Tag Archives: Dolly Parton

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: Out and Proud in Country Music

11 Jun

Stevens, Wright, Jensen

For all the “liberal Hollywood values” associated with the entertainment industry, it certainly has its share of homophobia. Music is performed by people, after all, and any segment of the population is bound to demonstrate both the good and the bad. Of all the genres of the music industry, Country music has the most conservative traditions and the most entrenched homophobia. Despite this, there are some out and proud Country performers, blazing trails into historically hostile territory.

Doug Stevens, who performs with the aptly named Out Band, formed the Lesbian and Gay Country Music Association in 1998. The organization is little known, sadly, but does host tours regularly and provide outreach to performers needing support. Stevens has been out his whole career, perhaps accounting for his relatively low profile. Stevens is a powerful force for good and a strong voice for LGBT equality in Country music.

Chely Wright is equally amazing. Not only did this rising Country star recently come out, she had a very public wedding and acknowledges her role as an advocate. She stars in the documentary Wish Me Away and tours the country with the film talking about being an out lesbian in country music. Wright is brave, self-effacing, and witty as well as being a talented musician. Let’s hope her bold approach will not damage her success.

Another remarkable out Country performer is Canadian Drake Jensen. Not only did he come out, he included his husband in a recent video. This is a very bold move for the genre. He also added an anti-bullying message to the YouTube version of the video. Jensen received the  Coup de Chapeau (Hats Off) award from the Fondation Emergence in Montreal for his contribution to the fight against homophobia. The last recipient was Lady Gaga for Born This Way.

Honorable mention goes to the amazing kd lang. She came out publicly in 1992, one of the first celebrities to do so. By that time she had largely left Country behind, embracing her broader musical palette. Lang has long been an LGBT pioneer, and her career — especially in Nashville — has suffered for her boldness and authenticity.

There are also a number of strong LGBT allies in Country music. For every yahoo like Brad Paisley and John Rich (of Big & Rich), there are plenty of wonderful Country stars who are open, accepting, and supportive. Dolly Parton recorded the amazing song Travelin’ Thru for the movie Transamerica and is an outspoken friend of the LGBT community. Willie Nelson is well known for his leftist politics; he contributed a song to the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack and had a hit with the charming Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other). Country megastar Garth Brooks is very supportive and won a GLAAD Media Award for his song We Shall Be Free, which includes the line “We shall be free, when we’re free to love anyone we choose.” Just this week, Carrie Underwood announced her support for full marriage equality, risking a Dixie Chicks backlash from her Evangelical fan base.

Every medium has room for improvement. The music industry, for all its U2/R.E.M. liberal reputation, has plenty of Ted Nugent and Buju Banton to go around. These brave Country pioneers deserve thanks and recognition for taking a uniquely American musical form and demanding that it truly embrace American values of equality and freedom.

Another Reason Why I Love Dolly Parton

3 Aug

I think I first fell in love with Dolly Parton when I heard Just Because I’m a Woman, which really resonated with the feminist in me. Of course, her role as Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5 earned her my undying love.  My love for her only grew when I had the pleasure of working with her when I worked at the Country Music Hall of Fame as a tour guide.  She also happened to have lived behind my parents’ home in Brentwood, TN. One can imagine how troubled I was to learn of an incident of homophobic discrimination at Dollywood–I thought surely Dolly has no knowledge of this incident.

A lesbian couple and their children were at Dollywood.  One of the women was wearing a t-shirt that said “Marriage is so gay.”  An employee at the park asked her to turn her shirt inside out, so as to not offend the heterosexual people.  (Part of me has to giggle here because it makes me want to ask all of my heterosexual couples to please have the decency to not act straight in public–that good old double standard)

Here is where the story has a happy ending.  True to form, our Dolly offered a public apology on behalf of the homophobic behavior of the employee. Dolly said:

I am truly sorry for the hurt or embarrassment regarding the gay and lesbian t-shirt incident at Dollywood’s Splash Country recently. Everyone knows of my personal support of the gay and lesbian community. Dollywood is a family park and all families are welcome. I am looking further into the incident and hope and believe it was more policy than insensitivity. I am very sorry it happened at all.

Yes, my love for Dolly is forever.  Of course, when your good friends are Linda Ronstadt and Emmoylou Harris, you know this Trio is worth their weight in gold.

Women’s History: April 2

2 Apr

Happy Birthday, Emmylou

Happy Birthday, Emmylou Harris. While Harris is widely known for her contribution to country music, and more specifically folk music, she also uses her amazing talent as a song writer/singer for social justice. Her famous friendship with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt produced two of my favorite albums: Trio and Trio II, but she is also sought after by artists like Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello.

I remember Harris as one of my first employers, when I worked at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where she was the President; this was before she had the beautiful mane of silver hair. She was quite kind and just like the rest of us normal people–nonetheless, she was one of the very few country music artists that left me star struck.  My horrific confession is that once at a CMHF dinner, I was sitting just three seats from Emmylou and when everyone left for the night, I stole her spoon. I am very sorry for this theft, but alas it is true. I believe this was 1987, so I hope the statue of limitations has now run out.

I would like to focus on Harris’ activism. In the late 90’s, Harris joined Lilith Fair, a music tour promoting women and feminism. Harris then started a music tour with her friends: Mary Chapin Carenter, Bruce Cockburn, Joan Baez, Patty Griffin, Nanci Griffith, Willie Nelson, and Lucinda Williams to raise money and awareness for a Landmine Free World. The proceeds of this tour went to support the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation‘s.

Here is another of my favorite Emmylou Harris songs, Waltz Across Texas Tonight. I hope you will hit the above links to hear a couple of my favorite songs.  Happy Birthday, Emmylou. Thank you for your activism, your work toward social justice and for your beautiful voice.

