Back In The Day: Gay Singing Stars From The Golden Age Of R&B

If you’re a fan of classic pop and R&B from the 1950s and ’60s, you know there’s a lot of lyrics about wooing girls and waiting for boys to call. But some of those singers were actually wooing boys and waiting for girls to call. (You know what we mean.) As we wait with baited breath for the release of retro-fabulous musical Sparkle next week, we decided to take a look at some queer artists from the golden age of pop.


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  • Brandon

    Dusty Springfield was a bisexual woman yet queerty fails to mention this (big surprise!), and engages in biphobia and bisexual erasure. They are also doing gay erasure and homophobia, since Johnny Mathis is gay but this is not mentioned at all.

  • Jason

    There’s also gay washing of Little Richard who is bisexual and not gay. I agree that Dusty was not lesbian she was bisexual and this is well known and a fact.

  • Muscato

    @Brandon: Huh? The piece quotes Dusty in a way that clearly indicates she was attracted to both men and women, and the only reason Johnny Mathis appears at all is because it’s a roundup of some LGBR&B (how’s that for an acronym?) singers.

    What I wonder is why Dusty Springfield always looks like she’s being punished by her hairdo…

  • Lifer

    The title “Gay Singing Stars” implies they were out when they were not. I don’t have an issue with how they chose to live in their public profile, it just seems you’re stretching to infer a gay identity, which is just not how they chose to live their lives.

    PS – no matter how many times you mention the movie Sparkle or try to memorialize Whitney, I’m still not going to see that awful looking movie.

  • aubrey

    i am retaliating on behalf of queerty attacking our site…sissydude.com lives fags!!!!


    billy preston! c’mon! people always forget about him. he was a session musician on the records of many of the greats like ray charles and little richard. was also known as the fifth beatle (frankly who wasn’t). and then his own stuff. that fella knew how to handle big organ. his song with syreeta ” with you i’m born again” is possibly my most favourite oldie love song.

  • aubrey

    now who can’t login to their site anymore… all of you…sissydude lives!!!!go to hell scott gatz….!!!!

  • james

    But was Dusty really bisexual? That is still up for dispute…She had her longest, most permanent relationship with a woman…and I don’t think she had any with men…
    Also, I have never heard of Little Richard being bisexual…pretty sure he was gay/ex-gay.
    It is not neccessarily bi-washing. I love bi people, they’re great and all around…but I have serious doubts that either Dusty or Richard was bisexual.

    Also, I love these artists…Dusty’s “Son of A Preacher Man” is one of the greatest R&B songs of all time, as is “Breakfast In Bed.”

    Lesley Gore and Johnny Mathis however only performed pop music, and Little Richard was a Rock and Roll artist predominantly.

    And to the guy who was saying how these people were not out – it was the 60’s!!

  • james

    By the way, Lesley Gore’s other top ten hit was “She’s A Fool” NOT “I Will Follow Him (Chariot).” “I Will Follow Him (Chariot)” was by Little Peggy March, a non-lesbo.

  • LadyL

    Oh, Mary! That “Dusty in Memphis” record was downright revelatory for the pre-pubescent me. I still melt every time I listen to her sultry rendition of “The Windmills of Your Mind.”
    I still do other things every time I listen to “The Look of Love.” ;-P

  • Dick

    Check out Dusty’s “A Brand New Me”. Tremendous song.

  • Eddie

    Oh! You all must be kidding ! Till now no one knew that Little Richard was gay ! How can something like that be possible ? He kept it very well closeted, didn’t he ?

  • Luke

    James, actually Dusty was bisexual. She came out in 1972 and in order to be bisexual you do not need to fall in love with both genders or have relationships with both genders.

    This is a prime example of gaywashing and bisexual erasure.

  • jeff4justice

    Kinda sad to think what kinda entertainment these talents could have put out if not having to conform to heterosexual standards.

    Glad to see it’s getting better in music for out music acts today.

  • Geri

    Oh come on Queerty & Dan Avery, you knew this post would piss-off the bisexuals.

    Why can’t a website called Queerty make more use of the term Queer? i.e.

