These days, with more and more public figures coming forward about their sexuality, it was only a matter of time that we here at TheBacklot.com put together a list of the most influential and intriguing openly gay and bisexual male musicians of the past century. Compiling a list like this was no small feat.
While we’ve limited this to only 50 musicians, the number of openly gay artists far surpasses that number, and we’re sure you will likely spot an artist near and dear to your heart that we left out. Trust us that it was not done in malice. We simply tried to assemble a list of those artists we feel have been both successful in their careers while also raising awareness toward gay rights issues and giving back to the community in which they belong.
We also decided to rule out those artists whose sexuality was often rumored to be gay, but have never been confirmed by the artists themselves, take Morrissey or Liberace for example. We also decided to omit those musicians who appeared to flirt with being bisexual, but ultimately seem to consider themselves straight, such as David Bowie, or musicians who have talked in vague generalities about bisexuality but again ultimately seem clearly heterosexual, such as Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong.
So here we are with a list honoring those out and proud men who have paved the way for many others like them and many more who will surely come. These men have been a positive influence for GLBT youth around the world, and by their honesty they have helped shape the current climate and acceptability for being an openly gay male artist in today’s music industry.
These are artists who risked their careers to be true to their sexuality, and who make us proud to be the gay and bi men that we are.
50. Tiziano Ferro
Italian pop singer Tiziano Ferro got his start like numerous American Idol finalists these days by participating in a talent show – the Sanremo Music Festival in 1998. While Ferro did not win the competition, he did make it to the 12 finalists, but more importantly he caught the attention of two producers in the audience – Alberto Salerno and Mara Maionch.
Together they worked on Ferro’s debut album Rosso Relativo, released in 2001. Ferro’s song “Universal Prayer” was used at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, and he has since gone on to sell over 8 million albums worldwide, in part because Ferro is fluent in Spanish and releases Spanish versions of his Italian albums. Recently Ferro made headlines when he chose to come out to Italian Vanity Fair magazine on October 5, 2010, stating “I want to fall in love with a man.” Ferro is our most recently out gay male artist.
49. Colton Ford
Born Glenn Soukesian, Colton Ford first rose to prominence as a gay adult film star from 2001-2002 with 11 films to date, many of which I’m sure you’ve already seen. Interestingly enough, before Ford’s time in the movie industry, he began his career as a back-up singer for the likes of Salt ‘n Pepa, Chaka Khan, and Vanessa Williams.
Ford walked away from the adult film industry in 2002 to refocus his career on music, generating a string of club/dance hits including “Everything” and “That’s Me” on which he collaborated with Cazwell. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” peaked at No. 9 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart while his debut album Tug of War was released in 2008. In the same year he participated in the True Colors Tour alongside Cyndi Lauper, the Indigo Girls and Joan Jett. Ford appears in the music video for Lauper’s 2008 single “Into the Nightlife.”
Ford’s second album Under the Covers features his versions of tracks from artists like Britney Spears’ “Trouble” and Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat.” So what kind of man is someone like Colton Ford into? He says he likes “a man who can be vulnerable, share his insecurities, be in the moment and be very honest and authentic. That speaks to me more than anything. That’s a really, really hot quality.”
48. Jay Brannan
The Texas born Brannan has been compared to Rufus Wainwright for his openness as a gay artist, and has been compared to Ani DiFranco and Joni Mitchell for his craftiness with songwriting, possessing the qualities of an “angry, sad woman.”
In 2002, after just one semester of college in Ohio, Brannan set out for New York City hoping to break into the entertainment industry. He quickly landed a role in the film Shortbus and got the chance to add his own song “Soda Shop” to the movie’s Soundtrack. Brannan’s music career soon took off as he utilized Myspace, YouTube and Blogspot to routinely upload self-made music videos. He soon developed a loyal fan base and in 2008, Brannan released his debut album Goddamned and followed up with an album of cover songs In Living Color in 2009.
Jordanian-American Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, Ferras grew up in a small town in Illinois where he never felt like he really fit in. After his parents divorced, his father kidnapped him and brought him to Jordan, where he began playing a Casio keyboard and began writing his own songs.
Ferras’ first album, Aliens and Rainbows featured the song “Hollywood’s Not America,” which was used as the exit song for season Seven of American Idol.
He has since co-written several songs for artists including Adam Lambert and The Veronicas, and is currently working on his next album which he hopes to release in 2011. (It is currently in post-production.)
With his smooth, sweet voice and his incredible songwriting ability, Ferras is certainly a talent to watch. And what does openly gay Ferras look for in a mate? “A sense of humor. And a great ass”.
Massachusetts-born Luke Caswell, aka Cazwell, has been praised at the gay man’s Eminem and is a personal favorite of Sir Elton John. Best known for his gay and bisexual-themed lyrics, as well as his sexual videos which often feature cameos by New York-based transsexual icon Amanda Lepore, Cazwell’s influences range from the Notorious B.I.G. to The Beastie Boys.
His debut album, Get Into It, was released in 2006 and the music video for the lead single “All Over Your Face” turned out to be too controversial to be aired on Logo due to the explicit lyrics and sexual themes. During 2007 Cazwell toured alongside Cyndi Lauper, Rufus Wainwright, the Indigo Girls and other special guests on the True Colors Tour.
The video for Cazwell’s comical single “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King” went viral in 2008 and in 2010 Cazwell released the video for “Ice Cream Truck”, which the Advocate called “the summer’s raunchiest music video.” Featuring a pack of half-naked chiseled go go boys, it’s no surprise the video gained over one million views in its first week. It seems Cazwell certainly knows what gay men like.
45. Owen Pallett
If you’re a fan of Andrew Bird, Beirut, or Arcade Fire, then you’re likely familiar with Canadian composer, violinist, keyboardist and vocalist Owen Pallett. Pallett co-wrote the strings arrangements for Arcade Fire’s albums Funeral, Neon Bible and The Suburbs. He began his music career under the alias “Final Fantasy,” a name he created due to his affinity for the Japanese videogame series of the same title.
Pallet’s penchant for humorous album titles resulted in the unforgettable name of his second album, He Poos Clouds, which went on to win Canada’s Polaris Music Prize in 2006. It was at this time that Pallett’s career began to really take off, and he hired his boyfriend Patrick Borjal as his manager and they formed the aptly titled company Boyfriend Management. In 2009, Pallett retired the use of his band name Final Fantasy and released his critically acclaimed album Heartland.
