”Star Trek” icon George Takei is lending a hand — or, rather, a finger — to the battle for marriage equality in Alabama by helping to launch a social media effort in protest of Alabama’s recent halt on same-sex marriages.
The actor and outspoken lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activist shared a photo of himself with his husband, Brad Takei, on Instagram and Twitter calling for his followers to give Alabama “the wedding finger” in response to the state’s apparent backtracking on marriage equality.
“I’m going to say it. Alabama is really starting to piss me off,” Takei wrote in a separate Facebook post.
In an email sent to The Huffington Post, Takei said:
I was genuinely dismayed to hear that a state’s highest court would flout a federal court order, which was left to stand by both the Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. This is grandstanding at its worst, and it is extraconstitutional. You know, 60 years ago it wasn’t considered a real marriage if a white person wanted to marry an Asian American like me. And now look, I married a white dude. Times change. Attitudes change. And for the better. We decided to speak out in this somewhat tongue in cheek way to make an important point. It is all about love, and we, as a same-sex couple, just want the same right to have our love recognized. We hope enough couples, gay and straight, join with us to make this point. We’ll be collecting up the pics, all tagged with the hashtag #LuvUAlabama plus each couple’s home state, to create a mosaic of support for marriage equality. We hope Alabama, too, soon joins the right side of history, as all of America one day will.
Only time will tell if the effort will have an impact in Alabama, where the battle for same-sex marriage has taken some unexpected twists in recent weeks.
In January, a federal judge found that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, while a number of probate judges promptly refused to comply with the ruling.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court refused in February to halt same-sex marriages in Alabama, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples statewide in what has been deemed “a defiant ruling” on March 3.
So let’s all give Alabama the finger…the wedding finger.
In 2009, a gaggle of notable personalities were asked to contribute to a book entitled Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self in order to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation; the idea being for each celebrity to write a letter to themselves, aged sixteen. Below is a charming example of such a missive, written by Elton John in March 2009, to himself in 1963.
I think we’d all love to be able to send 16 year-old selves a letter, and once you read Elton John’s letter to the 16 year-old Reginald Kenneth Dwight he was in 1963, I think you will feel a certain warmth in your heart. There is so much I’d say to my 16 year-old self, but as the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” What’s the most important thing you’d tell youself of at age 16?
March 8th 2009.
You are a very young 16. you know nothing about sex — you don’t even know what a “queer” is. Trust me when I tell you — you are “queer”; you are a gay boy. I made the mistake of not having sex until I was 23! I loved being with another man and felt relieved that I finally knew who I was. I made the mistake of falling in love too soon because I was naive and romantic. My advice to you is never to chase love — it will find you when you least expect it. Have FUN, have lots of safe sex and enjoy your sexuality. Be proud of who you are and, as you get older and wiser fight for gay rights — I’m 46 years older than you are, and we have a long way to go. In certain countries we are still not treated as equals, especially by the so-called “Christian” Church. I made a lot of mistakes. Stay away from drugs — they’re a waste of time. Stand up for every human being’s rights. Be loving, kind and strong. Set an example. You’re going to have a hell of a life!!
Lily Tomlin and longtime girlfriend Jane Wagner married on New Year’s Eve after 43 years together. News that the 74-year-old actress exchanged vows with Wagner came in the form of an online post from Chicago Tribune writer Liz Smith, a close friend of the couple.
“[M]y longtime friends, Lily Tomlin and her love, the writer Jane Wagner, got married on the eve of 2014… My wish is that their happiness will be as great as their combined talents,” Smith wrote.
Wagner, a writer, worked with Tomlin on numerous projects, including the actress’ Tony Award-winning one-woman Broadway show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” and 1981 movie “The Incredible Shrinking Woman.”
Back in August Tomlin told E! News that she originally had no plans on getting married, but once same-sex marriage was legalized she had a change of heart.
“Jane and I have been together for 42 years. We’re thinking maybe we’ll get married. You don’t really need to get married, but marriage is awfully nice,” she said. “Everybody I know who got married, they say it really makes a difference. They feel very, very happy about it.”