    Back In The Day: Queer Singing Stars From The Golden Age Of R&B

  • Analog

    @james: One of the problems of people immediately screaming bisexual erasure with stars of previous eras is that many will have – quite obviously – had relationships with the opposite sex for the sake of appearances. I think we can safely read between the lines of people like Little Richard and Dusty Springfield and come to the conclusion they’re both gay.

  • Schlukitz

    Loved Johnny Mathis.

  • Cam

    As for Dusty Springfield… here is a quote from this article.

    “When their relationship )(With her girlfriend)) came to an end, Miss Springfield – born Mary O’Brien, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, in 1939 – found love with a string of different women.



    Funny, for a bisexual, and in a world where having a heterosexual relationship is much easier, interesting how she only went after women women.

  • Robert in NYC

    @james: Dusty did in fact have a relationship with another British pop singer, Eden Kane who wasn’t known in the U.S. The romance lasted several months and at one time there were rumors she would marry him, but didn’t. Dusty was not out though.

  • Geri

    Dusty Springfield first came out publicly in 1970 in an interview with Ray Connolly of the Evening Standard newspaper. She did not use the word bisexual to describe herself, but she indicated she was bisexual by saying: ” But I know that I’m as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy.”

    This statement should really be looked at in context:

    “Well, I don’t pick my nose, but I burp like everyone else. I don’t cut my toe nails, but I pull at them and tear them off. And I’m promiscuous. Not often, but when I am, I really am. I’m not a nymphomaniac. In fact, I could do with a lot more action really. I think my laziness even spreads so far.

    ‘It’s an effort to be promiscuous. I don’t mean that I leap into bed with someone special every night, but my affections are easily swayed and I can be very unfaithful. It’s fun while it’s happening, but it’s not fun afterwards because I’m filled with self-recriminations. The truth is I’m just very easily flattered by people’s attentions, and after a couple of vodkas I’m even more flattered.’

    She’s giggling a lot now. ‘I suppose to say I’m promiscuous is a bit of bravado on my part. I think it’s more in thought than in action. I’ve been that way ever since I discovered the meaning of the word. I used to go to confession and tell all my impure thoughts.’

    Suddenly she becomes serious again, and begins to space her words out carefully and thoughtfully. ‘There’s one thing that’s always annoyed me – and I’m going to get into something nasty here. But I’ve got to say it, because so many other people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve almost learned to accept it.

    ‘I don’t go leaping around to all the gay clubs but I can be very flattered. Girls run after me a lot and it doesn’t upset me. It upsets me when people insinuate things that aren’t true. I couldn’t stand to be thought of as a big butch lady. But I know that I’m as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t.

    ‘There was someone on television the other night who admitted that he swings either way. I suppose he could afford to say it, but I, being a pop singer, shouldn’t even admit that I might think that way. But if the occasion arose I don’t see why I shouldn’t.

    ‘And yet, I get such a charge out of walking down a street and having a guy who’s digging the road give me a whistle. This business makes me feel very unwomanly sometimes and I love to be admired just for being a woman. I don’t feel masculine. If I did I’d have more drive. But being a woman is very precious to me, and that’s probably why I could never get mixed up in a gay scene because it would be bound to undermine my sense of being a woman.

    ‘I’ve had this reputation for years, but I don’t know how I got it. I’m always hearing that I’ve been to this gay club and that gay club. But I haven’t. I sometimes wonder if it would be nice to live up to my reputation.

    ‘I got raided the other day by the police. But they didn’t find any drugs. I’ve hardly ever smoked as a matter of fact. As it happens I think I know who tipped them off, and it relates to what I’ve been saying. There was a rather hysterical lady who was upset because I didn’t fancy her. I think it was her.’

    She is not involved with anyone at the moment, and I wonder if she fears that she may never have a family.

    ‘I don’t know whether I want children or not,’ she says. ‘The urge to reproduce is always there, of course, but then I think “what for?” I probably wouldn’t be a terribly good mother. It would be great spasmodic moods of affection which don’t last and that wouldn’t be very stable.

    ‘I would like children psychologically and physically, although there’s something which stops me from just reproducing. But there has to be something more than what I do. There just has to be something more for me.’