44. Patrick Wolf
English singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf is known for combining classical instruments such as the piano, viola, and ukulele with electronic techno-pop beats. Wolf’s album Wind in the Wires gained him considerable indie music respect and he began performing with the likes of Owen Pallett, The Hidden Cameras, and Arcade Fire.
His third album Magic Position is when he began to see true commercial success and embarked on a tour of North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. The openly bisexual Wolf sparked controversy around his sexuality during an interview with The London Paper when he stated “In the same way I don’t know if my sixth album is going to be a death-metal record or children’s pop, I don’t know whether I’m destined to live my life with a horse, a woman or a man.” He has been in a long-term relationship with a man named William since August 2007.
Yanis Sahraoul, aka Sliimy, is of Moroccan-Algerian descent and a native of France. The former teenage choirboy with an undying devotion to Lily Allen and an uncanny resemblance to Prince, released his debut album Paint Your Face in 2009. The album quickly climbed to No. 2 on the France Album charts, but it was his cover of Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” that brought him American attention. (Katy Perry and Lady Gaga both tweeted his video).
Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton signed him as the debut artist for Hilton’s Perezcious Music label. Just three days before the release of his album, Sliimy boldly announced that he is gay. “I don’t have any problem saying that I’m gay. I embrace it and don’t want to hide it.”
42. Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields)
Boston-born singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Stephin Merritt is best known as the lead singer of the synthpop, folk group The Magnetic Fields. Known for his untrained and distinct baritone voice, Merritt has been dubbed “the most miserable man in rock” due to his bitter, ironic, and often humorous take on love. Known in music circles as a “gay synth-pop” group, The Magnetic Fields consist of one gay male artist (Merritt), one lesbian (Claudia Gonson), one straight female (Susan Amway, who is no longer with the group), and two straight males (Sam Davol and John Woo).
Their best-known work is their three-volume concept album 69 Love Songs, voted album of the year by the Village Voice. They are also known for their wide range of instrumentation including the accordion, banjo, cello, flute, mandolin, ukulele, and xylophone. Merrit’s lyrics often deal with his sexuality as evidenced by his track “When My Boy Walks Down the Street” featuring the lyrics “Amazing, he’s a whole new form of life, blue eyes blazing, and he’s going to be my wife.”
41. Justin Tranter (Semi Precious Weapons)
Justin Tranter is most famous for his role as the lead singer of the New York-based glam rock band Semi Precious Weapons. Raised in Lake Zurich, Illinois, Tranter studied at the Chicago Academy for the Arts and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, graduating with a degree in songwriting. In 2006, Tranter, along with fellow Berklee graduates, Stevy Pyne, Cole Whittle and Dean Crean, formed Semi Precious Weapons. Tranter also developed a jewelry line called “Fetty” that is sold at Barneys, Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic.
Funded by the sales of his jewelry line, Tranter recorded and released the first SPW album We Love You in 2008 with the standout single “Magnetic Baby” and the group was signed to Interscope Records the next year. Tranter is a close friend to Lady Gaga, and SPW made a cameo in her “Telephone” music video and has been a recurring opening act on her Monster Ball Tour. Openly gay, Tranter came out at 14 and famously stated in an interview with gaytoday.com: “if they aren’t going to give me and the rest of the homos equal rights then I don’t want to pay equal taxes”.
40. Ray Boltz
Born in Muncie, Indiana, Ray Boltz is an award-winning contemporary Christian singer/songwriter. Boltz’s career in Christian music took off when his song “Thank You” received the Song of the Year award at the 1990 GMA Dove Awards and he has since gone on to sell over 4.5 million records. Boltz was married to his wife Carol for over 30 years before coming out in 2008 in the September issue of The Washington Blade. In the interview, Boltz stated: “If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be — I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”
Since then he has continued to perform at several churches from the gay-affirming Christian denomination Metropolitan Community Church. In 2010, he released the album True with the songs “Don’t Tell Me Who to Love,” dealing with same-sex marriage, and “Who Would Jesus Love,” a song about reconciling his sexuality and his faith.
39. Joe McElderry
Joe McElderry gained recognition as the winner of the sixth season of UK’s The X Factor in 2009. McElderry first auditioned for The X Factor in 2007 but opted to walk away from the competition because he felt he was too young compared to the other contestants. In 2009, he again decided to audition for the show and wound up winning with his cover of Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb.” His cover of Cyrus’s song went on to reach No. 1 on both the UK and Ireland’s single charts.
McElderry’s prize as winner of The X Factor was a recording contract with Simon Cowell’s Syco record label worth an estimated £1 million. McElderry was also featured on the charity singles of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” for the 2010 Haitian Earthquake and in July 2010, McElderry posted on his official website that he is gay and gave an interview to the UK’s Daily Mail in which he declared “I’m really happy, I now know who I am…. I’ve had time to think about things. I wasn’t attracted to anyone anyway, male or female. It never really entered my head I was gay. But I just know. It’s how I feel.”
The release party for his debut album Wide Awake was held at London’s famous club G-A-Y on October 23, 2010 and the track “Someone Wake Me Up” is featured on the soundtrack for Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
38. Matt Morris
The son of famed country music star Gary Morris, Matt Morris is a former member of the Disney Channel’s The Mickey Mouse Club alongside Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell, and JC Chasez. Morris found success as a songwriter in the early 2000s with hits like Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent.”
In January 2010, Morris released his debut album When Everything Breaks Open on Timberlake’s Tennman Records. His performance of “Hallelujah” alongside Timberlake for the Hope for Haiti Now telethon became the most downloaded song off the broadcast’s digital release and rose to No. 1 on the iTunes Singles Chart. Morris married his husband Sean Michael Morris during the brief time that same-sex marriage was legal in California. His husband also serves as inspiration for the song “Love” on his debut album.
37. Chris Willis
Chris Willis initially began his career as a gospel singer, but received international fame for his collaborations with French music producer David Guetta on tracks such as “Love is Gone” “Getting’ Over” and “Love Don’t Let Me Go.” In the mid-1990’s Willis released his self-titled gospel album and went on tour with Christian singer Twila Paris and comedian Mark Lowry. Toward the end of the ‘90s Willis finally made peace with his sexuality and transitioned out of gospel music. While doing publicity in Paris, Willis met Guetta and the two co-wrote and recorded “Just a Little More Love” that same day, which went on to be a smash hit across Europe. Willis has since been featured on five of Guetta’s albums; most recently with the successful single “Gettin’ Over” off Guetta’s Grammy-nominated 2009 release One Love. In Oct 2010 Willis released his solo single “Louder (Put Your Hands Up).”