Tomlin met her partner Jane Wagner in March 1971. After watching an after-school special written by Wagner, J.T., Tomlin invited her to Los Angeles to collaborate on the comedy album And That’s The Truth. The couple had no formal coming out, Tomlin said in 2006:
I certainly never called a press conference or anything like that. [Back in the ’70s,] people didn’t write about it. Even if they knew, they would [refer to Jane as] “Lily’s collaborator,” things like that. Some journalists are just motivated by their own sense of what they want to say or what they feel comfortable saying or writing about. In ’77, I was on the cover of Time. The same week I had a big story in Newsweek. In one of the magazines it says I live alone, and the other magazine said I live with Jane Wagner. Unless you were so really adamantly out, and had made some declaration at some press conference, people back then didn’t write about your relationship. … In ’75 I was making the Modern Scream album, and Jane and I were in the studio. My publicist called me and said, “Time will give you the cover if you’ll come out.” I was more offended than anything that they thought we’d make a deal. But that was ’75 — it would have been a hard thing to do at that time.
Tomlin stated in 2008, “Everybody in the industry was certainly aware of my sexuality and of Jane…in interviews I always reference Jane and talk about Jane, but they don’t always write about it.”
Tomlin has been involved in a number of feminist and gay-friendly film productions, and on her 1975 album Modern Scream she poked fun at straight actors who make a point of distancing themselves from their gay and lesbian characters—answering the pseudo-interview question, she replied: “How did it feel to play a heterosexual? I’ve seen these women all my life, I know how they walk, I know how they talk …”
Though there are many Lily Tomlin roles that I remember and love, I will always think first of her as Edith Ann, one of her many famous characters. I probably remember that character because Country’s Barbecue in Montgomery, Alabama, had a huge red rocking chair that kids, including me, used to love to sit in and feel like Edith Ann, or at least I felt like Edith Ann, everyone else may have just thought of it as a big chair.
Edith Ann character is a precocious five-and-a-half year old girl who waxes philosophical on everyday life, either about life as a kid or things for which she feels she has the answers although she is too young to fully understand. She often ends her monologues with “And that’s the truth,” punctuating it with a noisy raspberry. Edith Ann sits in an over-sized rocking chair (to make Tomlin seem child-sized) with her rag doll, Doris, and often talks of life at home with her battling parents and bullying older sister, Mary Jean (Lily Tomlin’s actual first names). Edith Ann has an over-sized, playfully aggressive dog named Buster and a boyfriend named Junior Phillips, a possibly unrequited love.
One of my favorite Edith Ann quotes:
I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.
~ Lily Tomlin Quotes, As Edith Ann
A QUICK UPDATE: my aunt’s doctor told our family that she was finally seeing some improvement with the lung x-rays. My aunt’s H1N1 flu and the pneumonia have cleared up, and though she isn’t out of the woods yet, there are definite sign of improvement. Furthermore, I talked to HRH’s vet yesterday afternoon. He said that she was doing well, and they are still working on getting fluids in her so that they can tap her bladder and send it off for analysis. Thank you all for your prayers, kindness, and words of encouragement. Neither are in the clear yet, but things, hopefully, will continue looking up. So please continue to keep us in your prayers.
The trailblazing strategist behind the 1963 March on Washington will this year be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That’s a long way from the days when civil rights activists counted on Bayard Rustin’s hard work. Rustin taught MLK about non-violence, a strategy he’d learned from Gandhi. He organized the 1963 March on Washington. But he was discouraged from being a public spokesperson for civil rights because he was gay. Many activists at the time felt the movement wasn’t big enough to include homosexuality.
For 60 years, Rustin fought for peace and equal rights — demonstrating, organizing and protesting in the United States and around the world. Rustin grew up in West Chester, Pa. In college in the 1930s, he joined the Communist Youth League for a few years, attracted by the group’s anti-racist efforts. He later embraced socialism.
He was a gay black man, tall, with high cheekbones, and a gifted singer. He played a bit part in a Broadway musical alongside Paul Robeson, and Rustin often sang for his audiences as he toured the country, conducting race-relations workshops.
Rustin was considered a master organizer, a political intellectual and a pacifist; he served time in prison for refusing to register for the draft. He created the first Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation on interstate buses. Along with King, Rustin was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
He had two strong mentors. A.J. Muste, the head of the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation, hired Rustin as a youth secretary to conduct workshops and demonstrations against war and segregation. Rustin’s other mentor was A. Philip Randolph, the head of the first predominantly black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
“What Rustin took away from Randolph, especially, is the recognition that economic issues and racial justice issues are completely intertwined,” says his biographer, John D’Emilio.
Despite his extensive involvement in the civil rights movement, Rustin was content to remain behind the scenes, D’Emilio says.
