Category: lesbian music

JULY 8: Shura’s “Nothing’s Real” album is rele…

365daysoflesbians:

Today is the one year anniversary of the album Nothing’s Real by lesbian pop sensation
Shura. Nothing’s Real was Shura’s debut album and gave us hits such as “Touch”
and “What’s It Gonna Be?”

The cover art for Nothing’s Real shows sketched and photographed versions of Shura overlayed with each other and was voted one of the top 5 album covers of 2016 by many online polls (x). 

Aleksandra Lilah Denton A.K.A. Shura was born on June 16,
1991 in Manchester England. Her Russian actress mother and English filmmaker
father primed her for a career in the arts and she began studying
guitar when she was 13. Although she was a standout member of the Manchester
City Youth Football Team, she eventually chose music over sports and began
seriously recording music at age 16. Her first song, “Touch,” was first
released in 2014 and quickly blew up on YouTube. A year later, Shura had signed
with Universal and two years later she dropped Nothing’s Real.

With over 2 million views on YouTube, the music video for “What’s It Gonna Be” stars Shura and her real life twin brother Nick, who is also gay. Both siblings came out at the age of 16 and in an interview with Elle Magazine, Shura recalls, “It was never like I had to go, ‘I am gay.’ Slowly, almost by osmosis, by the way I was behaving, it became obvious and accepted” (x).

The album and the music video for “What’s It Gonna Be” received
somewhat of the Hayley Kiyoko treatment during the summer of 2016 – which is to
say, it inspired many a “Sapphic Summer Romance” playlist and kept the gay
girls bopping all summer long. The album as a whole is far from a collection of
vapid love songs, though. With the shine of a synthpop, 1980s sound, Nothing’s Real is a coming-of-age story
where Shura vents about anxiety attacks, ruined relationships, and the strange,
niche challenge of navigating lesbian aesthetic; on the song “2Shy,” Shura
confesses to smoking cigarettes and awkwardly wearing a cap, just “trying to be
someone I saw on TV once.” Although the gayness of Nothing’s Real or any of its singles is not as obvious as something
like the 2015 classic “Girls Like Girls,” you would be hard pressed to find a
track on the album that’s not simply begging to be put on the soundtrack of a John
Hughes-style teen lesbian romance movie.

-LC

JULY 5: Wanda Landowska (1879-1959)

365daysoflesbians:

Musician extraordinaire and savior of the harpsichord, Wanda
Landowska, was born on this day in 1879. As the first person to ever record Bach’s
“Goldberg Variations” on the
harpsichord, Wanda secured her place in music history!

Wanda Landowska as photographed circa the 1950s (x). 

Wanda Aleksandra Landowska was born to a middle-class Jewish
family on July 5, 1979 in Warsaw, Poland. Her father was a respected lawyer and
her mother was a linguist who was famous for translating the work of Mark Twain
into Polish. She started studying piano when she was only 3 years old and it
was soon obvious that she was a prodigy. She attended the Warsaw Conservatory
as she grew older, but left for Berlin to study composition when she was 15. It
was in Berlin where she met and became friends with a fellow student named Henry
Low, who was in Berlin to study Polish folklore. The two were married in 1900
and Henry whisked her off to Paris that same year. While Wanda genuinely cared
for Henry, she soon discovered that she did not enjoy the traditional romantic
or sexual aspects of their marriage; together, Henry and Wanda made an arrangement with
the maid in their new Paris household, who would act as Henry’s mistress until
his death in 1919.

A young Wanda smiles as she is photographed playing the harpsichord in her Paris home, 1933 (x). 

With her husband satisfied, Wanda was free to spend her time
in Paris as she pleased – studying the harpsichord and hanging out at Natalie
Clifford Barney’s famous lesbian salon. Although the harpsichord was considered
an outdated instrument unfit for the 20th century, Wanda was
passionate about it and insisted on its use in modern compositions. She
frequently performed for the women at Natalie’s salon, but it wasn’t until a 1903 concert where she played the harpsichord publicly for the first time that she was able to change the public’s perception of the
instrument. As her fame grew, Wanda opened up her own music institution, the
École de Musique Ancienne, right outside of Paris. She was known as one
of the most prestigious music teachers of the era and it was through the school that Wanda would meet the woman who would
become her life partner, Denise Restout.