36. Edward Droste (Grizzly Bear)
Edward Droste is one of the original members of the Brooklyn based indie-rock quartet Grizzly Bear. The group began as a solo effort on Droste’s part in 2004. Droste accredits the band’s name to a nickname he had for one of his past boyfriends. By 2005 Droste had expanded Grizzly Bear to a four-member group making experimental psychedelic folk-pop music comparable to that of Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes. In 2008 Grizzly Bear opened for Radiohead and soon after released their most critically acclaimed album to date Veckatimest, named after a small, uninhabited island in Cape Cod. Their fan base consists of Jay-Z and Beyonce, who were recently spotted at one of their 2009 shows. Veckatimist ranked on numerous lists as one of the best albums of 2009 (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time Magazine) and climbed the charts to sit between Lady Gaga’s The Fame and Taylor Swift’s Fearless. With all of this success, what does someone like Droste enjoy doing in his spare time? Spending time at home with his interior designer boyfriend Chad McPhail and their dog, Beast.
35. Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend)
Rostam Batmanglij is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and sole gay member of the New York City-based indie rock group Vampire Weekend. Batmanglij is also the co-founder of electronic funk project Discovery with Ra Ra Riot vocalist Wes Miles. Batmanglij’s family moved from Iran to America just before the Iranian Revolution in 1979. His mother Najmieah is a famous Persian cookbook author and his father is a publisher. While attending Columbia University, Batmanglij met his fellow Vampire Weekend members. Their debut self-titled album produced the singles “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “Mansard Roof,” “A-Punk,” and “Oxford Comma.” “A-Punk” was ranked #4 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of Best Songs of 2008. The group quickly went from playing at coffee shops and bars around Columbia University to appearing on David Letterman and Saturday Night Live and sharing management with the White Stripes and M.I.A.. Fellow Vampire Weekend band mate Ezra Koenig accredits Batmanglij as the key lyricist for half of the band’s songs. As an openly gay man, Batmanglij says he’s excited to incorporate gay themes in future songs, starting with Discovery’s “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”
34. Sam Sparro
Australian born singer/songwriter and music producer, Sam Sparro (born Sam Falson) was destined to be in the music business from the start. When Sparro was only 10, his father, Chris Falson, signed a record deal to create a soul album and moved his entire family from Sydney to Los Angeles. While in L.A. Sparro got a start as a child actor and was featured in McDonald’s commercials. Sparro also lent his vocals to his father’s albums and was a common back-up singer at his dad’s shows. Sparro released his debut single “Cottonmouth” in 2007, but it was his follow-up single “Black and Gold” that peaked the charts and created numerous covers from the likes of Wale, Ellie Goulding, Adele, and more. Producers Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse) and Paul Epworth (Florence + the Machine, Bloc Party) worked with Sparro on his self-titled debut album, which reached the top 5 on the UK Album Charts. Openly gay, Sparro has been dubbed a “gay superhero.” He chose to come out at the start of his career so that, in Sparro’s words, “gay teenagers don’t have to get the shit kicked out of them in school and think that they’re a horrible person. It’s easier to be an ’out’ pop star today. Morrissey never came out, and Neil Tennant left it very, very late, whereas Jake Shears was open from the start.” Sparro is currently working on his sophomore album to be released in 2011.
British singer-songwriter, Mika released his first full-length studio album Life in Cartoon Motion in 2007, which went on to sell over 5.6 million copies worldwide and garnered him a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording for his hit “Love Today.” His single “Grace Kelly” reached number one in the UK and earned him the prestigious BRIT Award for Best British Breakthrough Artist. Two years later Mika’s second album The Boy Who Knew Too Much was released producing the singles “We Are Golden” and “Blame it On the Girls.” In regards to Mika’s sexuality, he has openly stated to Gay & Night magazine “I’ve never ever labeled myself. But having said that; I’ve never limited my life, I’ve never limited who I sleep with… Call me whatever you want. Call me bisexual, if you need a term for me.”
32. Casey Spooner (Fischerspooner)
Born in Athens, GA Casey Spooner is one half of the electro pop duo Fischerspooner. Aside from leading on vocals, Spooner is a videographer and theater performance artist who met Warren Fischer while attending the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998. Together the two have released three studio albums as Fischerspooner including the successful singles “The Best Revenge” and “Just Let Go.” In January 2010 Spooner released his first solo single “Faye Dunaway” off his album Adult Contemporary. He currently is touring as the opening act for Scissor Sisters’s North American tour. Openly gay, Spooner’s first romantic relationship was with R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe while Spooner was attending the University of Georgia. Spooner relishes in the idea of being a positive role model for the gay community, stating: “If I can be an inspiration to people who are choosing to go down a challenging, nontraditional path–sexually, creatively, however–that is just great.”
31. Bob Mould
Former front man for alternative rock bands Hüsker Dü and Sugar, Bob Mould is an American guitarist, vocalist and songwriter from New York. While living in Minneapolis in the late 1970’s Mould formed the punk rock group Hüsker Dü, a band that went on to become a key influencer of the 90’s punk rock wave. In the late 1980’s Hüsker Dü broke up and Mould went on to write his first solo album. Surprisingly Mould took a detour from the loud punk-rock guitar sound he was known for and created a sound more similar to that of the Counting Crows or Gin Blossoms. In the mid-1990’s Mould formed the college/alternative radio favorite band Sugar that released two EPs before breaking up. Mould presently tours as a solo artist and much of his writing material stems from his experience spending years as a closeted gay man in the rock music scene and the turbulent relationships of his past. In 2006 he contributed the song “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” to the album Wed-Rock, an album to promote the legalization of same-sex marriage.
30. Jonsi (Sigur Rós)
Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson is the lead vocalist and guitarist for the Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós. Known for his falsetto voice and made up language “Hopelandic,” Jonsi has created some of the most beautiful experimental indie-rock music since Radiohead. In 1995 Jonsi started the band Bee Spiders, which was likened to The Smashing Pumpkins. By 1997 Jónsi had formed Sigur Rós and released their debut album Von. Sigur Rós has since released four additional studio albums, their most successful English crossover album being Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (meaning “With a Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly”). In 2010 the group announced an “indefinite hiatus” and Jónsi went on to release his first solo album Go. His boyfriend Alex Somers has done much of the graphic design for Sigur Rós over the years. The two also perform together in the group Jónsi & Alex and released an album: Riceboy Sleeps.