“I think of it as part of the Quaker heritage that he internalized. You don’t push yourself forward,” D’Emilio says. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t get the credit for it. What is important is this notion of speaking truth to power.”
In 1953, Rustin’s homosexuality became a public problem after he was found having sex in a parked car with two men. He was arrested on a morals charge. Later, when he was chosen to organize the 1963 march, some civil rights activists objected. In an effort to discredit the march, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond took to the Senate floor, where he derided Rustin for being a communist, a draft dodger and a homosexual. Ironically, author D’Emilo says, it became a rallying point — for the civil rights leaders.
“Because no one could appear to be on the side of Strom Thurmond, he created, unwittingly, an opportunity for Rustin’s sexuality to stop being an issue,” he says.
The march was a success, and at its end, a triumphant Rustin stepped up to the microphone to read the demands that the leaders of the civil rights movement would take to President John F. Kennedy.
First on the list: “effective Civil Rights legislation — no compromise, no filibuster — and that it include public accommodations, decent housing, integrated education, [fair employment], and the right to vote.”
Rustin wanted to move the civil rights agenda from protesting to politics and to work within the system — blacks and whites together — to create jobs and other opportunities. His effort fell flat, stymied by a more militant generation and the dominant issue of the times, the Vietnam War. Rustin said, “It has split the civil rights movement down the middle. It has caused many white people who were in it to say, ‘That must wait now until we stop Vietnam.’ ”
In his later years, Rustin continued to speak out on a variety of fronts, and his personal life also changed: He met Walter Naegle.
Naegle, Rustin’s surviving partner, says that in the final years of his life, Rustin became more involved in gay rights.
“He saw this as another challenge, another barrier that had to be broken down — a larger struggle for human rights and for individual freedoms,” Neagle says.
Or, as Rustin put it:
“The barometer for judging the character of people in regards to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian. The judgment as to whether you can trust the future, the social advancement, depending on people, will be judged on where they come out on that question.”
Activist Mandy Carter says Rustin was a visionary, understanding the parallels in the civil rights struggle and the gay rights movement. Carter is on the leadership council the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT civil rights group.
“For me and for a lot of us who are black, and gay and lesbian, bi, trans, who see ourselves as social justice advocates as well, to have this person — such an amazing role model,” she says.
Carter says there was just no one like him, and she is delighted such a key individual in the civil rights movement is now being recognized with the nation’s highest honor.
On July 25, 1985, HIV/AIDS was given a global spotlight when it was announced that screen icon Rock Hudson was suffering from the disease.
Looking gaunt and almost unrecognizable, rumors began to circulate about his health earlier in the summer when the actor had made a public appearance to promote a new cable series of his friend and former co-star Doris Day.
After collapsing in Paris in July 1985, he was diagnosed with AIDS and given treatment with the drug HPA-23, which at the time was unavailable in the United States. It was while he was in the hospital that it was announced to the public that Hudson had AIDS:
“According to publicist Yanou Collart, who acted as his spokeswoman in Paris, the decision was Hudson’s. ‘The hardest thing I ever had to do in my life was to walk into his room and read him the press release,’ says Collart. “I’ll never forget the look on his face. How can I explain it? Very few people knew he was gay. In his eyes was the realization that he was destroying his own image. After I read it, he said simply, ‘That’s it, it has to be done.’ “
Hudson passed away at the age of 59, on October 2, 1985, less than three months after the announcement, in his Beverly Hills home. In his last weeks he was visited by many famous friends such as Carol Burnett, Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor, who upon his death was reported as saying “Please God, he did not die in vain.”
Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis put the disease into the headlines and changed the way the public thought of AIDS patients, as well as gay stereotypes. Before his death he created the Rock Hudson AIDS Foundation, donating the $250,000 he received from an advance of a biography to the foundation.
Instead of my usual “Moment of Zen” this Saturday, I am going to honor Alan Turing, who was born 100 years ago today. As a gay man and a blogger, it is only natural for me to post about Turing today. I’m sure I am joining many bloggers who will celebrate his centenary today. He was a hero of the Second World War, one of history’s great geniuses, and a tragic figure in the quest for GLBT equality. If you go to Google’s homepage today, you will see that the Google Doodle is in honor of Turing and his contribution to computer science.