    The whole original article is republished here:

    As she had apparently already had several quite serious same-sex relationships by this time she was not being entirely honest, however she was being remarkably open considering it was 1970.

    Dusty obviously didn’t like people calling her gay. And she was subsequently fairly consistent in statements regarding her sexuality in basically insisting that she wasn’t gay because she liked men as well as women. E.G.

    “I mean, people say that I’m gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I’m not anything. I’m just … People are people… I basically want to be straight … I go from men to women; I don’t give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can’t love a man. Now, that’s my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition … They frighten me.”
    Interview with Chris Van Ness of Los Angeles Free Press 1973

    Unfortunately I can’t source a complete transcript of that interview.

  • David Ehrenstein

    Johnny Mathis is out and has been for some time. I ran into him several years back at a supermarket in WeHo. He was shopping with several friends. Poeple (gay and straight) came up to him to say Hi and tell him how much his music meant to them, and he was both gracious and joyous. A really lovely man. A chapter of John Waters’ “Role Models” is devoted to him.

    I had a chance to chat with Dusty many years back here in L.A. when she was opening for Peter Allen at the Greek There was a pary at a gay restaurant nightclub aterwards (forget the sname) and she was teriffic.

    If you can manage to do so somethow, get ahold of a copy of the anthology “The Queer Sixties” edited by Patricia Juliana Smiht (Routeledge 1999) In it you’ll find Smith’s essay “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me: The Camp Masquerades of Dusty Springfield.”

    Here’s one of my Dusty Faves —



    @Geri: good point. certainly, life would be easier around here with “queer” as the default. problem is “queer” doesn’t have anything near universal acceptance — of course no label does, but some REALLY object to the connotations of the word more so than gay, and they’ve got too much invested in their own individual label.

    there are a myriad of problems with assigning a once and for all sexual identity to anybody, famous or not. it’s pretty much arbitrary and unscientific — finally, where a person falls on the kinsey scale overall could only be established on their deathbed after a lifetime of sexual or romantic experiences behind them — actualised or fantasised; but even this would not reveal what was repressed. people REALLY, REALLY lie about sex even to themselves. so scientifically accurate it ain’t — hardly surprising, because life is complicated, human brain even more so, and love and desire is off the fuckin chart.

    for practical reasons we have to rely on peoples self-description despite knowing people can self-identify variously for reasons of convenience, fear, embarrassment, wishful thinking or self-delusion. Self-identified 100% gays no less immune to these forces than are the homo-denying closet-cases so it’s not necessarily anti-gay to raise the question whether a gay person might actually in fact be bisexual. just no one pretend we can ever *know* an other persons reality.

    moreover, it’s wrongheaded to assume that just because an ostensibly gay or lesbian star wasn’t observed having relationships with the opposite gender that they couldn’t be bisexual. or indeed if they had an overwhelming preference** or even exclusively physically indulged in homosexual sex that precludes them from having a rich fantasy life about the other gender, acted on or not. attraction alone is the minimal requirement to hop on board this human sexuality ride.

    oh and for the record i DO BELIEVE IN YOU KINSEY SIXERS, so stand down!

    ** is it ok to say bisexuals can have a sexual “preference”?… at least within their orientation?…i’m floundering here.


    neil sedaka — was more than a bit sus lol

  • ginasf

    What on earth has Leslie Gore has to do with the “Golden Age of R&B?” Maybe you really mean the 50s and 60s? One person worth mentioning is Billy Preston who was an out gay man to most of the people he performed with and knew. Billy (before working with the Beatles and Stones) did a lot of R&B session work and was a regular on the fab tv show “Shindig.”

  • LadyL

    @Analog: Precisely. In all the speculating as to who was or was not really bi as opposed to gay, it’s crucial to remember that. This is especially a generational issue, as many stars from earlier eras who wished to protect their careers and themselves had little choice but to cultivate the appearamce of heterosexuality. If personal fear didn’t compel them, managers and agents usually did. And the beards could be obliging professional acquaintences, protective friends they truly loved, or near-strangers. Then there were the lavender marriages, in which both parties had secret lives to protect, pasts to bury.