LIFE Magazine photographed Wanda and Denise at their home in 1949; the right shows Wanda (center) with Denise (right) and a friend; the left shows Wanda holding one of her beloved pet cats (x). 

Denise was a student at Wanda’s school, but once she
graduated she began helping her partner with the operation of the school
and also encouraging her to write more music on the side. Sadly, with the outbreak
of World War II, the École de Musique Ancienne was shut down and Wanda and
Denise were forced to immigrate to New York City. In New York, Wanda began
teaching private music lessons and her star quickly rose to its former glory
once she played Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” at New York’s Town Hall in
1942 – it was the first time the iconic piece was performed on the harpsichord.
Wanda and Denise eventually left the city and settled down in Lakeville,
Connecticut in 1949, although this did not stop Wanda from doing what she loved
and she toured the country performing harpsichord pieces until her death. After
Wanda passed away on August 16, 1959, Denise would dedicate her life to
preserving her love’s artistic legacy and published two posthumous collections of
Wanda’s music, Musique Ancienne and Landowska on Music.

-LC

JANUARY 9: Joan Baez (1941-)

365daysoflesbians:

image

Joan Baez performing in Hamburg, 1973. By Heinrich Klaffs, originally via Flicker. [black-and-white photograph, portrait of Joan Baez playing the guitar and singing in front of a mic.]

Joan Baez is the folk singer legend who enchanted our ears in the 60s and 70s, the activist whose voice Martin Luther King described as that of an angel – a voice that helped her fight against racism, wars, homophobia…
And today we celebrate Joanie turning 76! Last year she regaled us with a star-studded concert for her 75th birthday, featuring Paul Simon, Mavis Staples, David Crosby, Emmylou Harris, Judy Collins, Indigo Girls (just to cite a few).

Nowadays, people point out that her high notes aren’t quite up there, that her voice is sometimes grainy, but you could see, and hear, that she stil has it! She was having fun, and took great pleasure as always in sharing her love of singing with her peers and her public.

Performing Diamonds and Rust with friend Judy Collins, on her 2016 birthday concert

I, for one, do enjoy her early songs, but completely fell in love with her latest recordings, with her deeply moving, slightly rough voice, deeper and full of experience. If you haven’t listened to her lately, I urge you to do so.

You can see her perform live at Sing Sing Prison “I Shall Be Released” and “Viva Mi Patria Bolivia” with her sister Mimi Farina in 1972. You can also listen to her covers of “Brothers In Arms“ by Dire Straits (1988) and “Motherland” by Natalie Merchant (2003)

Joan Baez was born on the 9th of January 1941 in New York, from a Mexican father and a mother born in Edinburgh, Scotland and raised in the US. She spent some of her childhood in Redlands, California, where she was marginalised at school both by ‘Anglos’ children for her name and darker skin, and by Mexicans children for the fact that she couldn’t speak Spanish at the time. The experience left her with an aspiration for social justice, and the desire to shine in her very own way – she would become a talented artist, and started working on that beautiful voice with its distinctive vibrato.

She started to perform rather young, but her breakthrough came with the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and the recording of her first album for Vanguard in 1960 – the first of many. Although she is a songwriter, she is mostly known for her covers of traditional folk songs, and for appearing barefoot on stage like a Madonna with her Gibson acoustic guitar.

She was an important part of the American roots revival. She introduced Bob Dylan to the public by singing his songs and giving him a stage to perform, and sang at Woodstock in 1969, barefoot and pregnant.

Still considered the Queen of Folk, her music has nonetheless evolved and now also covers folk rock, pop, country and gospel music.

