Script for November 2001, QMH:

Intro:

In 1974 Steven Grossman released his album "Caravan Tonight." He has the distinction of being the first openly gay artist signed to a major label, in this case Mercury, and the lyrics were even on the album jacket. Grossman died of AIDS in 1991. From that album here is the song "out"

Steven Grossman - out (1974)

That was "out" by Steven Grossman.

Since there will be many obscurities heard on this show, I thought those on the internet would like to be able to see photos of the artists and recordings, and view the playlist. So therefore you'll be able to see the cover of Steven Grossman's historic album. You can do that at www.queermusicheritage.com.

Sonia promo

Next up is the song "I miss you" by Blackberri

Blackberri - I miss you (1981)

That was a little bit of the song "I miss you" by Blackberri, from his 1981 album "Blackberri and Friends: Finally." And Blackberri is the feature artist on tonight's show, and I'm delighted to be able to share an interview I did with him. He is a pioneer in gay-oriented music. I first became acquainted with his music because two of his songs are on the various artists album from 1979 called "Walls To Roses." That album includes the song "Gay Spirit" by Charlie Murphy, which I use to start off every show, and "Walls To Roses" is kind of a landmark album, because it was put together by a collective of gay and straight men supporting the struggle against sexism. Blackberri was invited to participate because of his music and long history of activism. When I began researching his work I was surprised how many different areas he has touched.

He was one of the first openly gay artists to perform his music live on the radio, on two San Francisco area stations. You'll hear him talk about Steven Grossman, whom you heard at the beginning on the show, and his music was included in the wonderful documentary 'Word Is Out." That film was from 1978 and was produced by Peter Adair, and was one of the first films to present our stories, from our point of view. And Blackberri made contributions to the movies "Looking For Langston" and "Tongues Untied," that dealt with black gay America.

He was born Charles Ashmore in 1945 and I asked him about his name.

How did you get the name Blackberri?

I was living in a community in Tucson that defined itself as a feminist community. This community that I lived in was near the university where a group of folks that kind of all moved in the same vicinity and we had the same politics. It was near the women's building and I had started a gay liberation group. One of the things that we decided to do as a community at one point was to choose names that didn't refer to us as gender. I got the name Blackberri from one of the women in the group.

Did you change it legally?
Yeah, I changed it legally.

And when did you start making your own music?
I started making music when I was a kid and I started writing songs when I was in my teens.

Did you start out with a certain style, like gospel or blues?
Oh, yeah, I actually started when I actually started I started writing for a gospel group, I was in a gospel group. I had learned a lot of different styles from just growing up.

When you finally got to the point where you were doing recording, how would you describe your musical style then, like for someone who hadn't heard it?
Eclectic…that's all I can say. I use music to communicate certain moods and certain feelings and certain styles of music say things better than other styles I feel so I try to use a style of music that would express what I'm trying to say.

I understand that you worked with Steven Grossman a little bit, can you tell us about that?
I met Steven when I came to San Francisco early I guess 75, I'd been in the Bay Area for about a year. We did some concerts together and we did the first gay, openly gay music program on KQED, it was called Two Songmakers.

Was it a series or a one show…
It was a one-time show. It was produced by a Canadian engineer name of Steve O'Neil

What happened in your career next?
In my career next I met Peter Adair, who was interested in one of my songs for his film "The Word Is Out". I got interviewed for the film but for some reason I didn't make it, but my song made it.

In the film it was done by group Buena Vista, what do you think of their version of it?
What do you think of Buena Vista's version of that?
Ah, it was okay, they called it "He's Okay," but the song was really "It's Okay," but that's okay.

Buena Vista - he's okay (1978)                [SEE ARTICLE BELOW]

That was Buena Vista's version of "he's okay" from the movie "Word Is Out." Next I asked Blackberri about his live radio work.

Was Fruit Punch in there somewhere?
Ah, Fruit Punch featured me a lot, I did a lot of benefits for them. I did a lot of on-air live concerts, some in the studio, some were simucast from different venues.

For the benefit of the listeners, what is Fruit Punch?
Fruit Punch is listener-sponsored radio on KPFA , the Pacifica station in Berkeley that broadcasts out of Berkeley

So, how did you get to Walls To Roses?
Walls To Roses, I don't know how I got to Walls To Roses. Somebody I guess had passed my name to Willie.

Willie Sordill.
Yeah, when they were looking for people to participate.

Was all the recording done pretty much at the same time, so, were all the artists together at the same time?
Pretty much, we were all in the studio at the same time.

Did you write those songs for that album, or did you already have them written.
They were already written.

These were ones that you had been performing and so forth?
Yeah, I had been performing them before. The Flowers The Weeds was an old song actually. But When Will The Ignorance End came from around the time of Bakke. I tried to do something that would tie in all the struggles together.