  • Dame Helga von Ornstein

    I applaud ALL of the featured artists in this article AND those who kept quiet about their sexuality. This was a TOTALLY different era and it would have been artistic suicide for many of them to open their mouths about their sexuality without the backing of their labels. Musicians (white musicians mainly) could whether the storm a lot better than black musicians considering the “power” of the black reverends and the control they had over their flocks. That is the only reason that I suspect that the Dynamic Superiors did not do as well as they did. They have a beautiful harmony but it is OBVIOUS to anyone who has passed by a gay bar or seen a gay man that these talented guys are gay.

    Once you reach superstardome (six door Rolls-Royce, penthouse Waldorf-Astoria suites, private jets……….) it becomes more of a question of money than pride as to whether you want the public to know if you prefer a “pole to a hole”. If I had to make that decision and lived in the Jed Clampett mansion my reaction would be “none of your god damn business” and leave it at that. Elton John shocked me (though I knew it all along) when he revealed to Rolling Stone that he had an affair with Bernie. I thought for sure that would be the end of him but it wasn’t. By the time Boy George came along in the 1980’s it wasn’t that people didn’t know or suspect that an artist might be gay but more of a “do I like the song or not” mentality.

    It is sad (but true) public opinion (after vicious rumors were spread about both) played a big roll in Jim Nabors losing his show while Rock Hudson was allowed to keep his but when an artist is a money maker and the rumors about a particular artist might be more apt to go away for one that it is for another the dollar will win EVERY time. That is also why Little Richard came back as a bi-sexual than simply gay (he played a strait neighbor with a wife in Down and Out in Beverly Hills) he knew he had to get the bills paid and he as nearly broke.

    Not everyone is able to put their mouth where their pocketbook is or will be shortly after the public has had time to think. Gay or strait (depending on what is being reported).

  • Drew

    David Ehrenstein I agree that Mathis’ music is wonderful but the essay in the John Waters book about him was creepy and stalkerish.

  • lovefromme

    I love reading this stuff from all of you with all of your great stories.

    I was a poor white boy living in a trailer in the south.
    I just KNEW when someone was gay – sadly, it was usually Paul Lynde on TV, but whatever.

    I discovered music to help me – other than Batman (Adam West!) and Lost in Space (Mark Goddard)

    Music – The Who first (Roger!), but then Alice Cooper – and they weren’t even famous then!
    And T.Rex, Slade, and then BOWIE!

    Y’all know the rest of the story.
    Oh yeah, add New York Dolls – I introduced them to my 12th grade English class in 1974.
    They didn’t get it.

  • james


    That is, of course, my point with Dusty and Little Richard. Neither were bisexual. This was the 60’s…Dusty had a questionable relationship with Eden Kane, for a few months…But over thirty years of relationships with just women. She said that she wanted to be attracted to men, but wasn’t. If Little Richard was bi…would he really have been one of the biggest flaming queens on the planet…and would he really have been so involved with ex-gay therapy and changing his sexual identity so often.
    In those times these people just couldn’t bring themselves to even admit to the fact that they were gay…so ‘bent’ or ‘bisexual’ were used…
    much to the shagrin of actual bisexuals who often have to deal with the stereotype that they are in a ‘transitional period’ of excepting themselves as gay, when they aren’t.
    But hopefully all that will fade.
    Now, If we wanna talk about bisexuals – we can talk about James Dean ;)…

  • Rick

    @Analog-And who is to say that Dusty and Little Richard are not bisexual? They were both sexually attracted to both genders, and that makes them bisexual.

  • Analog

    @Rick: “And who is to say that Dusty and Little Richard are not bisexual?”

    Anyone with a modicum of intelligence? :)

  • F Stratford

    This is awesome. I’m going to tell my grandparents that their favorite crooner, Johnny Mathis is gay!!!

    Looking forward to their awkward faces.

