OUT Music Awards draws attention to gay issues

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Out Music Awards 2011. Photo by Antoine CraigwellMany LGBT youth concerns were an undertone.

Chairs neatly arranged seemingly with military precision in the large main room of Manhattan’s Irving Plaza, a locale for progressive musical performances, and the tight security were the first signs that this year’s 7th Annual OUT Music Awards was going to be different from the chaos and confusion which undermined the 2009 event. This 2011 awards show program was produced by the LGBT Academy of Recording Artists and organized by Deidre Meredith, its executive director.

As the floodlights illuminated the stage on May 23, harried section managers, assistants and volunteers scurried about in a frenzy to complete last minute tasks. From the vantage point of the well stocked and controlled bar at the rear of the room, gay and straight men, women, and transgenders – multi hued, a mixture of ethnicities and ages, slowly filled the chairs. In a room to the right of the stage, performers gathered for last minute rehearsals, costume adjustments, make-up touch ups, and instrument tunings; and just outside the door, in a cordoned off area, photographers and camera men jostled for plumb spots to get the best shots.

Out Music Awards 2011 with TammyThis award show was the seventh since it was started by Dan Martin and Michael Biello in their own living room. At the 2009 awards they said that when they started it, then it was about men singing to men and women singing to women.

Tammy Peay, the comedienne made famous from her appearances on Laurence Pinckney’s Nubian Criuses, as the show’s MC, alternated her appearances on stage in various styles of black gowns. Using her wits and sharp, but realistic humor, she singlehandedly carried the entire night’s event, and kept the audience entertained in the small gaps between performances. Notwithstanding, Sekia Dorset, who is believed to have been the stage manager corralled the acts to appear on cue.

More than 45 minutes into the show, when it seemed as if the entire hall was pulsating with music, an intermission was announced. The audience, once held in thrall by the performers evacuated the hall as if glad for the break, if only to catch a breath from the intensity of the performances. A short time later, with her commanding voice and personality, Peay summoned everyone back for the second half. Those who felt that an intermission would break the spirit of the evening were wrong. Everyone returned and they wanted more. And aided by the performers, the audience re-entered into the full spirit of the evening.

Out Music Awards 2011_1It seemed as if the organizers had taken gamble on the audience’s reaction when they placed Tona Brown and the Aida String Ensemble to perform a classical piece immediately after the intermission. A hush descended on the audience as notes from a classical piece washed over everyone. Aware that their performance was unusual, the musicians sawed their bows over strings, as if their lives depended on it, and even though there was sporadic applause, when the piece ended, the entire audience stood and cheered unabated for several minutes. Before going on stage as part of the ensemble, Jarvis, who started playing the viola since he was 14, remarked, “I’m openly gay and a classical musician. One doesn’t hear much talk about gay classical musicians.”

As the evening progressed, following Antoinette Montague jazz rendition, homage was paid to Paula “Stix” Hampton who appeared on stage to accept the OUT Music Living Legend Award. To gales of laughter from the audience and with mock belligerence, she said, “Y’all had to wait till I’m damn near 73 years before y’all come down here to honor me.”

The awards’ twenty different categories captured the diversity in the musical presentations and included “OUTstanding R&B Song”, “OUTstanding International Song”, and “The Biello-Martin Love Song of the Year”. Through the categories and the performances, it became clear that LGBT people are involved in as many different music genres, such as R&B, soul, jazz, country and western, gospel, and classical music. The internationally recognized performing artist, Melissa Ethridge, who was awarded the 2011 OUT Music Lifetime Achievement Award, appeared in a prerecorded video on a screen to deliver her acceptance.

Nhojj (pronounced en-hoj), who was the 2009 OUT Music Award R&B winner and won the 2011 award in the same category for “Gay Warrior Song” said, as he did in 2009, that the awards validates what he’s doing, that he is appreciated by people, and being nominated and winning is getting seen and heard in the LGBT community. “In the LGBT community we need music which tells our own story out there,” he said.

The inspiration for “Gay Warrior” Nhojj said, was to give the LGBT community its own anthem to which they could rally and be militant. Its distinctive reggae beats, he added, strikes at the homophobia this type of music often contains, “I wanted to show that there are people from the Caribbean who are gay and proud. I wanted to create a song for LGBT people who like reggae.”

Nhojj who was born and grew up in Guyana said proceeds from the sale of “Gay Warrior” will go to the Guyana-based LGBT organization Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination. His most recent work included releasing a music video “Amazing Grace” which celebrates marriage equality, especially interracial relationships, and has been working on promoting it.

Adding his voice to the chorus of praise for the awards, DJ Baker, radio and television host for Da Doo Dirty Show, who presented Nhojj with his award, said that he was glad there is an OUT Music award so that gay hip hop artists could celebrate each other’s achievements.

Almost all the performers and award recipients seemed to be committed to social causes and concerns, with one major theme as an undertone to the awards, drawing attention to the number of homeless LGBT children and teens. Accepting the Song Writer of the Year award, for her song “No Se Porque”, the Latin artist Silvia said, “This song was written for the children of Latin America. I’m from Argentina and it’s for the children who are neglected, abused and homeless.”

After a music video of Sylvester’s “Mighty Real” was shown, Tim Smith, the video’s producer accepted the Icon Award on behalf of the artist, “I know that Sylvester never felt it necessary to apologize for who he was, and he did this in the 70s, at a time when it wasn’t cool to talk about himself. He knew what it was like to be homeless as a 14-year old gay teen in Los Angeles.”

Smith said that Sylvester never liked talking about the time he spent living on the streets, and when at 18 he returned home, he went back to school. In his high school graduation photo he chose to make a statement about who he was by wearing a gown with pearls.

 

Out Music Awards 2011. Photo by Antoine CraigwellMany LGBT youth concerns were an undertone.

Chairs neatly arranged seemingly with military precision in the large main room of Manhattan’s Irving Plaza, a locale for progressive musical performances, and the tight security were the first signs that this year’s 7th Annual OUT Music Awards was going to be different from the chaos and confusion which undermined the 2009 event. This 2011 awards show program was produced by the LGBT Academy of Recording Artists and organized by Deidre Meredith, its executive director.