Queer songs, singers, and composers to be feted
The Sixth annual Outmusic Awards (outmusic.com), the most significant celebration of LGBT musicians on the planet, take place in New York City June 8 -11. Celebrating excellence in queer recording, songwriting, and cultural activism, the three days of live performances culminate in a star-studded awards ceremony at The Knitting Factory on Sunday, June 11 at 2:30 p.m.
This year’s award categories have been expanded to 15. In addition to awards for outstanding new recording male, debut male, female, debut female, duo or group, band, instrumental, chorus or choir, songwriter, and producer, Outmusic has added three new categories––Outstanding Inspirational Recording, Outstanding CD Graphic Design, and Outstanding Music Video. Winning recipients in each category are chosen by a group of six different judges, all acknowledged experts in their field, who have been selected from a larger pool of 100.
Two additional awards, the all-important Outsong of the Year and Outmusician of the Year, are determined by a vote of Outmusic members, most of who reside in the greater New York area.
The awards ceremony promises to be a major spectacle. The co-hosts, Alix Olson, and Ari Gold, are both prior Outmusic Award recipients. With Olson known for her tireless work as a progressive queer artist-activist and willingness to bare her soul in her folk poetry—she’s received the “Visionary Award” from the DC Rape Crisis Center for her “exceptional commitment to the promotion of social justice,” and appeared on the cover of Ms. magazine—and Gold admired as much for his deservedly award-winning, defiantly out singing, songwriting, and producing as for his willingness to bare himself at every mouth-watering opportunity, hearts will definitely skip a few beats as recipients mount the stage.
Three major Outmusic pioneers are slated for special awards. Tom Wilson Weinberg, whose early albums “Gay Name Game” (1979) and “All-American Boy” (1982) were among the first openly gay recordings of their kind, receives the Outmusic Heritage Award. Weinberg’s ongoing career in music and theater next promises a musical about the relationship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, with 2006 Outmusic nominee Lea Delaria playing Hickok.
The equally deserving Junior Vasquez receives the Special Recognition Award for his 20-year history as the granddaddy DJ and producer of dance music and remixes, while Kathy Rieser receives the Outstanding Support Award for ten years of queer music promotion via radio, celebration, and service.
One of the major changes to this year’s awards involves the judging criteria. After discovering that judges were having a difficult time deciding how to divide their vote among three equally weighted categories––Performance, Production, and Overall Impression––judging has been reduced to a simple 1-10 ranking according to excellence.
“We trust our judges,” explained Dan Martin, Outmusic’s veritable chairman of the board, who with his longtime partner Martin Biello founded Outmusic in 1990.
“They’re smart people, and we take a lot of time to find the right judges for each category,” Martin said. “We’ve found that the most compelling artists always receive awards, even when their recordings are minimally produced.”
Key to Outmusic’s longevity is its faithfulness to its roots. As budding East Village songwriters and performers, Martin and Biello first invited other singer-songwriters to their apartment in 1989 to participate in a song circle and discuss how they could support each other. Close to three decades later, with Philadelphia’s Martin again heavily involved, and Brooklyn’s Ed Mannix masterminding online communications and tirelessly supporting each and every out musician he encounters, the organization remains a source of support and hope for virgin indies and seasoned professionals.
“After a time when there was almost nothing,” says Martin, “there has been a great increase in out musicians over the past few years. There’s so much happening and so many people making CDs nowadays.”
Outmusic intentionally eschews the Grammy Awards model of separating recordings into a plethora of individual genre categories. Outmusic’s hope is by doing so, music lovers will be encouraged to explore a wide variety of musics rather than settling into comfortable little niches. As a result, because so many different styles of music are lumped together in broad categories, some entries make for rather curious juxtapositions.
Take, for example, Pulitzer Prize-winning classical composer David Del Tredici, creator of the first symphonic song cycle to celebrate gay life, who is up for both instrumental and songwriting awards. With his sometimes tongue-in-cheek, neo-romantic wildness defying simple description, judges will have a ball choosing between Del Tredici’s patriotic response to 9/11, the soul sex of award-winning Mark Weigle, the notable tunes of transgendered songstress Namoli Brennet, and the gifts of others in the songwriter category. Pretend you’re judging Debut Recording––Female, try juxtaposing soprano Melissa Fogarty’s CD, “Handel: Scorned and Betrayed” with the hip soulfulnnes of Miss Money’s “The Love of Money,” and tell me which way is up.
The new Inspiration Category has been added to accommodate a number of faithful out musicians whose entries have traditionally stood little chance of winning favor among judges favoring non-religious pop. Given that this is 2006, however, Outmusic’s Christians of both sexes find themselves sharing beds with longtime activist Sandy Rapp, the sex politic explorations of yogic activist Jen/ed, and Athens Boys Choir’s gender crossing rap. Juicy.
“We’re encouraging a new generation of artists who are very confident being out and expressing themselves,” said Martin of Outmusic’s contribution to the LGBT community. “To have people proudly sing about being out at a time when the music industry still lags behind the movie and publishing industries is very important.
“Hopefully we’re creating a support system to enable artists to grow and get their music out to the world. Landing a record deal and getting distribution as an out musician can make a huge difference in the world. I know there are record executives courting some of our nominees; that’s a big change from some years back. Outmusic is definitely making a difference.”