  • Schlukitz

    @F Stratford:

    Especially when then realize that they were making out in the back seat of the car in a lovers lane while Johnny was crooning love songs to them. Hee Hee

  • M02

    Top 10 Dusty Springfield songs:D
    1. Windmills of your mind
    2. Wishin and hopin
    3. Son of a Preacher Man
    4. I just don’t know what to do with myself
    5. Alone
    6. You don’t have to say you love me
    7. Breakfast in Bed
    8. Don’t want to hear it anymore
    9. Just a little lovin
    10. So much love

  • M02

    Top 10 Dusty Springfield songs:D
    1. Windmills of your mind
    2. Wishin and hopin
    3. Son of a Preacher Man
    4. I just don’t know what to do with myself
    5. I can’t make it alone
    6. You don’t have to say you love me
    7. Breakfast in Bed
    8. Don’t want to hear it anymore
    9. Just a little lovin
    10. So much love

  • Mita

    Analog they were both bisexual quit being biphobic and practicing bisexual erasure.

  • Geri

    @Robert in NYC: Here @ 08.00

    Eden Kane himself says Dusty Springfield was gay and that it was their manager who decided to link them romantically. It was never a real relationship.

    Fighting the quirky queerty system here, as I’ve tried to post the above info as part of a longer comment which keeps getting blocked as a “duplicate comment” – a “duplicate comment” that never shows up in the thread. V. frustrating.

  • Geri

    Okay seem to be getting through now. Sol et’s try the next bit.

    Dusty Springfield spent most of the 70s in a relationship with a woman called Faye Harris.

    In the early 80s she had a somewhat briefer relationship with the lesbian rock singer Carole Pope of the band Rough Trade.

    Carole Pope is usually identified as lesbian but sometimes as bisexual, and she has had at least one documented relationship with a man.

    In 1988 Dusty apparently told the News Of The World: “I have tried sex with both men and women. I found I liked it”

    Unfortunately I can’t source that article / interview. And well, it is the News Of The World. So that means she might not even have said that and they just made it up because that’s the sort of newspaper they were.

  • Geri

    Let’s try a bit more.

    A few years before the NOTW quote about liking sex with man & women Dusty Springfield had secretly married her girlfriend Teda Bracci, a little known American actress

    Sadly, that relationship didn’t work out and became very violent and abusive. They split up after less than two years.

    Dusty apparently continued to have relationships with women, but I can’t source any names. Dusty may also have tried out being with men after Teda, which may explain the NOTW quote.

  • Analog

    @Mita: Sorry, but it seems clear to me that neither were bisexual. James Dean, on the other hand…
    With respect, I’d say you should quit diluting the term “biphobia” and stripping it of all meaning in the process. It means something quite different to someone claiming – based on the glaringly obvious – that Dusty Springfield and Little Richard were gay. The key part of the word is “phobia” – someone isn’t homoPHOBIC just because they might claim that Cary Grant, say, wasn’t gay – as all available evidence points to him being straight (apart from those staged photos with Gary Cooper) – the gay rumours come from an experienced reading of the man and the prejudice of the time in which he lived. Indeed, it’s a safer bet to claim that he was bisexual, if you take into account the amount of long term relationships he had with women and some of the stories those women have told.

    There seems to be almost a desperation on here lately to claim that all gay celebrities are or were in fact bisexual. I prefer to weigh the evidence against the knowledge of the prejudice they faced in their own time.

    As for “bisexual erasure” – you’ll notice that the vast majority of gay people for the last 30+ years have used the acronym LGBT – the “B” obviously stands for bisexual – that’s a very silly way to erase something, by giving it as much prominence in our struggle as everyone else. None of us here it seems to me are denying the existence of bisexuality – that would be utterly absurd. As is the accusation of “bisexual erasure” in this regard.

    We’re talking about historical accuracy here, nothing more.
    And we need to tread carefully, by applying what we can confidently assume and what we actually know to be factual.

    As I’ve said before on here, as far as homophobia goes, we’re on the same “side” – as gay people and bisexual people will both experience homophobia – that’s a fact.

  • jimmybobby

    Thanks for the list of Dusty Springfield tunes. Checked them out this Sun AM.
    Adele and kd lang have a peer. Or is it pier

  • IzzyLuna

    The interesting thing about Dusty Springfield’s song “I Only Wanna Be With You” is that it was remade by 80’s sex symbol Samantha Fox (Touch Me, Naughty Girls Need Love To, I Wanna Have Some Fun), who also ended up coming out later as a lesbian with a longtime partner.