29. Chuck Panozzo (Styx)
As the bassist and co-founder (with his late brother and twin, John) of the rock band Styx, Chuck Panozzo has given much to the world of music. From the 70’s to the early 80’s, Styx produced such hits as “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Angry Young Man” and “Renegade.” They have been together on and off since the early 80’s, with Panozzo participating as much as he was able. He was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1991, doctors telling him they did not know how to help him. In 1998 he committed himself to getting well and has been on an aggressive regimen ever since. As he says on his website, “I wanted to out myself in a meaningful and positive way.” He chose to announce to the world that he is gay at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in 2001. Panozzo is a strong supporter of the HRC and is involved with HIV/AIDS awareness activities. As he says, “I want to be sure laws are made and protected for all. There will be no second-class citizens in this society.”
Anthony Charles William III, better known by his stage name Tonex, is a Grammy Nominated Gospel Singer who has released an impressive 24 albums over the span of his 14-year career. Influenced by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Michael Jackson, Tonex recorded his first album at the mere age of 10. Tonex’s unique style and sound, which he calls “nureau” – a combination of pop, rock, r&b, jazz, soul, urban dance, rap, funk and hip hop- gained him considerable attention among young gospel music fanatics. Tonex’s debut concert performance at the 14th Annual Stellar Awards, a gospel music showcase, was likened to that of Michael Jackson’s performance of the moonwalk. Tonex’s most successful album to date is the Grammy nominated 2004 release Out the Box in which he collaborated with Kirk Franklin and Prince’s percussionist Sheila E. Tonex divorced his wife of 5 years, Yvette Williams, in 2004 and in 2009, on a popular Christian television show “The Lexi Show,” Tonex announced that he is gay. He soon saw backlash within the African American and church community and requests for him to perform suddenly stopped. That didn’t slow him down though. As a pastor, Tonex presently travels spreading a message of acceptance in the church and has been a huge inspiration for many gay African American Christians.
27. Antony Hegarty (Antony & the Johnsons)
English-born singer/songwriter, composer and visual artist, Antony Hegarty is best known for his androgynous voice as the lead singer of the band Antony & the Johnsons. In 1996 Hegarty utilized college grant money to solicit musicians to record some of his songs; thus began Antony & the Johnsons. By 2005 the group was performing regularly around New York City and solicited the likes of Boy George, Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed to collaborate on their album I Am a Bird Now. The album received considerable praise and garnered Antony UK’s most prestigious award – the Mercury Prize. With lyrics like “One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful woman,” Antony has never masked his sexual identity, and considers Boy George and Marc Almond two of his greatest idols. Antony’s follow-up album The Crying Light peaked No. 1 on the European Billboard charts. In 2008, Antony leant his vocals to a side project entitled Hercules and Love Affair. Their track “Blind” ranked No. 2 on Entertainment Weekly’s “10 Best Singles of 2008.” Antony’s fame is still growing and as a relatively new artist, he has quite a fan in Boy George. George once stated he envisions Antony “outstripping Norah Jones and selling millions of records if anyone had the balls to give him a huge record contract.”
26. Clay Aiken
American singer/songwriter, actor, producer and author Clay Aiken rose to fame on the second season of American Idol in 2003 as runner-up to Ruben Studdard. RCA Records offered him a recording contract and his multi-platinum debut album Measure of a Man was released in October 2003. Since then Aiken has released four more albums on the RCA label and launched nine tours, authored a New York Times best-selling book Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life, created the National Inclusion Project for children with disabilities, became a UNICEF ambassador in 2004, and was appointed for a two-year term to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Aiken made his Broadway debut playing Sir Robin on Monty Python’s Spamalot. On August 8th 2008 Aiken announced the birth of his son Parker Foster Aiken, to mother James Foster, sister of Aiken’s record producer David Foster. In a September 2008 issue of People magazine, after years of speculation, Aiken revealed he is gay. Since then Aiken has participated in the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS campaign, spoken at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in North Carolina, and participated in Cyndi Lauper’s “Give a Damn Campaign.”
25. Kele Okereke (Bloc Party)
British musician Kele Okereke is best known as the lead singer and guitarist for the alt rock band Bloc Party. In 2005 Bloc Party released their first studio album Silent Alarm with the singles “Pioneer” “Banquet” and “Helicopter.” Produced by Paul Epworth (Florence + the Machine, Cee-Lo Green, Kate Nash), Silent Alarm reached No. 3 in the UK charts and rocketed the band to fame. Their follow-up album A Weekend in the City went on to reach the No. 2 spot in the Official UK Chart, and the first single “The Prayer” reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart, the group’s highest placing to date. In 2010 Okereke released his first solo album Boxer produced by XXXchange with the lead track titled “Tenderoni.” While gearing up for his solo debut, Okereke finally came out in a March 2010 interview with Butt Magazine, a subject he a had long avoided, stating: “My parents are super-Catholic and they come from a culture in Nigeria where there weren’t any visible gay people who were out and were happy. I left home when I was 20. My parents threw me out [for being gay]. Which I knew they would. We didn’t speak for like a week. … My parents are getting older and I didn’t like the idea that they could possibly die without knowing something that is a big part of my life. It’s not easy. … We’ve been talking about it.”
24. Darren Hayes (Savage Garden)
UK-based Australian singer-songwriter, Darren Hayes was the lead singer and media front man for pop duo Savage Garden, whose 1997 album Savage Garden was No. 3 in the United States and produced the hits “Truly, Madly, Deeply” and “I Want You.” Savage Garden stayed together for only two albums and released the US No. 1 hit “I Knew I Loved You” before Hayes went out on his own, changing his sound from soft pop-rock to a more electronic darker sound. He has three solo albums under his belt and another can be expected in 2011, produced by Lady Gaga’s mixer Robert Orton. Including his work with Savage Garden, Hayes has sold over 25 million albums worldwide. Although Hayes was married for six years to his childhood sweetheart, makeup artist Colby Taylor, they divorced in 2000 and he began coming out to his friends and his label in the early 2000’s. In 2006, he married his boyfriend of two years, Richard Cullen, in a civil ceremony in London.