From the day he was born one hundred years ago today—23 June 1912—Alan Mathison Turing seemed destined to solitude, misunderstanding and persecution. Alan Turing is a name with which a great many people are familiar, but probably not enough. His name was nearly erased from history sixty years ago, though partially revived in the 1970s. A highly accomplished mathematician, codebreaker and computer scientist, he has been hailed as a pioneer and hero in the fields of modern computing and sexual politics. And while you might not think that those two subjects necessarily complement each other in true strawberries-and-cream style, both are vital to understanding and appreciating the man who helped crack the Enigma code during World War II (and pretty much invented robots).
Turing’s world was markedly different from the one in which we live today. In fact, much of the technology which we now take for granted can be traced back to him in some way. Ever heard of an algorithm? You can thank Alan Turing for that little gem, who originated the concept in a paper while at Kings College, Cambridge.
Best remembered for his work at Bletchley Park in wartime, Turing devised the electromechanical Bombe, which was able to find settings for the Enigma machine, enabling encrypted German messages to be deciphered – which proved to be an invaluable resouce.
After the war, Turing went on to explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence, publishing papers on the subject and creating the “Turing Test”, which determined whether the responses of an artificial intelligence could be told apart from the responses of a human being.
But Alan’s highly celebrated career was marred and ultimately cut short by a tragic personal life. In January 1952, Turing met a man called Arnold Murray outside a cinema in Manchester. After a lunch date, Turing invited Murray to spend the weekend with him at his house, an invitation which Murray accepted although he did not show up. The pair met again in Manchester the following Monday, when Murray agreed to accompany Turing to the latter’s house. A few weeks later Murray visited Turing’s house again, and apparently spent the night there.
After Murray helped an accomplice to break into his house, Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and so both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.
Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. He accepted chemical castration via injections of stilboestrol, a synthetic estrogen hormone.
Turing’s conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British signals intelligence agency that had evolved from GCCS in 1946. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents, because of the recent exposure of the first two members of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, as KGB double agents. Turing was never accused of espionage but, as with all who had worked at Bletchley Park, was prevented from discussing his war work.
Unfortunately, the fact that Turing had helped save countless lives and secure a win for the Allies during the war did not prevent him from becoming utterly ostracized by his government and peers. He was relieved of his security clearance and forbidden from continuing his work at the Government Communications Headquarters. Two years later, Alan Turing was found dead.
On 8 June 1954, Turing’s cleaner found him dead; he had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it is speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was consumed. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954. Turing’s mother argued strenuously that the ingestion was accidental, caused by her son’s careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in an ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. Hodges and David Leavitt have suggested that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the 1937 film Snow White, his favourite fairy tale, both noting that (in Leavitt’s words) he took “an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Queen immerses her apple in the poisonous brew.”
LGBT campaigners are still petitioning for an official pardon of Turing’s indecency charges, although as yet the answer is “no”, with Lord McNally defending the government’s decision by stating that he was rightly prosecuted under the law of the era. But while a pardon may not be immediately forthcoming, John Graham-Cumming did at least succeed in procuring a public apology from then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009.
Brown responded by writing about Turing at length in a piece in the Telegraph, stating: “Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united, democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour.” Harder still to believe, as we celebrate all that is great about Britain this year with the Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games, that a man could suffer so much at the hands of his own country, when it owed him such a debt.
The word “legacy” can be bandied around and overused from time to time, but in this instance it could not be more apt: not just for the debt of thanks we all owe to Alan Turing for his wartime work but also for the opportunity that his life story offers; the opportunity to learn from the mistakes and prejudices of the generations that came before us, and ensure that they are never repeated.
In the words of Gordon Brown: “On behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
A gay icon is a public figure (historical or current) who is embraced by many within lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. Qualities of a gay icon often include glamour, flamboyance, strength through adversity, and androgyny in presentation. Such icons can be of any sexual orientation or gender; they can be out or not. Most gay icons have given their support to LGBT social movements, advocating gay rights in times when it was not socially acceptable.
In a candid interview from 1980, Ball was asked her thoughts on a number of subjects, including gay rights. “It’s perfectly all right with me,” she replied. “Some of the most gifted people I’ve ever met or read about are homosexual. How can you knock it?”
Historical icons are typically elevated to such status because their sexual orientation remains a topic of great debate among historians. Modern gay icons, who are predominantly female entertainers, commonly garner a large following within LGBT communities over the course of their careers. The majority of gay icons fall into one of two categories: the tragic, sometimes martyred figure or the prominent pop culture idol.
