Underneath an ever-growing swath of Pride anthems are a number of musical celebrations of queerness nearly lost to time. Among those gems sits a catchy ’70s tune with a title that, through a more recent chart-topper, we’ve come to be all too familiar with.
The original “I Was Born This Way” track was written by ally Burnetta “Bunny” Jones, a Harlem hair salon tycoon (naturally with many a gay employee). She opened Astral Sound Studios Inc. in 1971, the first major recording studio in the country owned and operated by a Black woman, which she came to rename “Gaiee Records.” Jones told The Advocate, “I named the label Gaiee because I wanted to give gay people a label they can call home.”
Charles “Valentino” Harris was scouted for the recording during a stint in a Long Island revival of Hair, and proved to be just the gay for the job. With his brightly energetic vocals and the light, triumphant sound of the record, “I Was Born This Way” became a beloved dance track in local clubs.
After approximately 15,000 indie sales of the record – many out of the back of Jones’ car – and that good ole’ dance-floor groundswell, Motown’s Barry Gordy took notice. He bought the entire label in an attempt to move into music for queer audiences (and, of course, their money) and distributed the single further.
Unfortunately, between its inability to crossover into the mainstream and the refusal from many in the industry to play or sell the record, “I Was Born This Way” was commercially hindered. After its encumbered performance, Gordy unceremoniously shuttered Gaiee records, with “I Was Born This Way” being one of the only songs to ever come out of the label.
Motown re-recorded the song with gay singer Archbishop Carl Bean in 1977 to slightly more fanfare. This longer disco cut of the record had UK audiences specifically shaking their groove thangs — or whatever the British version of a groove thang is.
Of course, the success of both Valentino and Bean’s versions are nothing like that which would be seen by Lady Gaga’s own iconic “Born This Way” some three decades later, but the latter is in a roundabout way helping to keep the legacy of the formers alive.
With this storied history in mind, here is Valentino’s “I Was Born This Way”…