From the "Walls To Roses" album, here is "when will the ignorance end"

Blackberri - when will the ignorance end (1979)

That was "when will the ignorance end" from the album "Walls To Roses"

And then next came your solo album?
Yeah, after that came the solo album.

It was called Blackberri and Friends: Finally, how come the finally?
Well, because we had started on it in 79, and ran out of funds and had to raise money to finish it and people were waiting on it, so we (laughs) finally got it done.

[I asked Blackberri about Richard Dworkin. I need to interject who Richard is. I'm one of those music collectors who reads all the album credits, and I've seen Richard's name on many albums. For example, he was in Doug Stevens band on Doug's second album, he's been a member of Alex Chilton's band, and he's played drums as a session artist on countless albums. But many know him as Michael Callen's lover, and he produced the postumous album of Michael's work called "Legacy." So, for me it was natural to ask about Dworkin.]

Richard Dworkin was on that album, can you tell me about your working with him?
Richard, um, I was working with Richard a long time before that album.

He would play for your shows?
Yeah, we were basically like a trio, Richard and the bass player Freddy from Buena Vista, the three of us had like a little trio.

This was in San Francisco?
This was in San Francisco, yeah.

Was Richard in Buena Vista,
Yeah, Richard was in Buena Vista?

So that ties that circle, doesn't it?
Yeah,
before I leave 1981 I want to ask about the song "It's Okay". Did it have any particular meaning, or were you trying to say something?
It was actually about my first love, "It's Okay" was about an affair I had with a boy in my neighborhood that lasted, I guess, nine years.

What neighborhood was this?
I grew up in Baltimore. We came out at a time that coming out was not even popular, but we didn't care. We were in our early teens.

Blackberri - it's okay (1981)

'It's Okay" is my favorite song on the album, is it yours, or which is your favorite?
I guess they're all my favorites really cause they made it to the album.

Another song that is very out on that album is the one about Tony, and that's also almost a country and western song.
Well, it is a country and western song, not almost.

Oh, okay.
That was a lament song. Tony was a young man I met at the Castro Street Fair. I met him and another boy, I had brought both of them home with me.

At the same time? At the same time?
Yeah, you know, this was the 70s, you could (laughs) do stuff like that.

Blackberri - please help me to forget (1981)

That was the song "please help me to forget" from Blackberri's album called "Blackberri and Friends: Finally." In 1989 Isaac Julien directed a movie in Britain called "Looking For Langston." It dealt with the life of Langston Hughes, who was one of the most noted black poets of a period of the 1920s known as the Harlem Renaissance. Many believe Langston Hughes was gay. And in 1991 Marlon Riggs directed the movie "Tongues Untied" about African-American gay life. I asked Blackberri about his contribution to both of these movies.

Okay, I want to jump to Looking To Langston. How did you get involved with that movie?
The filmmaker, Isaac Julien, came to a People of Color conference in L.A., and he saw me perform and he liked Beautiful Black Man. A lot of the film, especially the club scene, was written around the song really. And Blues for Langston was supposed to be the title song for the film but they liked that song so much that they decided to use it in the film itself, so it got woven throughout the song with Beautiful Black Man.

Blackberri - beautiful black man (1989)

That was "Beautiful Black Man," from "Looking For Langston"

Did that lead you to Tongues Untied and you working with Marlon Riggs?
Ah, Marlon had contacted me, he actually wanted to use Beautiful Black Man in Tongues Untied, it was already in Looking For Langston. So, Marlon, Marlon liked my voice, he used me in his last five films actually

You were in Tongues Untied, right?
I was in Tongues Untied, I was in No Regrets, and there's a little short cameo in Black Is, Black Ain't but it's so short you wouldn't even know it…(laughs) it's real short

Blackberri's music continued into the 90s. In 1998 my favorite gay folk artist Mark Weigle invited Blackberri to sing on his CD "The Truth Is" and that album went on to be nominated for a GLAMA award in the debut album category, so naturally I asked Blackberri about the song he did on that album.

Tell me about working with Mark Weigle, how did you meet him.
Ah, Mark I met, Mark was a friend of somebody I knew in somewhere in the midwest, who knew Mark and gave Mark my phone number, and Mark came to the Bay Area he contacted me, and he brought me his first tape and I listened to it and we formed a friendship and we stayed in touch and he called me one day and he said he had this project he was working on and he wanted me to hear the song and I liked it and I said sure I'd like to do it. And he came and got me from work one day; I was supposed to be working but we stole away for a few hours in the studio and laid those tracks down and then got me back to work before anyone knew I was missing.