23. Marc Almond (Soft Cell)
Marc Almond rose to fame in the early 1980s as one half of the English New Wave duo Soft Cell. Their slowed-down, synthesized version of Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” was a No. 1 hit in 17 countries and spent a record-breaking 43 weeks on the US Hot 100 charts. The track once again found itself on the charts, when in 2006, Rihanna sampled it on her No. 1 hit “SOS.” In 1984 Soft Cell split amicably to focus on solo efforts and Almond went on to release numerous solo albums. In 1999, Almond released his autobiography, Tainted Life, in which he officially came out. Soft Cell reunited in 2002 and performed a string of concerts. 2010 marks Almond’s 30th year in music and he is gearing up for a new album and global tour. Along with his time in Soft Cell, Almond has sold over 30 million records worldwide.
Known around the world as the “Queen of Disco,” Sylvester was an American disco singer who rose to international fame in the late 1970’s with hits such as “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” “Dance (Disco Heat),” and “Do You Wanna Funk.” Known for his falsetto voice and his exotic costumes, Sylvester got his start as a drag performer in the San Francisco nightlife scene. His sophomore album produced the hits “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” both of which ruled the American Dance Charts for 6 weeks. In 1979, Harvey Milk invited Sylvester to perform “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” at San Francisco’s Castro Street Fair and in 2004, his same hit was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. As a result of Sylvester’s ever-growing fame, his label began to pressure him to “butch up” his image – in defiance Sylvester began showing up to label meetings in full-drag. Tragically, in December 1988, at the age of 41, Sylvester died from complications due to AIDS. He stated the year prior to his death: “I don’t believe AIDS is the wrath of God. People have a tendency to blame everything on God.” In 2005, Sylvester was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievements as an artist.
21. Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)
Frankie Goes to Hollywood were a British dance-pop band popular in the mid 1980’s most notable for their debut single “Relax (Take It Easy)” which spent five consecutive weeks at the top of the UK singles chart and became the 7th best selling UK single of all time. Their follow-up hits “Two Tribes” and “The Power of Love” also climbed the UK charts to No. 1, making FGTH the second act in UK history to have their first three singles reach No. 1. Holly Johnson led on vocals and was at one time rumored to be dating back up vocalist Paul Rutherford. After splitting from FGTH, Johnson went on to pursue a solo career and released his platinum selling number one album Blast that spawned four hit singles. In 1991 Johnson learned he was HIV-positive and in 1994 released his critically acclaimed autobiography, a Bone in My Flute. He is currently working on new material.
20. Rob Halford (Judas Preist)
Who says a gay man can’t wear leather and scream heavy metal vocals? Obviously someone who has never heard of Rob Halford. Whether as the lead singer of Grammy-award winning rock band Judas Priest, or his own band, Halford, his four-octave range and the strength of his voice gave rise to his moniker “Metal God.” Considered one of the most consistently powerful singers in rock, Halford has given us such hits as “Heading Out to the Highway” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” As he struts across the stage, bald head gleaming and tattoos stark against his skin, he owns every minute and every fan that watches. Although he’s been a part of the music scene since the 70’s, he didn’t come out until 1998 in an MTV interview, in which he said, “I think that most people know that I’ve been a gay man all of my life, and it’s only been in recent times it’s an issue I feel comfortable to address… and this is the moment to discuss it.”
19. Mark Feehily (Westlife)
As a member of Irish pop group Westlife, Mark Feehily is distinguished for his rich, soulful voice, which can be heard on every song. He shares the role of lead vocalist alongside Shane Filan. Westlife is the only group in British or Irish history to have their first seven singles go straight to No. 1, and they have sold over 44 million records worldwide. Originally signed by Simon Cowell in 1998, Westlife are the 2nd biggest selling artist in the UK (behind Robbie Williams) and “biggest selling band of the decade” (beating Coldplay) with 11 million album sales from 2000-2010. In 2005 Feehily came out to the British tabloid The Sun, announcing he had been in a long-term relationship with Kevin McDaid, a member of the British boy band V. In the interview, Feehily said, “My life has got umpteen times better… I feel so much happier and at ease. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” Feehily and McDaid have been dating since 2005 and on January 28, 2010 the two got engaged. Feehily told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Through the years of getting to the point where I wanted to come out, I had to go through every kind of emotion, but I can honestly say that the day before I came out, I didn’t care what the reaction was going to be. That was the hardest point to get to.”
18. Stephen Gately (Boyzone)
In 1993 Irish native Stephen Gately joined the boy band Boyzone as one of two lead vocalists. Boyzone went on to produce four studio albums, all of which hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom. With Boyzone, Gately had a record-breaking 16 consecutive singles enter the UK’s Top Five Singles Chart. In a 1999 interview with The Sun magazineGately became the first boyband member ever to publicly come out. In 2000, after the band’s initial breakup, Gately released a solo album, which produced three UK hit singles including “New Beginning.” In 2003, while vacationing in Las Vegas, Gately wed longtime boyfriend Andrew Cowles. When they returned to the UK the two legalized their relationship with a civil partnership held in London. In 2008 Boyzone regrouped. In their final music video Gately played the role of a gay couple, another first for a boyband. Tragically on October 10, 2009 in Majorca, Spain, at an apartment he owned with his partner Cowles, Gately was discovered dead due to an undiagnosed heart condition.
17. Rufus Wainwright
Canadian-American singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright was born into an extremely talented family. His parents are folk singer Kate McGarrigle and actor Loudon Wainwright III and his sister is the folk-rock singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright. At an early age Rufus developed a love for opera and a proclivity for songwriting. He learned to play both the piano and guitar and developed his own musical style called “popera” or “baroque pop.” In 1998 Wainwright released his first studio album, Rufus Wainwright, which received critical acclaim. Rolling Stone magazine recognized it as one of the best albums of the year and named the singer the “Best New Artist” of 1998. His follow up 2001 release Poses earned Wainwright his second GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music Album and a Juno Award for Best Alternative Album. In June 2007, Wainwright participated in the LOGO sponsored, multi-artist True Colors Tour, alongside Cyndi Lauper, the Indigo Girls, Erasure and others. In 2007, Wainwright performed at Carnegie Hall the entire Judy Garland concert Garland famously performed there in 1961. The album for the concert, aptly titled Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, was nominated for a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. Wainwright is one of the first artists to begin his career openly gay. He came out to his family as a teenager, who he says did not take so well to the news initially, “mother and father could not handle me being gay. We never talked about it really.” In January 2010 Wainwright’s mother sadly lost her battle to cancer. In April 2010, Wainwright publicly voiced his opinion in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States due to his desire to marry his partner of five years, German arts administrator Jörn Weisbrodt.