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Joan Baez speaks onstage at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center on February 11, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Source: Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment)

But make no mistake. Joan Baez isn’t just pretty voice and words. The barefoot Madonna is also one of the first musicians who used her fame for social protest, giving her the coverage she needed to draw attention to the many causes she defended.

She participated in many Civil Rights Movement demonstrations, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where she famously sang “We Shall Overcome”.

She has also always been anti war. Her position against the Vietnam War led her to fund the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, and be arrested twice in 1967. She even spent eleven days in jail, “for disturbing the peace”! In December 1972, she joined a peace delegation and travelled to North Vietnam, where she was caught in the ‘Christmas bombing’ of Hanoi, which lasted 11 days.

She also defends human rights alongside Amnesty International, which she has actively (and financially) supported since the 1970s. She even received the Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2015, and the organisation named an award after her!

Let’s not forget that she is a defender of LGBT rights. She opposed the Briggs initiative in 1978 (which was supposed to ban all gay teachers from schools in California), performed at a benefit concert for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and at the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March.

Her activism often translates by going on tour or appearing in protests to sing – against the death penalty, poverty, or for environmental causes. And although her voice is less heard by the new generation, she is still a great support.

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Joan Baez in her tree house, in the backyard of her home in Woodside, California. By Patrick Fraser, for the Observer, August 19, 2014.

What is often little known about her, is that she once had a lesbian relationship. In the spirit of this blog’s topic of choice, let’s explore this part of her past.

Joan Baez and Kimmie didn’t hide their relationship, but didn’t flaunt it either, leaving people to assume they were two friends rooming together. Joan Baez remembers this relationship in her autobiography And A Voice To Sing With and explains:

“There are pools which run deep, bathing pools for ladies only. In those cool and private places we can go undefended. In the quiet and non-resistant waters and on the warm shores beside them we can go and let out a lifelong sigh of relief and know that we are understood at last. We have white underbellies of softness which we expose only to the gentlest touch. Along the shores is an unspoken alliance of “us against the world” which purges resentments innate in us, resentments we have inherited form centuries of myth.”

She is well-known for having had a romance with Bob Dylan, with Steve Jobs, and being married to political activist David Harris, with whom she had her only child Gabriel. But she writes: “I had an affair with a girl when I was twenty-two… I assume the homosexuality within me, which people love to say is within all of us, made itself felt at that time… since the affair with Kimmie I have not had another affair with a woman nor the conscious desire to.”

Perhaps one day, the portrait of Kimmie will also appear along those of Dylan, Jobs, and MLK in Baez’s art studio, where she now started to paint. What a beautiful, multi-talented, and inspiring lady. Happy Birthday!

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From Joan Baez’s Instagram feed

– Lise

DECEMBER 9: Joan Armatrading (1950-)

Happy birthday to Joan Armatrading!
The lesbian musician and singer has been working for over 40 years and is a
three-time Grammy nominated artist.

Some of Joan’s most popular songs from throughout her career have been “Love And Affection,” “Me Myself I,” and “Drop The Pilot” (x).

Joan Anita Barbara Armatrading was born on
December 9, 1950 in Basseterre on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts. She was
the third of six children and her father worked as a carpenter while her mother
was a housewife. When Joan was only three years old, her parents and brothers moved to Birmingham, England and she was sent to live with her grandmother on
the Caribbean island of Antigua; when she was seven, Joan was finally
able to move to Birmingham and be with her family. As an adolescent, she and her
siblings were forbidden by their father to ever touch a guitar. However, Joan’s
love of song writing and playing piano lead her mother to secretly buying her a
guitar from a pawn shop when was 14.

She started pursuing a musical
career in earnest during her time at Birmingham University when she performed nightly at local bars and clubs. After meeting lyricist Pam Nestor
in 1970, Joan’s career began to take off and her debut album, Whatever’s For Us, was released by Cube
Records in 1972. To date, she has released 18 full studio albums along with
several compilation albums and live recordings. The highlights of her career
have been being nominated for a Grammy on three separate occasions, two nominations
at the BRIT Awards, as well as receiving two Lifetime Achievement Awards first
in 2012 and then in 2016.

