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Sing out, sisters!

Queer musical taste is nearly synonymous with a fondness for female vocalists. Lesbians love 'em, gay men worship 'em, and even the rest of the world recognizes that special, borderingon-cliche connection between homos and their divas. With women supplying more pop, rock, and R&B chart toppers than ever and with stars as mainstream as Cher now owning up to the fact that their current hits first targeted gay followings, female-vocalist fandom has finally come out of the closet.

There's little explicitly gay about Lilith Fair, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 or Ultimate Divas, but it's nearly impossible to consider these albums without thinking about lesbian and gay audiences. Sarah McLachlan's annual Lilith Fair may seem to straights like a female answer to Lollapalooza's testosterone overload, but its truer precedent is the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, a lesbian tradition that extends back to the '70s. Although it attracts mixed audiences, Lilith has for the past two years showcased several lesbian talents and will undoubtedly do the same this summer. You can also bet that among the high-pitched screams heard on these live albums are the cries of enraptured dykes.

Whereas the initial Lilith collection offered plenty of folky soft spots from the inaugural year, these new discs reflect the tougher, more diverse 1998 tour. Vol. 2 kicks off with Sinead O'Connor's enraged "Fire on Babylon" reggae, segues into bilingual African singer Angelique Kidjo's jazzy "Never Know," blends rap with balladry on Queen Latifah's "Life," and lays down an ethereal grunge groove with Heather Nova's "Island"--and those are just the first four tracks. Vol. 3's opening salvo of Me'Shell Ndegeocello's moody, retro-funky "Soul Record," Luscious Jackson's bouncy dance-rock hit "Naked Eye," and Liz Phair's swaggering alternative-rock evergreen "Never Said" similarly lets you know Lilith isn't only about angelic gals with acoustic guitars. Although McLachlan's solo turn is so perfect, it suggests postconcert studio tinkering, pitch-poor performances by Cowboy Junkies, Tracy Bonham, and Sixpence None the Richer prove Lilith could still use more first-rate female rockers.

Divas have been around for centuries, but it's gay men who've translated them from the opera world into the pop arena, informing our ideas about contemporary female singers as strong-willed, independent, occasionally wacky souls. Ultimate Divas doesn't offer much that's new to the average adult sodomite, but that's precisely the point: Aside from its tragic omission of disco, this is a perfect primer on 20th-century gay-pop preferences, the ideal junior-high graduation present for that nelly nephew in your life.

Spanning 1940s Billie Holiday and Lena Home to recent Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton, Ultimate Divas nearly lives up to its Greatest Female Vocalists of Our Time subtitle, although Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield, k.d. lang, and at least a dozen others could have served just as well. The track selection seems to be defined by economics as much as by history: Arista, the label behind the project, owns seven of the 17 selections, and the resulting cuts by Chaka Khan, Dionne Warwick, and Aretha Franklin are hardly quintessential. Yet any album that unites Ella Fitzgerald's "Someone to Watch Over Me," Gladys Knight's "Midnight Train to Georgia," and Annie Lennox's "Why" is obviously doing something pink.

Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3

* Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Bonham, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, Indigo Girls, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Bonnie Raitt, Angelique Kidjo, Morcheeba, Queen Latifah, Sinead O'Connor, Natalie Merchant, Luscious Jackson, Heather Nova, Liz Phair, Cowboy Junkies, Sixpence None the Richer, et al.

* Arista

Ultimate Divas: The Greatest Female Vocalists of Our Time

* Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, Annie Lennox, Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, et al.

* Arista

Walters is a pop-music critic for The Advocate.

For more information on this year's Lilith Fair and related Web sites, go to www.advocate.com
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Title Annotation:female vocalists preferred by gays and lesbians
Author:Walters, Berry
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 22, 1999
Words:648
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