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  • Writer's pictureKCL Jazz Society

"Jazz, the Blues, and the LGBTQ+ Roots We Ignore"

Happy Pride, fellow Jazzers! Today, the 28th June 2021, marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, the beginning of a revolution to end discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. In light of that, we thought we’d share our thoughts on the embedded link between LGBTQ+ and jazz. We recently came across an article by Tidal Magazine, which tells the story of Tony Jackson and his composition of a popular standard ‘Pretty Baby’ during the ragtime era. What is significant about this song is that it was inspired by Jackson’s love for a gay man, which was quickly covered up by endless broadway performances where both women and men sang to the opposite sex. There is no doubt that if contemporary audiences learned the true meaning behind the lyrics, the song would not have become as popular as it did.

Jackson’s story provides one of many examples of the link between jazz and LGBTQ+, and this link is so central to musical history that it is taken for granted instead of examined. The origin of jazz and blues lies at the crucial intersect of race, gender and sexuality. The roots of Jackson’s and many other musician’s work were found in the parts of society that were deemed unworthy, as a ‘born in Storyville brothels’ stigma grew around it. While the music of LGBTQ+ artists were stolen, changed and commercialised for mainstream use, the ‘underground’ clubs and saloons provided a safe space for performance and musical expression for those whose sexual identities were rejected elsewhere. This is how the taboo of jazz and blues and the taboo of queerness became inextricably linked. LGBTQ+ musicians have made extensive contributions to the jazz world, yet many were not able to express their orientations and identities until late in life or at all due to fears of losing both work and fans. Unfortunately, there are still musicians today worried about publicly being themselves for the same reasons.

At KCL Jazz Society, we are proud to promote an inclusive and diverse community. As part of our effort to celebrate their great talent, look out for our posts tomorrow on our social media to see a few of our favourite LGBTQ+ jazz musicians!

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