Back to March 2011 QMH Show

Motherlode - Don't Ask Don't Tell (1999)

This is JD Doyle and welcome to a special edition of Queer Music Heritage. I'm calling it "Gays In The Military: A Musical History," and I'm going to take you from the 1930's through Don't Ask Don't Tell. And "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was the name of that opening song. It was by a group called Motherlode, from their 1999 album "Live and Laughing."

This show will be kind of a chronological journey through the music I've gathered, and the musical styles will vary, as will the slant on the subject. By far most of the songs are political, with most dating after 1993, when Don't Ask Don't Tell began, but I also found some much older songs about gays in the military, and some are comical and one's a love song.

I'm taking a little liberty with the song you're hearing in the background, as it's only accidentally gay. It's from 1933 by Jack Hylton & His Orchestra, with George Baker singing lead. This is an example of cross-vocals, and that's where a song was recorded without regard to whether the lyrics were male to male, as the gay angle we know now just wasn't in the consciousness then. Yes, "There's Something About a Soldier."

Jack Hylton & His Orchestra - There's Something About a Soldier (1933)

While this is not a news show I do want to honor the first military man to fight the ban on gays, Sgt Leonard Matlovich. I encourage you to look up the history of he and his fight, but here's a short clip from TV from when the story broke.

Leonard Matlovich quote (1975)

I'm very honored to say that I knew Leonard Matlovich, and as he was in the Air Force I'm pleased this next song seems to fit. As done by the Kay Kyser Orchestra in 1942, with Harry Babbit on lead vocals. Here's "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings."

Kay Kyser & Orchestra - He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings (1942)

The earliest song I have about being gay in the military, that was actually by a gay artist, was done in 1936. As that recording was on a scratchy 78 rpm record, instead I'm playing a version the artist re-recorded in the early 1950's. He was one of the most famous and as far as recordings go, he was definitely the most prolific female impersonator of our history. His name was Ray Bourbon, and he wasn't really a singer. He did comedy records in kind of a recitation style backed by a piano. This song was originally titled "I Think I'll Join the Navy," and the later version was just called "Sailor Boy." Here's Ray Bourbon.

Ray Bourbon - Sailor Boy (1950's)

Ray Bourbon will lead us nicely to Nan Blakstone, a straight singer and comic known for her naughty lyrics. From 1949 is her classic song, "He Should Have Been a WAC."

Nan Blakstone - He Should Have Been a WAC (1949)

Yes, swish swish swish instead of tramp tramp tramp. I'll be jumping next to the 1960's, specifically to 1968 where a female impersonator named Minette released a whole album of political songs. That she couldn't sing didn't seem to phase her, so I'll just give you a little of her Vietnam War song "LBJ, Don't Take My Man Away."

Minette - LBJ Don't Take My Man Away (1968)
The Sergeant (movie ad, 1968)

Yes, the subject of gays in the military was coming into the public awareness, as evidenced by that ad for the 1968 movie "The Sergeant," but it was another ten years before this next song was heard everywhere, and while there was nothing at all lyrically gay about it, hey, it was the Village People.

Village People - In the Navy (1979)

We want you as a new recruit. More on point was the last song I have for you that predates Don't Ask Don't Tell, and it's the earliest I know of that comments on gays in the military having to be in the closet. It directly says that they had to deny their sexual existence. It was from 1984 by a Dutch band named Eton Crop, and their song was called "Gay Boys on the Battlefield."

Eton Crop - Gay Boys on the Battlefield (1984)

I love the photograph on the cover of that 12" single. It depicts two soldiers holding each other, and it is actually taken from a 3rd Century sculpture in Venice.

Now we're up to 1993 and in December of that year the policy now known as Don't Ask Don't Tell was passed in Congress, after over a year of debate and politics. I always bristle a little when people blame President Clinton for the policy. He wanted to overturn the ban completely, but was forced by Congress into that compromise position. Here are three short songs released that first year covering the issue, mostly with humor, starting with Fred Small and "Marine's Lament."

Fred Small - Marine's Lament (1993)
Capitol Steps - Don't Ask Don't Tell (1993)
Martin Swinger - Military Ditty (1994)

After Fred Small were the Capitol Steps, a group that's been satirizing the culture and politics for over 25 years. Their take on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was from their CD "All I Want for Christmas Is a Tax Increase." And folk artist Martin Swinger in 1994 gave us his own tune, called "Military Ditty."

In 1997 comic singer John Forster released a song that quite well covered all the bases. From his album "Helium" was the song "In the Closet."

John Forster - In the Closet (1997)
Boy George - GI Josephine (1999)

Call him "GI Josephine," and many of you probably recognized the voice of Boy George. And that was his take on the issue. It's from his 1999 album, "The Unrecoupable One Man Bandit," though it was written when he was on tour in the U.S. in 1995. In the liner notes he says, "To be honest I can't understand why any queen or dyke would want to join up; it stinks of hideous assimilation."

And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, that's at, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from midnight to 4 am, on KPFT; it's Queer Radio, with attitude.

This show's subject has not escaped the notice of gay choruses around the country, and actually I've got a lot more material by them than will fit in this segment. So right now I'm sharing just three songs. I'm starting with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, from their CD from 2000 called "New Century Songbook." The made it personal with the song "I Joined the Army."

