Legendary Ladies

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 31, 2013

We love our superstars. And they love us right back.

Back in 1967, a Time magazine writer disparagingly noted that at Judy Garland's concerts, a "disproportionate part of her nightly claque seems to be homosexual." True then, true now: From Garland to Madonna to Gaga, gay men have worshipped at the altar of certain artists, all of them female.

Lesbians have had their idols, too, but to a lesser extent. The biggest out-female singer-songwriter of our age didn't exactly perform at a Pride event. But Melissa Etheridge brought her hard-pounding rock-and-roll to suburban Highland Park, Ill., the night before Chicago's Pride march. If it wasn't planned, it was still perfect timing.

Pride is a time when cities across the country present entertainers of all stripes and flavors. Most are homegrown and not as well known to non-gay audiences, or are specialty acts.

Then there are the divas. These performers have become stars, but the gay community took notice of them first, embraced them and loved them. It's during Pride that these legendary ladies give back the love, and their performances have been the highlights of Pride celebrations across the country.

Gaga & Cher Share the Love

New Yorkers always like to claim that everything in their city is the biggest, the best, the most talked about. For once, they’re right.

No performance at any Gay Pride event made the kind of headlines that Lady Gaga did when she made a surprise appearance at the Rally there in June. Mother Monster, of course, is no stranger to controversy, and this was no exception.

Her rendition of the National Anthem quickly went viral when she changed the final line from "And the home of the brave" to "... home of the gay." Here critics quickly went apoplectic. Alan West’s response -- "reprehensible" -- was typical. Everyone else cheered.

"Now I get to say I knew you when you suffered," she told the crowd as tears welled up in her eyes. "When you felt unequal. When you felt there was nothing to look forward to. I knew you then, I knew you when, but I really know you now."

Those words were truly heartfelt, coming from one of the most outspoken supporters of gay rights. Lady Gaga’s first large venue was the Palm Springs White Party. After "Poker Face" made her a star, she graciously honored a commitment and trekked out to Fire Island, where she performed in one of her smallest venues, a local disco called the Ice Palace.

Gaga has made anti-bullying a personal cause. When one of her young fans, affectionately known as "little monsters," committed suicide in Buffalo, N.Y., she flew there to comfort his parents and make a statement.

As if Gaga’s gaying of "The Star-Spangled Banner" wasn’t enough to put us into orbit, the huge outdoor Pier Dance that caps the city’s Pride march featured Deborah Cox. The R&B artist, who proved she had real singing chops when she performed eight shows a week on Broadway as the star of the musical "Aida," performed early in the evening.

Capping the event was the most enduring dance diva on the planet, Cher. Hours before she appeared, the area around the stage became so packed that traffic up and down the Hudson River pier became near-impossible. Introduced by surprise guest Whoopi Goldberg, to rapturous cheers, she did "Strong Enough;" the biggest hit of her career, "Believe;" and her newest hit, "Woman’s World."

Pushing 70, Cher showed that she still has the chops to perform live. Even if her singing was nearly drowned out by the singing along of the crowd.

The night before, Joi Caldwell performed at the woman’s event in the same space, Rapture on the River. Anyone who has been to a nightclub has danced to her songs -- eight Top 10 hits between 1995 and 2007 alone. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ll know "You Got to Pray," "Run to You.." and others.

Earlier that day, Natasha Bedingfield sang a medley at yet another outdoor party, Matinee. The setting was the spectacular Governor’s Island in New York harbor. Her form-fitting white ball gown with "Dynasty"-sized shoulder pads and hair swept up to skyscraper length, were equally impressive. And as if that wasn’t enough divas for any one city, Veronica, another dance-floor staple, turned it out at Junior Vasquez’s post-Pride morning party.

Gay Ally Kristine W in Seattle

One of the biggest dance divas of all time is also a major supporter of gay causes. Kristine W has long been adored by gay audiences and is a frequent headliner at major circuit parties, including the first Pines Party on Fire Island in 1999 and Ascension, also on Fire Island.

What most people don’t know about her is that she has had more Number One dance hits on the Billboard charts then Mariah Carey or Janet Jackson, and that Billboard voted her "Dance Artist of the Decade," just behind Madonna and Beyonce. She also has bested Jackson and Madonna by having nine Number One hits in a row.

She’s best known for dance classics "One More Try" and "Feel What You Want," which also happens to be the most remixed dance song of all time. But she has done a Vegas revue, an original Christmas album and a double CD of jazz music, a tribute to her mother, who was a sometime cabaret singer. She writes all of her own songs and plays a mean saxophone.

Kristine W got her start performing in the Miss America competition, where she represented Washington state. So it was a homecoming when she returned to headline Seattle’s Pride in June.

Gay Pride is the season when we celebrate ourselves and the hard work that we, and those who preceded us, had to do to get us here. Including the outsized personalities and talent of these remarkable women in the fun is a reminder that we haven’t been doing it alone.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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