I was also able to get some comments from Mark Weigle about working with Blackberri on his song

I first saw Blackberri perform in San Francisco a few years back and had never heard his stuff before and I was just absolutely blown away, the guy's so professional and talented and to find out that he'd been putting out openly gay lyriced folk music back in the 70s and stuff I was just really inspired, and so when it came time for me to record the first CD, um, he was in the Bay Area where I'm from and I just thought it would be a great idea, I kind of rewrote "No More Nights Alone" to be a duet and invited him to join me, which was really a thrill for me, um and we came into the studio, and I'm about maybe 5'8", a little thin white guy and Blackberri is like 6 foot something and big barrel chested and has dred locks down to his ankles with white salt and pepper dred locks and here we're coming in to look deeply into each other's eyes and sing this love song to each other and my sound engineer just sort of saw us come through the door, and his jaw dropped, I'd not realized quite our contrast til that moment, so and Blackberri got up and sang his part of the song and he really did it differently than I had originally written and sung the melody for years so I was kind of caught off guard and then as I listened to what he did I just absolutely loved it and by the time I got up there to do my part I was just all into it and my vocals were one take, I was feeling all sexy about the whole thing, just did it all at once so I'm really happy about the way it turned out. People come up to me all over the country when they see his name on the back of the CD, and you know I've had people break into tears and say you know I saw Blackberri years ago or we both worked in this organization in New York in the 70s or whatever, they've so happy to know that he's still around, and that always really feels really good to me

From Mark Weigle's album "The Truth Is" here is Mark and Blackberri singing "no more nights alone."

Mark Weigle & Blackberri - no more nights alone (1998, 4:01)

Blackberri QMH ID

Well, since I asked Mark Weigle to tell us about working with Blackberri, I figured it was fair to ask Sonia of Disappear Fear about working with Mark Weigle

Mark Weigle! I love him, he, I was in California and I was doing some shows out there and we had talked about doing some, performing, he had joined me at long beach pride last year and that was fun and um he just has a really cool voice and he just sings from his heart and I like his music a lot so he asked me if I would come sing some on his album and I said absolutely and we were able to coordinate it, I like the song um and we did it. He's a good guy.

So, here is a duet by Mark Weigle and Sonia, doing "other houses" from Mark's album "All That Matters"

Mark Weigle & Sonia - other houses (2000)

Sonia is one of my favorite artists. She was a member of the highly acclaimed duo Disappear Fear, along with her sister, Cindy Frank. Between 1988 and 1996 they released five outstanding albums. In 1998 and 1999 she released two albums as a solo act, and I think they are even more incredible. Between her solo work and that with Disappear Fear, they were among the most nominated artists in the history of the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards, the GLAMAs. They got 9 nominations and won 3. So I'm very pleased that she's released a new album, and I got these comments from her.

Sonia, tell us about the new CD.
oh, my new CD, it's going to be called "sonia live at the down home" and the down home is a little fun acoustic joint in eastern Tennessee in Johnson city I love playing there, the room is just wild, and crazy and I've had some really magical moments there so I thought it would be kind of cool to run a tape and it worked out quite well

And how is this CD different from your last two CDs?
It's totally live, really there's as much audience on it as there is me (laughs) lots of hooting and hollering and going crazy and a lot of sweat and you know nothing's corrected it's rough and ready and raw and fun, it's all right there

From the new album, let's hear "fallin"

Sonia - fallin' (2001)

I'd love to hear about the song "me, too"
My partner terry when she was a little girl had a brother who was about three years older than her and everything that he ever wanted she would always just say "me too", all the time, in fact her parents thought she had no other vocabulary except that, um, but she did ,and that's kind of how the phrase started cause that's really all she said for the first 3,4 5 years of her life, um, and then as time went on the story really is of her relationship with her father um she's very proud of her father and his time in the military um and they were very close um and then it was really it was really her words that painted the picture and I took that and put that into the song, from what I could tell, and then, the idea of the flag, I mean, really what it is is it's a love for, it's a love I think that all of us that underneath all this mucky muck is a pure love that we do have and and that is what brings us together and I think the principles with regard to the constitution and our flag that this was based on a collective idea, an idea that people could live, different people of different beliefs and rituals could live together peacefully and through all of these wonderful places that we come from, from different lands and different backgrounds and different languages and different customs, but together we would build this place called America and ..it's that that her father went to fight for, this country, and it was that that he instilled in her ah just because she ended up being gay, those rights shouldn't be taken away from her..and the latter part of the song I is my, I mean I had this vision of her talking to her father and that's my vision, that's not exactly the way it was, but it is for me, and to me that's the way it can be

Before we hear the song, I want to thank you all for tuning in to the show, and I especially want to thank Blackberri for my feature interview and Sonia and Mark Weigle for their interview comments. And if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please email me. This is JD Doyle for Lesbian & Gay Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the 4th Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage.

Now, from Sonia's new CD "Sonia, Live At The Down Home," here is "me, too"

Sonia - me, too (2001)

Total time: 59:17