Merritt Brunies & His Friars Inn Orchestra - Masculine Women, Feminine Men (1926)
Okay, unfortunately it's time to wrap up this show, but I want to pay a special thanks to Charles Cage. Charles is a collector friend of mine of many years, and he introduced me to many of rare records you heard tonight. As always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. And I wish you would. My site this month has a lot more information about this old music, along with rare photos of the artists and recordings. Also in order to fit as much of this music as possible into an hour show, I had to use only shortened clips. You can hear a version of my show with more complete songs, and a few extras, on my site. It's at www.queermusicheritage.com. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the fourth Monday of next month with the next installment of Queer Music Heritage. That will be a special show featuring the winners of the 2004 Outmusic Awards.
I'm ending the show with an example of a song that was accidentally gay. It was by a very straight artist who happened to record a song that today sounds very campy and is a perfect closing song. From 1953 here's Perry Como with "Keep It Gay"
Perry Como - Keep It Gay (1953, part)