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Paving a Path: Pioneers in LGBTQ music

While the roots of queer music stem from jazz in the 1890’s, LGBTQ music has had notable individuals who have paved the way for artists today to be open in the public eye. Below are a few of their stories.


Openly gay jazz musician, Tony Jackson was a singer and pianist from the 1890’s and early 1900’s. He notably was a mentor to Jelly Roll Morton, gaining traction in New Orleans. At the age of 7 the budding pianist washed dishes at his neighbor’s home in return for using their reed organ.



Using her music to escape the South in the 1950’s, musician Jackie Shane arrived in Canada via a carnival gig, with the help of an affirming parent. Her career in soul music started with debut album Any Other Way, detailed the heartache, poor living conditions and need for money, as a transgender woman.



Jobriath may have a Mick Jagger-esque voice but the self-acclaimed “rock fairy” was open as a gay man — eventually being rejected by the media and fans. His second and final album Creatures of the Street, notably inspired Morrissey and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters.


Former lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons, a reference to transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, Anohni has been an acclaimed electronic sensation. Her song “Hope There’s Someone” was covered by the late Avicii. She is only the second transgender individual to be recognized by the Oscars.


Queer folk sounds stemmed from the 1970’s Lavender Country, whose tongue-in-cheek songs dealt with heartache and loneliness. The band’s influence can be seen among artists like Sam Gleaves and Little Bandit.


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Photo of Lesley Gore, taken by Mike Licht

1960’s teen pop sensation Lesley Gore, is known for her feminist voice as a teenager but may be more known for the Oscar nominated score to Fame. The LGBTQ activist has spoken openly about her partner and struggles of being gay in the music industry. Gore came out in her twenties but hid it long into her career.


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Photo of David Bowie in 2017, taken by Robert Sullivan

The late David Bowie was a quintecential icon in the 80’s with his music and striking visuals. The bisexual UK rocker was well known and loved worldwide. He was influenced by Little Richard, who has given inconsistent accounts of his own sexuality.


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Photo of Sir Elton John, taken by the US Embassy

Elton John originally came out as a bisexual man. The “Tiny Dancer” songwriter is beloved by many and has labelled himself as gay.


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Photo of Melissa Etheridge in 2011, taken by Flikr user russavia

Melissa Etheridge came out during the Triangle Ball, the LGBTQ celebration of Bill Clinton’s inauguration. The musician married her longtime partner in 2014 shortly after the legalization of gay marriage.

While there are so many more artists that have come out and been open about their gender identity and sexuality, these are some of the pioneers for their genre and the industry. They were able to carve a path for the multitude of unapologetically queer artists today and open the doors to a wide range of representation in the music industry.

To learn more about the history of LGBTQ music click here.

The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25, according to their website. Click here to make a donation.



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