Jeffrey Masten, a Northwestern University associate professor of English and comparative literature who wrote a book on “gay identification and musical theater,” offers an answer to an obvious question: Why are all these entertaining objects of gay men’s affection women? “This started through a process of cross-gender identification in which gay men heard women singers as being able to sing things about loving men (and simultaneously about the difficulty of that) that men singers weren’t singing.” In other words, said the professor, when Garland sang about “The Man That Got Away,” gay men could relate.
Being able to triumph over troubles has universal appeal, of course, but gay men, especially, appreciate that as a key quality of a diva, said 29-year-old David Biele, author of “Vanguards,” a play produced at Bailiwick Repertory in 1997 about gay life in Chicago before the 1969 gay men’s Stonewall rebellion in New York. For many gay men, a diva “is a strong person who is a survivor and gay men can relate to someone who has survived in a hostile environment,” says Biele.
One can never forget, of course, dearly departed divas such as the late, great Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and the original grande dame of divas: Judy Garland. Although not every gay boy or man worships divas, a good many do. Why is that?
There are many theories. In The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, Daniel Harris suggests that “at the very heart of gay diva worship is not the diva herself but the almost universal homosexual experience of ostracism and insecurity.” Harris feels that we gay men live vicariously through divas who snare the handsome heterosexual men, and that we like to imagine ourselves in their place. He equates diva worship with watching football and says that it’s actually just as unfeminine as football: “It is a bone-crushing spectator sport in which one watches the triumph of feminine wiles over masculine walls of a voluptuous and presumably helpless damsel in distress single-handedly moving down a lineup of hulking quarterbacks who fall dead at her feet.”
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanny’s
Time even addressed diva worship in a review of Judy Garland’s final concert on August 18, 1967, at New York’s Palace Theatre. The article read, “A disproportionate part of her nightly claque seems to be homosexual. The boys in the tight trousers roll their eyes, tear at their hair and practically levitate from their seats, particularly when Judy sings [‘Over the Rainbow’].” The article also quoted a psychiatrist who said, “Judy was beaten up by life, embattled and ultimately had to become more masculine. She has the power that homosexuals would like to have, and they attempt to attain it by idolizing her.”
On closer examination, we can see there is something decidedly masculine about these divas. They have a hardened, sometimes aggressively feminine side. In their performance mode, they are almost as hyperfeminine as drag queens: Diana Ross’ big exaggerated hair, for example, or Cher’s heavily beaded gowns and overly glittering eye shadow.
Joe Kort, a psychotherapist, sexologist, and relationship therapist and founder of the Center for Relationship and Sexual Health, believes that these divas are our stand-in mothers. His Jewish clients and friends have related to him that Barbra Streisand saved their lives. Without her movies and songs, they couldn’t have survived their childhoods. Many of these men had self-absorbed mothers who were unavailable emotionally, so what better surrogate Jewish mother than Streisand? She is already unavailable in many ways, so his clients can worship her and fulfill some needs that their mothers cannot. These diva-mommies will never let us down; they are whoever we want them to be. They’re our mother shadows.
Kort’s theory is that in our early lives, our inability to attach and identify with men may prompt us to try to escape into the feminine realm to avoid the shame and fear of being compared unfavorably with other males. Although this is true of both gay and straight men, straight men bring these issues to their female partners. Not having woman as partners, we turn to our divas.
Most queer theorists, though, miss the boat where diva worship is concerned. Ironically, they regurgitate an ignorant heterosexual belief when they do so. They reinforce the assumption that gay people suffer from a sort of passive sadness, an overriding personality disorder, as though loneliness were unknown in other circles. It’s the suffering, we’ve been told again and again, that unified us. We identify with women because they, too, are oppressed. There may be some truth to that, but it isn’t our suffering; it’s our enduring hope that creates icons. Diva worship is a sensitivity to life’s endless possibilities and our ability to transcend acceptance or oppression.
Whatever the reason, these divas mean so much to us as gay men, I am thankful to them for giving us an escape from the pain of growing up gay. I admire their perseverance and their acceptance of their gay audiences. For me, they make the world a more colorful and better place.
What are some reasons you can think of for why we worship divas?
He stars in the play “Harvey,” which opens on June 14.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
You may or may not know this, but my current favorite show is The Big Bang Theory (see here, here, here, and here). In addition, I love Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on the show. So I was quite ecstatic when i read that Jim Parsons has revealed he is gay and in a committed relationship in a new interview. I am even more in love with Parsons now then I was before.