In the beginning of her career,
Joan was often asked about ambivalent approach to using gendered pronouns in
her songs, to which she was reluctant to answer and would simply deny to speak
about her private life. Although she has never had an official coming out, it
is known that Joan currently lives in the Shetland Isles with her wife Maggie
Butler.

-LC

DECEMBER 2: “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore …

On this day in 1963, the song “You
Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore was first released. Although at the height of her
success, Lesley was just another successful pop artist making music about boys,
she would later come out as a lesbian in 2005.

An 18 year old Lesley Gore belts it out in 1963 (x).

Lesley Sue Goldstein was born on
May 2, 1946 into a Jewish family living in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was
the owner of an apparel manufacturing company while her mother was a housewife.
Lesley would be raised in the town of Tenafly, New Jersey and attend Dwight
School for Girls. She was only a junior in high school when she saw her first
major commercial success in the music industry; with the release of her cover
of the song Quincy Jones song “It’s My Party” in April of 1963, Lesley Gore
became a household name.

“You Don’t Own Me” was just one of
many hit singles that Lesley released in 1963, including “Judy’s Turn to Cry”
and “She’s a Fool.” However, what set “You Don’t Own Me” apart from the pack
was its protofeminist message. Many have cited the song as an anthem for
the second wave feminist movement that would begin to take off in the 1970s.
Lesley herself once said, “My take on the song was: I’m 17, what
a wonderful thing, to stand up on a stage and shake your finger at people and
sing you don’t own me.”

Lesley (left) photographed with her partner, Lois Sasson, in 2010 (x).

Although Lesley career as a pop
princess was relatively short lived, she would work in the music world as a
composer for the rest of her life. She and her brother Michael were even
awarded an Academy Award in 1980 for their work on the soundtrack for the film Fame. In 2004, she started her coming
out process by becoming the host of In
The Life
, a documentary television series that focused on the
everyday life of LGBT people in America. Lesley officially came out to the
public in 2005 during an interview with AfterEllen. 

In the interview, she
stated that she had known she was a lesbian ever since she as 20 years old and
that although the music industry was and is “totally homophobic,” she “just kind of lived my life naturally and did what I wanted to do.” Tragically, Lesley passed away before
her memoir and the Broadway show based on her life could be released. She passed
away on February 16, 2015 at 68 due to lung cancer and was survived by her
partner of 33 years, Lois Sasson.

-LC

OCTOBER 14: Mary Lambert’s “Heart on My Sleeve” album is released (2014)

On this day in 2014, Mary
Lambert’s Heart on My Sleeve album first hit shelves. The lesbian singer and
songwriter’s debut album contained the hit “She Keeps Me Warm.”

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The cover of Mary Lambert’s debut full-length album Heart on My Sleeve (x).

Mary Lambert first got her start
in the world of slam poetry, representing Seattle, Washington – not far from
her hometown of Everett, Washington – in the 2008 Brave New Voices
International Poetry Competition. In 2012, she reached the mainstream’s radar
by co-writing and providing vocals for the song “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan
Lewis. As a lesbian, she was the only LGBT person to work on the track.

Adapting the success of her verse
from “Same Love” into her own independent material, Mary wrote “She Keeps Me Warm,” which became the
first single of her Heart on My Sleeve album in January of 2014. The album as a
whole was released on October 14, 2014 to a positive reception. The songs “She
Keeps Me Warm” and “Secrets” were highlights of the album, giving wlw
everywhere new explicitly gay tunes to bop to. Mary is currently working on her second album, but until then, the lyric “I can’t think straight, I’m so gay” from “Secrets” will remain our mantra. 