RuPaul Andre Charles, best known by his drag name RuPaul, is an American actor, model and singer/songwriter who rose to fame in the 1990s appearing on numerous television programs, films and albums. As a pioneer for drag performance artists, RuPaul opened minds and generated discussions on the taboo subject of crossdressing and transexuality. RuPaul got his start in the early 90’s working in the Atlanta and New York club scenes. In 1993 RuPaul recorded the dance/house hit “Supermodel (You Better Work)” which amidst the age of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins was an unexpected success on MTV. The song peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s U.S. dance charts and his follow up singles “Back to My Roots” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” a duet with Elton John, went on to rule the dance and singles charts. In 1996 RuPaul hosted his own show on VH1 called The RuPaul Show where he interviewed celebrities and musical acts. He has since released 7 studio albums, most recently the 2008 album Champion that features the anthems “Cover Girl” and “Jealous of My Boogie” featured on his LOGO reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
15. Will Young
Before the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, or Adam Lambert took off, there was Will Young. In February 2002, Young rose to fame as the winner of the British television talent contest Pop Idol, making him the first winner ever of the now worldwide Idol franchise. Young’s first post-Idol single was a cover of Westlife’s “Evergreen,” which went on to become one of the fastest selling singles in UK history and one of the biggest selling singles of the 2000s, with over 1.8 million copies sold. In March 2002, right at the beginning of Young’s career, he publicly came out to News of the World stating, “I feel it’s time to tell my fans I’m gay… For me it’s normal and nothing to be ashamed about. I’m gay and I’m comfortable with that. I really don’t know what the fuss is about.” Young became one of the first pop artists to begin his career out of the closet, and his openness about his sexuality proved not to cause any ripples whatsoever. In 2003, Young won his first BRIT award as Best Breakthrough Artist for the release of his debut album From Now On. Young’s second album Friday’s Child produced the hit “Your Game” which earned him his second BRIT Award in 2005. Young has since established himself as far more than another reality television show winner, selling over eight million records from his four multi-platinum studio albums, with four Number One singles, and twice voted as the U.K.’s favorite artist of all time.
14. The Men of Scissor Sisters (Jake Shears, Babydaddy & Del Marquis)
In 2000, Jake Shears met Scott “Babydaddy” Hoffman while Shears was visiting a mutual friend in Kentucky. The two hit it off and soon moved to New York City where the openly gay duo became the first members of the American glam-rock band Scissor Sisters. At the time, the band performed at underground clubs in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, with a combination of Babydaddy’s musical composition and Shears’ vocals. Shears met Derek “Del Marquis” Gruen while the two worked at the IC Guys Club, where Shears was stripping. Del Marquis joined the group as lead guitarist. The band first garnered attention with the release of their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, which reached No. 10 on the UK singles charts. Their debut album Scissor Sisters became the best selling album of 2004 in the UK. On their second studio album Tah Dah, one of the band’s dreams was fulfilled – Sir Elton John collaborated as pianist and co-writer for their hit “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” which reached No. 1 on the UK, Australian and European Charts, and became the band’s biggest hit to date. In June 2010, Scissor Sisters released their third and latest album Night Work which took a shift towards a more club-oriented sound. In 2004, Shears, Babydaddy, and Del Marquis were honored on OUT Magazine’s annual list of the 100 Most Intriguing Gay People of the Year. Shears and Babydaddy co-wrote and produced Kylie Minogue’s popular hit “I Believe In You.” While Shears has garnered the most amount of attention in the band with a string of gay magazine covers including OUT, The Advocate, Attitude, Butt, and Têtu, it is Babydaddy who has inadvertently become a sex symbol with bear admirers. He acknowledged this status stating, “Jake gets a lot of attention just by virtue of being the lead singer, but when boys want a little beef, they come to me.”
13. Lance Bass
As the bass singer for ‘N Sync, Lance Bass was a part of the boy band craze of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. For five years, Bass and ‘N Sync rode the wave with hits like “I Want You Back,” “Bye Bye Bye” and “No Strings Attached” until 2002 when they announced a “hiatus” while fellow ‘N Sync members Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez went out to work on solo careers. Although ‘N Sync has never reunited, Bass has worked as an actor in films such as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Zoolander, and has appeared on television such as Season 7 of Dancing with the Stars. Bass came out publicly on the cover of People magazine in July 2006 after months of speculation from celebrity blog sites posting items about Bass’s orientation since September 2005. Bass stated to People “The thing is, I’m not ashamed – that’s the one thing I want to say. I don’t think it’s wrong, I’m not devastated going through this. I’m more liberated and happy than I’ve been my whole life. I’m just happy.” The Human Rights Campaign awarded Bass with the Visibility Award in Oct 2006 stating “Bass is the biggest music star since Melissa Etheridge to come out.” Bass has been active in the LGBT community ever since, supporting marriage equality and tolerance, fundraising for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education network, and publishing his autobiography Out of Sync.
12. Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat)
Popular British synthpop trio, Bronski Beat, achieved widespread success in the mid 1980s for their hit “Smalltown Boy,” which told the tale of a boy whose family cast him away for being gay. “Smalltown Boy” peaked at No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart and the music video for the song showed lead singer Jimmy Somerville eagerly trying to make friends in a swimming pool, then being attacked by an anti-gay gang, being brought home to his family by the police and ultimately getting kicked out of his home for being gay. Including Somerville, the other members of Bronski Beat, Steve Bronski and Larry Steinbachaek, were all openly gay, and their songs often reflected this, containing political commentary about gay issues. Although many other groups at this time had an openly gay member, Bronski Beat was one of the first to address the real issues and struggles of the gay community. Somerville left Bronski Beat in 1985 and went on to have success as the lead singer of The Communards and also as a solo artist. The group did a reunion concert in 1987 for International AIDS Day. In 1999, Somerville performed alongside Boy George, George Michael and Elton John at the Stonewall “Equality Show” in London. Somerville’s honesty as an openly gay singer and performer never hurt his album sales, and he helped pave the way for many artists.