Writes Healy: ‘”The Normal Heart” resonated with him on a few levels: Mr. Parsons is gay and in a 10-year relationship, and working with an ensemble again onstage was like nourishment, he said.”
Parsons and Spiewak
Parsons’ sexuality has been the source of media speculation for several years. Though the Times doesn’t identify Parsons’ partner, the actor thanked Todd Spiewak during a 2010 Emmy Award acceptance speech. He has shown up to awards shows and made public theater contributions together with Spiewak, reportedly an art director, on several previous occasions.
The National Enquirer also reported that Parsons and Spiewak were at one time engaged and planning a Massachusetts-based Christmas wedding, which has since allegedly been called off because Parsons doesn’t want children. None of this has ever been confirmed nor denied by Parsons’ representatives, who have continually declined to speak about their client’s sexuality, according to AfterElton.
I am very proud of Jim Parsons. He’s such a great actor and deserves every Emmy that he receives. Congratulations Jim, I love you man. I wish you many, may years of continued success.
By MESFIN FEKADU, Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) — Like the King of Pop or the Queen of Soul, Donna Summer was bestowed a title fitting of musical royalty — the Queen of Disco.
Yet unlike Michael Jackson or Aretha Franklin, it was a designation she wasn’t comfortable embracing.
“I grew up on rock ‘n’ roll,” Summer once said when explaining her reluctance to claim the title.
Indeed, as disco boomed then crashed in a single decade in the 1970s, Summer, the beautiful voice and face of the genre with pulsating hits like “I Feel Love,” ”Love to Love You Baby” and “Last Dance,” would continue to make hits incorporating the rock roots she so loved. One of her biggest hits, “She Works Hard for the Money,” came in the early 1980s and relied on a smoldering guitar solo as well as Summer’s booming voice.
Yet it was with her disco anthems that she would have the most impact in music, and it’s how she was remembered Thursday as news spread of her death at age 63.
Summer died of cancer Thursday morning in Naples, Fla., said her publicist Brian Edwards. Her family released a statement saying they “are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy.”
Luminaries from Aretha Franklin to Dolly Parton and Barbra Streisand mourned the loss, as did President Barack Obama, who said he and Michelle were saddened to hear of the passing of the five-time Grammy winner. “Her voice was unforgettable, and the music industry has lost a legend far too soon,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Donna’s family and her dedicated fans.”
It had been decades since that brief, flashy moment when Summer was every inch the Disco Queen.
Her glittery gowns and long eyelashes. Her luxurious hair and glossy, open lips. Her sultry vocals, her bedroom moans and sighs. She was as much a part of the culture as disco balls, polyester, platform shoes and the music’s pulsing, pounding rhythms.
Summer’s music gave voice to not only a musical revolution, but a cultural one — a time when sex, race, fashion and drugs were being explored and exploited with freedom like never before in the United States.
Her rise was inseparable from disco’s itself, even though she remained popular for years after the genre she helped invent had died. She won a Grammy for best rock vocal performance for “Hot Stuff,” a fiery guitar-based song that represented her shift from disco to more rock-based sounds, and created another kind of anthem with “She Works Hard for the Money,” this time for women’s rights.
Elton John said in a statement that Summer was more than the Queen of Disco.
“Her records sound as good today as they ever did. That she has never been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is a total disgrace especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted,” he said. “She is a great friend to me and to the Elton John AIDS Foundation and I will miss her greatly.”
Summer may not have liked the title and later became a born-again Christian, but many remembered her best for her early years, starting with the sinful “Love to Love You Baby.”
Released in 1975, a breakthrough hit for Summer and for disco, it was a legend of studio ecstasy and the genre’s ultimate sexual anthem. Summer came up with the idea of the song and first recorded it as a demo in 1975, on the condition that another singer perform it commercially. But Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart liked the track so much that he suggested to producer Giorgio Morodor they re-record it, and make it longer — what would come to be known as a “disco disc.”
Summer had reservations about the lyrics — “Do it to me again and again” — but imagined herself as a movie star playing a part as if she were Marilyn Monroe. So she agreed to sing, lying down on the studio floor, in darkness, and letting her imagination take over. Solo and multitracked, she whispered, she groaned, she crooned. Drums, bass, strings and keyboards answered her cries. She simulated climax so many times that the BBC kept count: 23, in 17 minutes.