  • David Ehrenstein

    @Drew: Well I would LOVE to be stalked by John.

    Back to Dusty — she was an inspiration to gay men (eg. The Pet Shop Boys) drag queens (eg. “The Crying Game’ in which Jaye Davison copies Dusty’s every gesture) and lesbians.

    Talk about “crossover”!!!!

  • nineinchnail

    Does Dusty’s sexuality matter? I appreciate her for that beautiful voice of hers. Period.

  • dvlaries

    Gore had a fantastic 1963 with four Top Tens in a row, “It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn To Cry,” “She’s A Fool,” and “You Don’t Own Me,” the latter of which would have been her second No. 1 except for the phenomenal “I Want To Hold Your Hand” sitting above it, The Beatles then on the scene.
    The British Invasion pushed Gore’s numbers further down the chart, but she still continued with another great 18 months: “That’s The Way Boys Are,” “I Don’t Want To Be A Loser,” “Hey Now,” “Maybe I Know,” “Look Of Love” and “Sunshine Lollipops And Rainbows.” A brief but stunning return came in 1967 with “California Nights,” an early Marvin Hamlisch composition.
    The greater number of Gore’s hits were produced by a young Quincy Jones, building his own credibility as a music wizard. The results of his work with Gore are some of them most enduring popcraft of the 1960s.

  • like

    ugh…BATED breath…not “baited”

  • Jaroslaw

    Analog and Cam – thanks so much for trying. Once you see the words “biphobia” and “bisexual erasure” you are talking to a brick wall. I know from previous discussions. But again, thanks for putting forth historical accuracy.

  • Geri

    @Analog: James Dean wasn’t a singing star. This isn’t a thread about actors.

    And Cary Grant’s rumoured bisexual boyfriend was Randolph Scott, not Gary Cooper. And none of those guys were singing stars either, now were they.

    I understand why people think Dusty Springfield was gay and not bisexual. All her documented love affairs apart from Eden Kane, which he himself has said was fake, were with women, four of whom I can name. Perhaps the closest she ever got to having a real boyfriend was the man she lived with for the last 15 months of her life – the singer Simon Bell. And that wasn’t a sexual relationship. But she has been listed as a bisexual musician on wikipedia and other similar reference websites for years. That’s obviously based far more on what she said than what she is known to have actually done.

    Little Richard however has indeed said he is gay, but has had sexual relationships with women He was married, briefly, to a woman called Ernestine Campbell. And he has had a very long association with a dancer called Audrey Robinson, aka Lee Angel, with whom he (as she put it) established an orthodox physical relationship.

    So, if Dusty was gay and not bi because of what she did rather than what she said; why is Little Richard also gay instead of bi because of what he’s said rather than what he’s done?

  • Geri

    @james: My last comment should have been addressed to James as well as Analog as I see it was actually James who brought up James Dean – who some people (surprise surprise) insist was gay.

    As nobody’s attempted to answer my question in my previous post I’m going to respond to James’ questions:

    1 “If Little Richard was bi…would he really have been one of the biggest flaming queens on the planet”

    Why not? You don’t really think a bisexual man can’t be a flaming queen do you?

    2 “…and would he really have been so involved with ex-gay therapy and changing his sexual identity so often.”

    You don’t seriously think that the God-Fearing folk who got to Richard Wayne Penniman are anymore tolerant of bisexual people than gay people do you?

    You don’t really believe that bisexual don’t get involved with ex-gay therapy do you?

    You don’t really think the God Botherers think being bisexual is just fine and dandy do you?

    Jeez. Give us a break.

    As for frequently changing sexual identity; this is something that bisexuals and people with fluid sexuality (obviously) are more prone to doing than straights and gays. Not less.


    bisexuals need to commit suicide and stop shoving their perverse ways on everybody else.


  • Eddie Yemaya

    And her CAMEO album is almost as great as her DUSTY IN MEMPHIS.
    Check it out!

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