New York City Gay Men's Chorus - I Joined the Army (2000)
Heartland Men's Chorus - Don't Ask Don't Tell (2004)
Connecticut Gay Men's Chorus - Don't Ask Don't Tell (1998)

Those last two songs were both called "Don't Ask Don't Tell," with the first coming from Kansas City's Heartland Men's Chorus, from their 2004 CD "Heartland Pride," and the second from 1998, by the Connecticut Gay Men's Chorus, from their wonderful CD called "Out!"

A folk duo I much admire is comprised of Rick Burkhardt and Andy Gricevich and they go by the name The Prince Myshkins. On their CD from 2000, "Shiny Round Object," comes the ironic song "Let Me Into the Military."

The Prince Myshkins - Let Me Into the Military (2000)
Kinsey Sicks - Jingle Bells, Don't Ask Don't Tell (2005)

After The Prince Myshkins was America's favorite dragapella beauty shop quartet, or at least that's how they identify themselves. They're Kinsey Sicks, and I adore that group. "Jingle Bells, Don't Ask Don't Tell" came from their 2005 album "Oy Vey in a Manger."

Did you notice that I started the show with a women's group, Motherlode, and that's the last time you heard anything from the female perspective on this subject. While researching this show I looked very hard to find songs by lesbian artists dealing with lesbians in the military, or at least with Don't Ask Don't Tell in general. I didn't find any others. I even asked a couple of my friends who have hosted women's music radio shows for decades, and they could not think of any. The vague theory of why not is that many women, and feminists in particular, do not like the military anyway, so they were not moved to write songs about this. Well, perhaps, but I did try.

I've already played you a little chorus music, but I now want to share another snippet. In 2007 the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus produced a wonderful show, and DVD, called "U.S.S. Metaphor." It's a parody of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "HMS Pinafore," but with a Don't Ask Don't Tell plotline. While it's not fair to take a clip out of context, well, I'm going to anyway, and the character you'll hear singing is the Secretary of the Navy.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus - from "U.S.S. Metaphor" (2007)

What, indeed. I know you couldn't tell from that what was going on, in a very complicated and zany plot, but I wanted to at least make you aware of it.

Early in the show I promised you a love song. It comes from the 2008 Off-Broadway musical "Yank." That show has already won a number of awards and is working its way to hopefully a Broadway production. It's the story of two soldiers, Stu and Mitch, who meet during WWII and fall in love, despite the odds of all that's going on around them. As it's a complete story it's a bit hard to just pull a song out of context but I chose one called "Just True."

Yank the Musical - Just True (2008)

The soundtrack for "Yank" has not been released yet, so I thank the composers Joe and David Zellnik, for sending it to me. Okay, that was 2008, so we're getting close to the present for this musical story.

And not every musical message about Don't Ask Don't Tell comes from an actual recording. I found one from a video on youtube, and a masterful one at that. Last year filmmaker Jason Ganwich produced a video parody called "Whatever Happened to GI Jane," and it really evokes the spirit of the original Bette Davis movie. In it Jane, played by Mark Finley sings "I've Written a Letter to DADT." A clever part is that character holds up old sheet music, with the title "I've Written a Letter to D.A.D.T." as in Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Mark Finley - I've Written a Letter to D.A.D.T (2010)

You'll want to watch the video to really soak up the flavor of it.

We're almost up to date but I want to honor a work originally commissioned for the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, one they recorded in 1996, when this controversy was fairly fresh. It's a piece from the work "Naked Man" called "Dishonorable Discharge." It's been recorded again this past year by the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, so I want to share their version, as I think it's well to remember what our military men faced.

Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus - Dishonorable Discharge (2010)
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus - From the Silence (1981)

President Obama on December 22nd, 2010, and under that last part was the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus with the first song from their first album from 1981, the song "From the Silence."

I've got a touch of hip hop for you, brought to us by an artist going by Chad D. He had already recorded this song before Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed, so he updated it slightly, adding thank you's at the end. He calls this "Ask & Tell."

Chad D - Ask & Tell (2010)

This is JD Doyle thanking you for joining me for this musical history of Gays in the Military. I've saved for last the song on the subject that I think does it best. Last year Matt Alber and Tom Goss got together and created a song that I think really captures well many of the angles of the controversy, including the human element. It's called "Who We Are," and I had a chance to ask Tom Goss to tell me about it.

Tom Goss Comments (2010)

Tom Goss: The song was inspired by the people in our military who are out there day in and day out, fighting for everything that makes America great, and then being treated unjustly because they're in love with somebody of the same gender. And so, Matt and I were hanging out before we did some tour dates together and it was at a time when there was a lot of news about Don't Ask Don't Tell and I was driving by the capitol showing him the sights, and he turned to me and said "we should write a song about Don't Ask Don't Tell" and so that's exactly what we did. You know, it was hard, because our real aim was to give these people a voice, these men, these men and women who can't talk about their lives, their loves, their family…that just have to live in secrecy. You know, we worked really hard to do that and neither Matt nor I have been in the military, so it was a challenge for us and hopefully we've done that.

Matt Alber and Tom Goss, and "Who We Are."

Matt Alber & Tom Goss - Who We Are (2010)