What started as a scandal became a classic. The song was later sampled by LL Cool J, Timbaland and Beyonce, who interpolated the hit for her jam “Naughty Girl.” It was also Summer’s U.S. chart debut and the first of 19 No. 1 dance hits between 1975 and 2008 — second only to Madonna.
Summer, real name LaDonna Adrian Gaines, was born in 1948 in Boston. She was raised on gospel music and became the soloist in her church choir by age 10.
“There was no question I would be a singer, I just always knew. I had credit in my neighborhood, people would lend me money and tell me to pay it back when I got famous,” Summer said in a 1989 interview with The Associated Press.
Before disco, she had already reinvented herself several times. She sang Motown songs with local groups in Boston as a teenager, then dropped out of school in the late 1960s and switched to pyschedelic rock after hearing Janis Joplin. An attempt to get a part in the musical “Hair” led her to get the principal role in Munich. She stayed in Germany for five years, worked in other productions and modeled.
Meanwhile, she was performing in operas, singing backup for Three Dog Night and other groups and releasing songs of her own. A marriage to Helmuth Sommer didn’t last, but the singer did hold on to her ex-husband’s last name, changing it to “Summer.” By 1974, she had met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte and released her first album, “Lady of the Night,” to success in Europe.
Then came “Love to Love You Baby,” her memorable U.S. debut. Through the rest of the disco era she burned up the charts: She was the only artist to have three consecutive double-LPs hit No. 1, “Live and More,” ”Bad Girls” and “On the Radio.” She was also the first female artist with four No. 1 singles in a 13-month period, according to the Rock Hall of Fame, where she was a nominee this year but was passed over.
Musically, she began to change in 1979 with “Hot Stuff,” which had a tough, rock ‘n’ roll beat. Her diverse sound helped her earn Grammy Awards in the dance, rock, R&B and inspirational categories. Summer said grew up on rock ‘n’ roll and later covered the Bruce Springsteen song “Protection.”
“I like the Moody Blues, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as well as Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, the Supremes and Temptations,” she said. “I didn’t know many white kids who didn’t know the Supremes; I don’t know many black kids who don’t know the Moody Blues.”
Warwick said in a statement that she was sad to lose a great performer and “dear friend.”
“My heart goes out to her husband and her children,” Warwick said. “Prayers will be said to keep them strong.”
Summer later became a born-again Christian and was accused of making anti-gay comments in relation to the AIDS epidemic — a particular problem for a woman who was and remains a gay icon. Summer denied making the comments, but became the target of a boycott.
Religion played an important role in her later life, said Michael Levine, who briefly worked as her publicist. “Her passion in her life, besides music, was God, spirituality and religion. She held a bible study class at her home every week,” he said.
Summer released her last album, “Crayons,” in 2008. It was her first full studio album in 17 years. She also performed on “American Idol” that year with its top female contestants.
Summer is survived by her husband, Bruce Sudano, and three daughters, Brooklyn, Mimi and Amanda. AP National Writer Hillel Italie in New York and AP Music Writer Nekesa Moody and Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Aussie Olympic champion Matthew Mitcham says he’s comfortable being seen as an icon for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The 24-year-old openly gay diver, who won the 10-meter platform event and received the highest single-dive score in Olympic history during the 2008 games in Beijing, told the Sydney Morning Herald in a new interview that he doesn’t mind the attention paid to his personal life.
“I certainly don’t see it as a burden,” Mitcham told the paper after a training session in Sydney. ”I never did, especially with how much attention the LGBT cause has been getting lately with marriage equality…and with how few openly gay sports stars there are around at the moment.”
“Ideally I would like one day for sexuality to be as unimportant and uninteresting as hair color, or eye color or even just gender in general. One day it will get to that.
But until it is easy for sports people to come out without fear of persecution or fear of lost sponsorship income and stuff like that, or fear of being comfortable in the team environment, I don’t mind attention being brought to my sexuality in the hope that it might make other people feel more comfortable…in being comfortable enough about who they are in their sporting environment.”
Mitcham, who has reportedly been plagued by injuries for the past year, is preparing to defend his title at the 2012 Olympic Games in London this summer. As The Guardian notes, he appears to be back in top form, attracting perfect 10s from all seven judges on one of his dives to post a plus-550 score at the Australian trials.