Tchaikovsky’s gay letters



Tchaikovsky | 1873 | UIG/Getty Images | 18316

A new book, The Tchaikovsky Papers, includes for the first time excerpts from his thousands of preserved letters which have been hidden, because they were about his gay life, which Russian authorities censored.

The composer wrote: “Petashenka used to drop by with the criminal intention of observing the Cadet Corps, which is right opposite our windows, but I’ve been trying to discourage these compromising visits – and with some success.” In a letter, Tchaikovsky wrote of a young servant “with whom I am more in love than ever”, adding: “My God, what an angelic creature and how I long to be his slave, his plaything, his property!”

Out walking one day, he met a “youth of stunning beauty … After our walk, I offered him some money, which was refused. He does it for the love of art and adores men with beards.”

The book’s introduction notes: “The central taboo concerning Tchaikovsky’s life has been his homosexuality – the topic that has been barred from public discussion for almost a century … In the eye of the authorities, it would have been unthinkable to accept [that] … Russia’s national treasure was a homosexual.”


Love is a drag re-released



The Love Is a Drag LP Cover | Vintage Vinyl | tc287

The Guardian notes that the 1962 gay LP “Love is a drag”, which has been a collector’s item for many years, has been re-released.

Archivist JD Doyle managed to get in contact with the original record producer, who, like the musicians and singer on the LP, were not credited when it was released in 1962, for obvious reasons.

In 2012 the album’s producer, Murray Garrett, emailed him after discovering that Doyle had written about the music on his website.

The story begins in the 1920s. As far back at the 1920s, blues singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith had been singing about gay characters, though they were loathe to directly express their own desires. In 1946 Garrett was a celebrity photographer for Life magazine and was taken by a friend to a bar in Greenwich Village. A handsome young man came out on the club’s stage and started to sing standards normally performed by a woman to a man. Garrett was confused until his friend informed him that they were in a gay bar. Garrett later told Doyle he was so impressed by the quality of the music that the night stayed in his mind “for years and years”.

In the early 60s a friend of Garrett’s was starting a record company in Hollywood and asked him if he had any ideas for projects that would stand out. Garrett thought a man singing love songs to another man would more than fit the bill. Garrett asked his photography partner, Gene Howard, who had earlier performed with Stan Kenton’s band, to sing on the album. The singer told him he had two daughters and a wife to consider, not to mention a career. According to Doyle, Howard’s wife asked just one question about the project: “Is it going to be done with dignity?”

The album sold by word of mouth, mainly in the Hollywood community Garrett and Howard knew well. Gay waiters and car hops started buying copies, up to six at a time. Frank Sinatra ordered a dozen copies. Garrett gave a copy to Bob Hope and Liberace also acquired a copy.

Over the years, the album became a cult item, selling for up to $200.

A number of LP recordings made in Britain for the UK gay market appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, and some of the artistes involved have been documented in Gay History.


Rock and roll is so so gay!



Martin Aston | The Writing Disorder | 16472gh

Martin Aston writes in The Guardian over the contribution the gay community made to rock and roll music. Many of the rock pioneers were gay and in the closet at the time.

It seems there was a brief flowering of gay culture within the main culture of music in America almost one hundred years ago.

… Talking about sex is hardly new for gay artists. They were doing the dirty in song almost 100 years ago, in 1920s Harlem, when blues singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith sang about same-sex affairs. Even gay men, less documented than the women, took advantage of a brief new social permissiveness following the first world war – George Hannah wrote and sang Freakish Man Blues in 1930. Away from the blues, there was the first gay pride anthem in 1920, Das Lila Lied (aka The Lavender Song), written by Berlin-based duo Spoliansky and Schwabach, through to the stars of the so-called Pansy Craze, popular in New York from 1930. From this came Gene – sometimes spelled Jean – Malin, whose 78rpm single I’d Rather Be Spanish Than Mannish predated Noël Coward’s none-more-camp delivery and innuendo. But the Pansy Craze was quickly snuffed out when 1929’s economic crash snowballed into the Great Depression, unleashing a new wave of religious bigotry and social repression.

Martin Aston’s book Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out was published by Constable on 13 October.


Remembering Tony Washington, gay Motown star



Openly gay Tony Washington (far left) with his group the Dynamic Superiors | Congressional Entertainment Complex | 14034

The Dynamic Superiors were a 1970s Motown act. The lead singer, Tony Washington, was openly gay. His brother, Maurice Washington, was also in the group. Tony was the only openly gay member of the group, although it is understood that another member of the group was also gay.

“I can’t really think of a soul group that had a very openly gay frontman that was on a major label before this. A lot of gay newspapers and magazines interviewed Tony, and he talked about how happy he was that people would come up to him after shows all the time and say he was an inspiration for them to come out. So in the gay community, I think he made an impact,” says music historian Kevin Coombe.

Tony Washington is understood to have died in 1989.


Valentino, “I was born this way”



Valentino | Public domain | 14100

In 1975, an openly gay disco record became popular: “I was born this way” by Valentino. Valentino was a pseudonym for Charles Harris, who recorded the song for an independent company. Harris was 22 years old, and it was two years before the Village People were formed.

The record was picked up for distribution by Tamla Motown Records. The song has been widely re-recorded and sampled by others. Valentino did not make any other records, but made gay history by breaking through with a recording issued by a major record company.

It was not the first gay record to be made and issued, though; a number of gay artistes in the UK had openly gay recordings issued, from the 1950s and earlier, but usually on small labels, or as private pressings.


The London Gay Men’s Chorus turns 21



The London Gay Men’s Chorus | Michael Cheetham | 14397

The London Gay Men’s Chorus has turned 21.

The choir was begun in 1991 by a group of nine men – none of whom are in the choir any more – who used to meet at a social group called London Friend, where they would play their favourite CDs. “Someone said to them: ‘Why not start a choir if you’re so into music?’ so they rehearsed a few pieces to raise money for charity and put on their first gig at Angel tube,” says chorus chairman Alisdair Low. The gig, which featured nervous renditions of songs including Over the Rainbow, drew such crowds that the station had to be closed. Low joined two years later. “We used to rehearse under Finsbury library. We had a burly female stage manager on the door to bat away the council kids who would shout abuse through the door.”

Over the past 21 years, the London Gay Men’s Chorus has grown into Europe’s biggest gay choir. Anyone can join, although the waiting list can be six months long, with 70 or 80 people turning up at new members’ evenings.

The LGMC perform two major concerts a year, tour the world, and have played venues ranging from London’s Palladium and Roundhouse to 10 Downing Street.


Brian Epstein remembered by a new play



Brian Epstein | Unknown photographer | 14418

Epstein, a brand new play about one of the world’s most successful music entrepreneurs, premiered in Liverpool.

It is 50 years since The Beatles came together and the play was the first major production at the new Epstein Theatre. Brian Epstein, born in 1934, was best known as a music entrepreneur and legendary manager of The Beatles and was the person responsible for their rise to mega-stardom all over the world. Epstein’s life was crammed with success and controversy; he was an intelligent man whose prescience, taste, vision and passion left a lifelong impact on the world. Brian Epstein died of a sleeping pill overdose in August 1967, aged 32.