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Let me hear an amen.

Gay and lesbian singers from coast to coast reclaim their faith in inspirational music

When Joseph Buck was growing up, he found a sense of peace and belonging in singing at church every Sunday. "I remember the minister's incredible imagery, and it was also that connection--of being able to see the very same faces in any black church I attended. It really brought me a lot of comfort." A disillusioned Buck, however, later found conflict in these very same houses of worship. "When I really began to hear how the minister was always talking about the `gay person,' I knew I had to leave all that," he recalls.

So where do gay and lesbian people go when they've lost their source of spiritual music? For Buck, the answer was New York City's Lavender Light Gospel Choir. The 16-year-old organization was founded with the express directive of honoring and cultivating black gospel music within a welcoming environment for gay and lesbian people of all colors. The group was scheduled to perform at Manhattan's Town Hall venue earlier this month as part of the gay pride celebration.

Maria-Elena Grant, who cochairs the choir with Buck, remembers some interesting examples of how Lavender Light's blend of familiar church tunes, choral pop, spoken word, and riproaring praise-the-creator chants touches people in unexpected ways. "One man came up to me after a concert and asked, `Can I hug you?' and I said yes. He said, `I am so happy. I just had oral surgery, and I was in so much pain. But after two hours with you guys, my teeth don't hurt me anymore,'" recalls Grant, laughing.

Like Lavender Light, Los Angeles-based singer Steve Kerry has also chosen to reclaim religious imagery and spiritual messages "from oppressors who want to take those things away from gay people." Drawing upon biblical references, Kerry has created, under the name Stain'd Glass, a concept album of pop and dance songs called Family Values. The very first song he wrote for the 11-track set was inspired by Matthew Shepard's murder. In keeping with his theme, Kerry titled it "Matthew 21:22." "The first thing people say when they want to reject a gay person is, `Well, the Bible says so,'" explains Kerry. "I'd like this CD to touch some younger lives out there in the heartland--people who are maybe dealing with rejection from their families for coming out."

Broadway performer Michael McElroy agrees that there are healing benefits to turning to affirming or spiritual music in difficult times. He founded the Broadway Gospel Choir seven years ago in response to the way AIDS was ravaging the theater community. "At the time, we were losing dancers, directors, and actors, and there was just no logic to it," he recalls. So McElroy--who is currently performing in Rent--asked 10 friends from different stage shows to join him in performing music to raise money for AIDS. McElroy says that his gospel choir, which grew from 11 people to 55 and is now known as Broadway Inspirational Voices, "is a multiracial, multiethnic environment where people feel free to have a spiritual experience without feeling judged. When I was growing up in the church, you felt that God did not love you because of this big dark thing that you were."

Grant believes that "there are all sorts of trials and tribulations" for which people seek solace in inspirational music--though she does recall one concertgoer who left feeling more fulfilled than most. "A heterosexual woman came down from Washington, D.C., last year to see us for the first time," she recalls. After the performance, the woman told Grant "that it was as if we took her heart out of her chest, massaged it, and put it back in."

Tucker has also written for Time Out New York, Interview, and Paper.

Find Web sites for these and other gay inspirational musicians at www.advocate.com
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Article Details
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Author:Tucker, Karen Iris
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 19, 2001
Words:650
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