-LC

OCTOBER 13: Zolita’s “Immaculate Conception” EP is released (2015)

Today is the second anniversary of Zolita’s Immaculate Conception EP, which dropped on this day in 2015. It was the lesbian pop singer and aesthete’s very first music project and featured the hit song “HOLY." 

The cover art for Zolita’s Immaculate Conception EP (x).

Zolita first exploded onto the scene with the music video for the song "Holy,” and rightfully so, for the video shows two girls falling in love amidst their otherworldly religious all-girls academy. The label’s describes Zolita’s high concept music video as, “A young girl explores a lesbian relationship in a patriarchal schoolhouse and starts a secret feminist girl cult.” The Immaculate Conception EP was dropped on October 13, 2015, but after the release of the “Holy” music video in June of 2016, Zolita’s fan base of young wlw grew. 

Just this month, she began releasing new music and setting the stage for the release of her new EP. The first single from the EP, “Fight Like a Girl,” is a politically charged synth pop fantasia and a response to "the spirit” Zolita felt at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. In a recent interview with Out Magazine, she spoke on her position as a queer artist by saying,

“There are so many artists in pop music who claim queerness (which is great), but they are so afraid to make art that is actually queer. They run away from using pronouns in lyrics or same-sex partners in music videos because they want to be palatable to the general public. I want to make pop music that queer and marginalized people feel like is made especially for them. Queer people have been connecting to and projecting their experiences onto heteronormative music their whole lives. Is it really so heard for me to ask straight people to do the same with my music?" 

-LC

SEPTEMBER 3: Amanda Perez’s “Unexpected” album is released (2013)

Released on this day in 2013, Unexpected is the fifth and latest studio album from lesbian Latina R&B singer and rapper Amanda Perez.

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana on May 24, 1980, Amanda Perez grew up in the Mexican-American community of Waynesdale where she attended North Side High School. During her teenage years, Amanda sold drugs to help support her family and cultivated a “tough street persona” by participating in a boxing club with the boys in her neighborhood. She was later discovered by a talent scout and signed to Powerhowse/Silverstone Records in 2001. Her album Where U At? was released a year later and its singles “Angel” and “Never” made it to the Billboard Top 100. Although Amanda didn’t explicitly come out as a lesbian until later on in her career, her refusal to soften her image or censor her love songs about other women made for a fresh, revolutionary voice in the music industry.

Between 2002 and 2007, Amanda released four albums. Her fifth, Unexpected, was released on September 3, 2013 and is expected to be her last full-length album. In 2017, she announced that she would be releasing a 15 Years of Greatest Hits album to culminate her over 10-year career. In a recent interview with Latina Magazine, Amanda recalled coming out for the first time “at an event in West Virginia, where there were 12,000 people. It was crazy. But they didn’t care. It was about the music.” When asked if she had any advice for young lesbian Latina girls out there in 2017, she said, “Be themselves. Give it their all. Show people what kind of talent they have and don’t give up. There’s going to be a time for us. It just takes that one hit. Be smart.”

-LC

AUGUST 22: Sotiria Bellou (1921-1997)

On this day in 1921, the Greek singer Sotiria Bellou was
born. Today, she is remembered as one of the greatest performers of the
traditional rebetiko style to ever live and as one of the few celebrities of
her time to live openly as a lesbian.

Although she was forced into marriage by her family in 1938, the marriage ended after Sotiria threw sulfuric acid onto her husband and spent several months in prison. After escaping her abusive husband and moving to Athens, she lived as an out lesbian (x).

The oldest of five siblings, Sotiria was born on August 22,
1921 in Halia on the island Euboia. Her grandfather was an Orthodox priest and
her family was one of great wealth and prestige. She was first exposed to music
in the form of Byzantine hymns heard in her grandfather’s church and she began
singing at the young age of 3. As a child, Sotiria made homemade guitars out of
wood and wire, but after much internal discord between her family – her conservative
mother disapproving of artistic careers – it was decided that Sotiria could
began studying music seriously.

Sitting in the center of a crowd with her guitar, Sotiria performs live with her band in 1948 (x). 