11. Andy Bell (Erasure)
In 1985 Andy Bell became the lead singer of English synth-pop duo Erasure when he responded to a newspaper advertisement by lyricist/keyboardist and founding member of Depeche Mode, Vince Clarke. Clarke had recently departed from Depeche Mode and was looking for a vocalist for a new project. Initially the band struggled to find success, but it was their fourth single “Sometimes” that brought them major recognition in the UK and from 1986 to 2007, Erasure achieved 34 Top 40 hits in the UK. Their singles “A Little Respect,” “Chains of Love,” and “Always” were major hits in the USA. To date the band has sold over 25 million albums worldwide. In December 2004, Bell publicly announced that he is HIV-positive, something he said he has known since June 1998 when he came down with a case of pneumonia. He has since taken part in numerous charity recordings to fund money for AIDS and HIV education and research. In 2005 Bell released his first solo album Electric Blue collaborating with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters. Bell participated in both the 2007 and 2008 True Colors Tours. In June 2010, Bell released his second solo album, Non-Stop. Bell has been together with his partner Paul Hickey for over 20 years.
10. Adam Lambert
Gifted with a multi-octave range, classical good looks and a penchant for eyeliner and nail polish, Adam Lambert burst into the public’s eye on Season Eight of American Idol. Although he worked in several theater productions, including Wicked and The Ten Commandments, was a front man for the band The Citizen Vein and performed at the Upright Cabaret and the Zodiac Show, he didn’t actually acquire a fan-base until he competed on the popular reality competition. Early on during his time on American Idol, pictures of him and his ex-boyfriend kissing were released on the Internet. Lambert neither confirmed nor denied his sexuality, choosing instead to simply declare, “I have nothing to hide….I am who I am.” After finishing as the runner-up on Idol, Adam stated publicly to Rolling Stone magazine that, “it should come as no surprise that I am gay.” He is the first openly gay mainstream pop artist to launch his career on a major label. His album, “For Your Entertainment” debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 3, and hits such as “Whataya Want From Me” and “If I Had You” have been in the Top 20 in the USA and No. 1 in countries around the world. After an almost completely sold-out headlining tour of the United States, he invaded Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, The Philippines and many other international cities before heading to Europe. Expect a follow-up album in 2011 and another world tour. Lambert’s star has just started to rise.
9. Ricky Martin
Puerto Rican Pop singer Ricky Martin got his start at the young age of 13 as a member of the Latin boy band Menudo. After the success of Menudo, Martin went solo releasing his self-titled Spanish-language debut album Ricky Martin in 1991. In 1994 Martin moved to Los Angeles and landed a role on the soap opera General Hospital as bartender and singer Miguel Morez. At this time Martin continued to focus on his music and released a third and highly successful album entitled A Medio Vivir with the track “Maria” charting worldwide. After several years as a major international star in mainly Spanish-speaking countries, Martin decided to take on the one place where he still had limited recognition – the United States. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, Martin performed a single off his first English album, self-titled Ricky Martin, which soon had the whole world singing “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” To date Martin has sold over 60 million albums worldwide. After years of public curiosity about Martin’s sexuality, he publicly came out over Twitter on March 29, 2010 stating “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.” In regards to his recent coming out, Martin stated on Larry King Live, “If I’d known how good it was going to feel, I would have done it 10 years ago.” Martin is the father by way of a surrogate mother to twin boys, Matteo and Valentino. He is also the founder of the non-profit charity organization Ricky Martin Foundation, which advocates for the well being of children around the world.
8. The Men of The B-52s (Ricky Wilson, Fred Schneider & Keith Strickland)
Fred Schneider, Ricky Wilson, and Keith Strickland, all openly gay, along with Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, make up the American New Wave band The B-52s, known for their positive and enthusiastic, slightly wacky, take on the dance and surf music genre popular in the late ‘70s. They crafted their own “guys vs gals” call and response style and along with their thrift-store chic became famous everywhere for hits like “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack.” The group formed in 1977 when vocalist Cindy and her brother, guitarist, Ricky Wilson performed an impromptu jam session with keyboard and vocalist Pierson, drummer Strickland and cowbell player and vocalist Schneider at a Chinese restaurant. They chose their name from a beehive hairdo that resembled the nose of an airplane with the same name. Their first single “Rock Lobster” was an underground success and soon got them signed to Warner Bros. During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s they churned out a string of hits like “Planet Claire” and “Private Idaho.” While recording their third album in 1985, guitarist Ricky Wilson, who had been keeping his illness a secret from his band members, died from AIDS/HIV-related health complications at the age of 32, prompting a hiatus from their musical career. When the band regrouped, Strickland decided to switch from drums to guitar to keep Wilson’s trademark sound alive. In 1989 they released their most successful album to date, Cosmic Thing. The single “Love Shack” became their first Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, ultimately reaching No. 3 in November 1989. Their follow-up single “Roam” reached the same number in March 1990. That year they won The MTV Music Award for Best Group Video and Best Art Direction. As for their sexualities, Schnieder recalls coming out to his mother at an early age, she responded “Oh I know, Freddie” and continued vacuuming. In October 2010, Schnieder released a Christmas album Destination… Christmas! with his side project The Superions. Strickland came out in a 1992 interview of Q Magazine, stating, “It was great. Nothing changed, but I felt it was important to just say it.” Strickland and his partner Mark presently share a home in Key West.
7. Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys)
English musician Neil Tennant makes up one half of electronic dance duo Pet Shop Boys. Tennant provides main vocals, keyboards, and guitar. In a 1994 interview with the UK gay lifestyle magazine Attitude, Tennant officially came out. Pet Shop Boys have sold over 100 million records worldwide and are one of the best-selling musical groups in the world. The group is listed as the most successful duo in UK music history in The Guinness Book of World Records. They have achieved 42 Top 30 singles and 22 Top 10 hits on the UK Singles Chart. Their hits “West End Girls,” “It’s a Sin,” “Always on My Mind” and “Heart” have all reached No.1. Tennant was the executive producer for Rufus Wainwright’s 2007 album Release the Stars. In 2009 Tennant received the BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Still going strong, the Pet Shop Boys’ 2009 album Yes reached No. 4 on the UK album charts.
6. George Michael
With hits such as “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” Wham! blasted into the 1980’s with style. George Michael and his high school pal Andrew Ridgeley formed the duo known as Wham! in 1981. When they broke up in 1986, Michael claimed his reason was to create a more sophisticated sound to target a new audience over Wham!’s primarily teenage fan-base. Michael’s first single as a solo artist was the Aretha Franklin duet “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” which earned them both a Grammy win in 1998 for Best R&B Performance. Michael continued to add hits such as “Faith” “Freedom ’90,” and “I Want Your Sex” to his already impressive resume, making the star an international sex symbol. Although he was coy about his sexuality, he was outted by the Los Angeles police in 1998 when he was arrested for engaging in “lewd acts” in a public restroom. In a 2007 interview with Independent News, Michael admitted he hid the fact he was gay for fear of the affect it might have on his mother. Since 1996, Michael has been in a long-term relationship with businessman Kenny Goss, who owns the Goss Gallery in Dallas, TX. Michael contributed all of the proceeds from his duet with Elton John, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to 10 different charities for children, AIDS and education.