Celebrating Women’s History Month: March 4

4 Mar

Honoring Dolly Parton

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Dolly Parton. Parton has been a favorite of mine for many many years, dating back to her days with Porter Wagoner. I will confess, back in the mid 1970’s my former stepmother used to force us to listen to country music–I hated it!!! However, there was one song that caught my heart.  We were listening to Just Because I’m a Woman, by Dolly Parton. I loved the song and felt so indignant that there was a double standard for how women and men were treated–I fell in love with our Dolly with this song.  How impressive that a female country music star was addressing the inequities between gender in 1976.  Of course, if there is anyone that listens to Toby Keith, one wonders if he is even aware of the women’s movement, or anyone that is not a white heterosexual man. Just Because I’m a Woman, was one of many clues that I would become a militant feminist. The next song that caught my heart was The Bargain Store. I used to cry listening to this song. How could she not see her value and how lovable she is? The song is very telling of how often women internalize messages of self-doubt, or the misconception that they are lucky if someone choses them, whey in reality they should do the choosing!

Parton has been good friends with two of my other favorite women, Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris. Who could not love their album in 1987 The Trio, specifically My Dear Companion? I also loved Trio II. The song Blue Train, I find haunting and beautiful.

I also loved Dolly Parton in the quintessential women’s movement movie of the 1980’s decade, 9 to 5.  How can you not love Doralee? I would be remiss if I did not include Hard Candy Christmas, from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I will conclude this article with a song that Ms. Parton was robbed of an academy award for, Travelin’ Thru, from Transamerica.

There are many reasons to love our Dolly Parton, just some of which are: a pioneer for strong women in country music, a powerful and smart business woman with a brilliant voice, and a supporter of the LGBT community.

Oscar’s Gay History: A Mixed Bag

27 Feb

How will LGBT themes fare this year?

As we gear up for the 83rd annual Academy Awards, let’s take a look back at Oscar’s history. Hollywood is reputed to be a progressive beacon and a promoter of gay rights and issues. While there is some merit to that claim, when it comes time for the big awards, the closet door often slams shut.

Certainly a movie or a performance does not deserve an Oscar just because it is gay-themed, nor to actors deserve awards just because they are out. It is interesting, however, to note the number of surprises and upsets over the past eighty years that have resulted in a gay theme or actor being snubbed.

Researching this topic is a bit tricky, since many people are not out during their whole careers or live as “open secrets” within Hollywood society. Several lists of gay and lesbian winners include Jodie Foster, who won both of her awards before her very vague coming out and Kevin Spacey, who has actively denied being gay. George Cukor was known as the principle host of gay Hollywood society but was not known to be gay to most people when he won his directing award.

Sir John Gielgud probably counts as the earliest (mostly) out performer to be nominated (1963 for Beckett) and to win (1981 for Arthur), both Supporting Actor nods. He was involved in a minor gay solicitation scandal in Great Britain in 1953 and, while circumspect about his personal life, never lied about himself nor hid his partners. Another early winner was John Schlesinger, who won as Best Director in 1969 for Midnight Cowboy.

Over the past twenty years, as being out has become somewhat easier, certainly more out contributors to movies have been nominated and have won awards.

  • Sir Elton John and Melissa Etheridge have both won best song or soundtrack awards
  • Dustin Lance Black, Bill Condon, and Alan Ball have all won screenwriting awards
  • Scott Rudin won as the producer of Best Picture No Country for Old Men

Most of the well-known gay-themed awards, however, have gone to straight actors who were played gay. Some are richly deserved, like Hilary Swank’s powerful turn in Boys Don’t Cry or Sean Penn’s brilliant performance as Harvey Milk. Others are interesting and worth watching: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote and William Hurt’s performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman spring to mind. Then there are others, like Tom Hanks’ tepid performance in Philadelphia which had a very strong “wasn’t he brave” feel to it.

A number of gay-themed movies and performances have been upset. Certainly we can argue the specific merits of the winner and loser, but these stand out as odd moments of possible voting homophobia in Oscarland.

  • The champ in this category is Brokeback Mountain. Clearly a stronger film than the messy, let’s feel good about diversity Crash, it lost Best Picture in a shocking result. Neither of the starring actors won either (although Heath Ledger lost to Hoffman’s performance as Truman Capote.)
  • Another case of Oscar robbery was Transamerica. Felicity Huffman turned in the performance of a lifetime and lost to the fine but unremarkable Reese Witherspoon. Dolly Parton’s wonderful theme song Travelin’ Thru also lost best song.
  • One of the rare nominations of a gay actor playing a gay role was Ian McKellen’s brilliant turn as James Whale in Gods and Monsters, which lost to Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful. (I seem to be the only person who found Benigni irritating and the movie cloying, so I may be alone in feeling this was an upset.)
  • Colin Firth’s brilliant performance in A Single Man lost to Jeff Bridges. Firth should make up for that loss this year with his equally strong performance in The King’s Speech.
  • One other performance that failed to even earn a nomination was Terence Stamp’s amazing role as Bernadette in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

This year’s best LGBT hopeful is the strong film The Kids Are All Right. Up for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor, the film should bring home at least one award. Annette Bening deservedly won a Golden Globe already for her performance.

The Academy Awards have a very mixed history in terms of LGBT content. Let’s hope that the gradual increase in acceptance and the greater number of out performers will create a steadier stream of nominees and winners in the years to come.

** POST OSCARS UPDATE: That was underwhleming! Other than Tim Gunn on the red carpet and James Franco in Marilyn drag, that was the least gay Adademy Awards I can remember in years. Kids got shut out – very sad.

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