Sotiria moved to Athens to pursue music in 1940, but in the
madness of World War II, she lost touch with her family and without their
financial assistance she was forced to take on menial jobs. For a while, she
worked as a waitress in a rebetiko club in the Exarheia neighborhood of
downtown Athens and one night after losing a bet with a customer, she was force
to sing a song. Wowed by her obvious talent, an agent named Kimonas Kapetanakis
signed her on the spot and introduced her to the powerful music producer Tsitsanis,
with whom she recorded the first of her many 78 rpm gramophone records. Sotiria
would go on to become one of the most sought-after nightclub acts in Greece and
performed in some of the most popular clubs of the time such as the Rosiniol,
Tzimis o Hontros, Hydra, Triana, and Falirikon.

Sotiria Bellou’s performance of “O Bohoris” in the traditional Rebetiko style.

Although she was a celebrity, Sotiria was also a hugely
controversial figure. It was well-known that she had joined the Greek
resistance against the Nazi occupation of World War II, had supported the leftist
Greek People’s Liberation Army during the Dekemvriana (Greek Civil War), and
made no effort to conceal her many lesbian love affairs. In December of 1948,
Sotiria was performing at a club called Tzimis O Hontros when a group of
extreme right-wing men entered the club and demanded that she perform a nationalist
anthem. When Sotiria refused, the men dragged her out of the club and beat her
severely. The inability of anyone else in the club to intervene on her behalf
haunted her the rest of her life. Although the Greek government and many public
figures were reluctant to acknowledge her fame or her artistic contributions
during Sotiria’s lifetime, after her death on August 27, 1997, her discography
slowly but surely came to be a staple of 20th century Greek art and
culture.

-LC

JULY 8: Shura’s “Nothing’s Real” album is released (2016)

Today is the one year anniversary of the album Nothing’s Real by lesbian pop sensation
Shura. Nothing’s Real was Shura’s debut album and gave us hits such as “Touch”
and “What’s It Gonna Be?”

The cover art for Nothing’s Real shows sketched and photographed versions of Shura overlayed with each other and was voted one of the top 5 album covers of 2016 by many online polls (x). 

Aleksandra Lilah Denton A.K.A. Shura was born on June 16,
1991 in Manchester England. Her Russian actress mother and English filmmaker
father primed her for a career in the arts and she began studying
guitar when she was 13. Although she was a standout member of the Manchester
City Youth Football Team, she eventually chose music over sports and began
seriously recording music at age 16. Her first song, “Touch,” was first
released in 2014 and quickly blew up on YouTube. A year later, Shura had signed
with Universal and two years later she dropped Nothing’s Real.

With over 2 million views on YouTube, the music video for “What’s It Gonna Be” stars Shura and her real life twin brother Nick, who is also gay. Both siblings came out at the age of 16 and in an interview with Elle Magazine, Shura recalls, “It was never like I had to go, ‘I am gay.’ Slowly, almost by osmosis, by the way I was behaving, it became obvious and accepted” (x).

The album and the music video for “What’s It Gonna Be” received
somewhat of the Hayley Kiyoko treatment during the summer of 2016 – which is to
say, it inspired many a “Sapphic Summer Romance” playlist and kept the gay
girls bopping all summer long. The album as a whole is far from a collection of
vapid love songs, though. With the shine of a synthpop, 1980s sound, Nothing’s Real is a coming-of-age story
where Shura vents about anxiety attacks, ruined relationships, and the strange,
niche challenge of navigating lesbian aesthetic; on the song “2Shy,” Shura
confesses to smoking cigarettes and awkwardly wearing a cap, just “trying to be
someone I saw on TV once.” Although the gayness of Nothing’s Real or any of its singles is not as obvious as something
like the 2015 classic “Girls Like Girls,” you would be hard pressed to find a
track on the album that’s not simply begging to be put on the soundtrack of a John
Hughes-style teen lesbian romance movie.

-LC