5. Boy George
As part of the British New Romantics movement of the 1980’s, the androgynous Boy George, front man for Culture Club, gave us hits such as “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?,” “Karma Chameleon” and “Time (Clock of the Heart).” Although he struggled with heroin addiction and a breakup with fellow Culture Club drummer Jon Moss (theirs was a secret relationship due to Moss’ discomfort with a same-sex partner), he has had some high points in his career since leaving Culture Club. He’s established himself as a successful DJ in London’s club scene, started a clothing line called “B-rude,” penned tracks for the Beach Boys, Charlotte Church and Kylie Minogue, and has had several solo hits, including “The Crying Game” and “Amazing Grace.” Talk of a Culture Club reunion in 2012 is official and George says, “It’s going to be great fun. If we don’t do it now, we’ll do it when we’re 60 and that would be tragic.” George helped give androgyny an international stage and often played coy on his sexual nature, once famously stating he preferred a “nice cup of tea” to sex. He has remained a constant figure in the public eye and has penned numerous songs focusing on the frustrations of the inequalities for gay citizens.
4. The Village People (Alexander Briley, Randy Jones, Felipe Rose)
In 1977 openly gay French music producer Jacques Morali was visiting a New York City gay bar, when he spotted Felipe Rose working as a go-go dancer dressed in full Native American headdress and attire. Morali was currently working with the talented singer Victor Willis, whom he dubbed “the young man with the big voice” and after spotting Rose, a light bulb went off in Morali’s head and he posted an ad in a music trade magazine that read: “Macho Types Wanted: Must Dance And Have A Moustache.” Along with Willis (the police officer and heterosexual) and Rose (the Native American, openly gay), Morali brought on Randy Jones (the cowboy, openly gay), Glen Hughes (the biker, heterosexual), David Hodo (the construction worker, heterosexual), and Alex Briley (the soldier, openly gay). Hoping to target gay men’s fantasies by depicting popular gay fantasy personas, Morali created The Village People, a name he chose in reference to New York City’s Greenwich Village, which at the time was known for its substantial gay population. As a group, The Village People’s churned out hits like “Go West,” “In the Navy,” and “Macho Man,” which put them on the charts and brought them mainstream attention, but it was their classic hit “Y.M.C.A.” that made them one of the most successful groups of the disco era, becoming the first gay group to have a No. 1 hit in the UK (the second being Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”). Women loved them for the “men-in-uniform” fantasy they fulfilled, straight men appreciated the Americana themes in their music, and gay men heralded them for their visibility and the courage they gave others to be openly gay. In regards to their positive impact on helping gay youth come out, Rose once told The Hour, a Montreal newspaper “People always tell me, ‘You helped me come out.’ I always reply, ‘You did that on your own.’.”
3. Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)
As the lead singer for R.E.M., Michael Stipe has been a pioneer for the alternative rock genre and has played a part as one of the most influential rock bands of the 1980s and ‘90s. With classic hits like “Losing My Religion,” “It’s The End of the World As We Know It,” “The One I Love,” “Man on the Moon” and “Everybody Hurts,” Stipe’s unique “mumbling” style of singing and his surreal songwriting ability led to R.E.M.’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Established in Athens, Georgia in 1980, R.E.M.’s debut album Murmur (released in 1983) received critical acclaim, even beating Michael Jackson’s Thriller for Album of the Year in the Rolling Stone Critics Poll. For the next decade, R.E.M. went on to release a string of successful albums with chart topping hits. In 1996, the group signed a reported $80 million recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, the largest of its kind at that point in history. Rumors began swirling about Stipe’s sexuality in response to a hat he wore in 1992 that said “White House Stop AIDS”. At the time Stipe would only comment that he was an “equal opportunity lech” saying he did not call himself gay, straight or bisexual. Finally in 2001, Stipe ended years of speculation by coming out in Time magazine. He divulged that he had been in a three-year relationship with an amazing man and describes himself as a queer artist. Stipe’s stated his reason for waiting so long was that “it was super complicated for me in the ‘80s. I was totally open with the band and my family and my friends and certainly the people I was sleeping with. I thought it was pretty obvious…I’d just never felt strongly enough about a particular relationship to say ‘Yeah, he’s my boyfriend, that is what it is’. Now I recognize that to have public figures be very open about their sexuality helps some kid somewhere out there.”
2. Freddy Mercury (Queen)
As the front man and songwriter for the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury belted out hit after hit, from “We Are the Champions” to “Bohemian Rhapsody” to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” He was one of the most theatrical rock performers, explaining, “We’re the Cecil B. DeMille of rock and roll, always wanting to do things bigger and better.” He had a four-octave range, he crafted songs that spoke of both the bright and the gritty sides of life, he claimed, “I am as gay as a daffodil” and as David Bowie said, “I always admired a man who wore tights…He was definitely a man who could hold an audience in the palm of his hand.” Freddie Mercury died of AIDS related pneumonia on November 24, 1991, one day after publicly announcing that he had AIDS. Although he was criticized for keeping his illness a secret, it was completely in character for the intensely private man. He leaves a legacy of music that is celebrated around the world.
1. Elton John
With more than 30 albums and 250 million records sold, Sir Elton John is one of the most celebrated and successful musical artists in the world. With his flamboyant style, raspy voice and an unerring ability to get to the heart of every song he’s written, Elton John has been recognized with Grammy Awards, a Tony Award and even an Academy Award. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, his “Candle in the Wind” is the best selling single of all time. He has been writing with his creative partner, Bernie Taupin, since 1967. While they have collaborated on over 30 albums, they are never in the same room when writing. Active in the fight against AIDS since the 1980’s, his Elton John AIDS Foundation, started in 1992, has raised millions of dollars to fund programs for HIV/AIDS prevention as well as providing services for people living with HIV/AIDS. He was knighted in 1995 for his charitable work by Queen Elizabeth and wed his husband, David Furnish, in 2005. Elton shows no signs of slowing down, either in his quest to raise funds and awareness about HIV/AIDS or his mission to share his incredible musical talent with the world. This year Sir Elton and Furnish became parents via a surrogate and he released his 30th studio album The Union with Leon Russell.