In support of Show Racism The Red Card
A privileged childhood
Looking back at my childhood - a gay, middle-class white kid growing up in Plymouth and Warwick, I was lucky enough to fit in, looks-wise at least. As you know, I've written about the homophobic bullying and discrimination I faced at school at the hands of other kids and teachers. But, I'm very privileged to have enjoyed a peaceful, happy life as a young adult, a life full of opportunity, and for that I'm very grateful.
The racism conversation
In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd's murder in America, I got in touch with my black friends to ask about their experiences of racism. It felt a little too late for this chat, really. I couldn't help wishing I'd brought it up before, but I guess our chats tend to centre around little things; work, Adam Lambert's flairs, how to insert a picture into an Instagram live (impossible), Beverley Knight's duet with Gary, that kind of thing. OMG if you haven't seen Beveley's duet, Google it immediately and come straight back afterwards. It's a delight.
Every single one of my black friends listed several recent examples of racist discrimination, including; being prevented from entering a stylish shop, being excluded from a panel of (all white) influencers, receiving nasty looks from an elderly couple in a restaurant (I know how that feels) and one american black friend, one of the loveliest, most gentle people ever, even mentioned on Facebook he's afraid to leave the house in case he's arrested or killed by Police officers. I'm sure you'll agree it's absolutely heartbreaking and it's time for change.
Show Racism The Red Card
In the process of researching for this blog post (by 'research' I mean going through my old cassettes and CDs, as you'll find out shortly) I came across a charity called Show Racism The Red Card. Show Racism the Red Card is the UK's leading anti-racism educational charity. The work they are doing is wonderful and ties in with our campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusive education perfectly. I'm going to make a donation just as soon as I click 'Publish' on here and I'd urge you all to do the same. Just imagine a UK where kids in schools are routinely introduced to BAME role models. It's wonderful. Here's the link to make a donation: https://www.justgiving.com/theredcard
My BAME heroes
What better a time than right now to celebrate BAME people?
Growing up in Plymouth and Warwick, there weren't many people of colour, or any, actually that I can think of. But, and you might not know this unless we're friends in real life, I was and still am an ENORMOUS soul and R&B fan. If music maketh the man (or woman and everything in between), I was a middle-aged black lady between the ages of 10 and 21. As I've grown into an adult through music, I love nothing better than returning to the smooth soundtrack of my twelve-year-old self.
Here are ten musical BAME heroes that made me who I am today. In no particular order...
As soon as I was old enough to operate Dad's record player, I discovered Thriller by Michael Jackson. The Girl Is Mine was and still is by far my favourite track. Michael Jackson's image fascinated me - soft features and whispy, afro hair which reminded me a bit of my mum's perm.
Every Thursday night at 7pm, our family sat down on our brown settees to watch Top of The Pops. I was obsessed with Sinitta. Tall, sparkly and beautiful with enormous hair and bright red, huge lips, she was incredible.
As she mimed into her 80s faux wireless microphone I loved how her lips kept moving after each sentence had finished, something I now associate with only the best drag acts. Thinking about it, she was basically my first Drag crush! That's meant as a huge compliment, Sinitta love if you're reading this. By the way, Sinitta is also a fabulous adoptive parent. A legend.
My earliest memory of Whitney was seeing her music video for I Wanna Dance With Somebody when I was six. Like Sinitta, Whitney was captivating - her bright lipstick that she appeared to have put on her eyelids and lips, finger-clicking dance moves and wonderful purple leotard. She was beautiful and her voice resonated with me for years and years to come.
When I was thirteen, I listened to Crazy Sexy Cool by TLC an unhealthy number of times. I loved T-Boz' deep, smooth voice and the habit of their percussion to stop and then start again mid-bar. Their futuristic fashion influenced my sense of style too, regrettably... A shellsuit jacket and ski goggles are not a good look for a posh, white teenage boy in a market town like Warwick.
I remember taking my cassette walkman into school with a wired portable speaker on a sunny day, sitting in the field with my friends Matty and Gemma, feet stretched out on the grass, singing along with the harmonies on Switch. TLC were my first taste of black girl-groups and I LOVED them.
MN8 & Damage
Fast forward a year and we arrive at my black boy-band phase. And probably my gay realisation, too. Along with the arrival of CDs and my huge Alba 4-deck midi-system in my bedroom, MN8 and Damage came along. With their open shirts (a revelation for a gay teenager in the early 90s), washboard abs and lovely braided curtain hairstyles, MN8 were officially my first big boy-band crush.
Damage were a more sultry, R&B ballads kind of affair but I loved them too, especially their cover of Eric Clapton's Beautiful Tonight which I assumed was their finest songwriting. Their lead singer, Jade stole my heart. It was extremely upsetting when he revealed he was married to Baby Bunton after all those years. Anyway, I proudly owned their whole catalogue of CDs and I knew all the words to every song (and every picture on their CD inserts) off by heart.
Easther from Eternal
I'm sure my old friends will agree I had quite a thing for Easther from 1990s girl-band Eternal. Probably one of the most underrated soul voices of our generation, Easther has the most incredible, deep, powerful voice I may have ever heard.
A fifteen year old me would sit cross legged on my bed and listen to her over and over. And as the years went on, her voice kept getting bigger and more wonderful. I can't help wondering if her colour held her back somehow from becoming a global solo superstar? I remember my lad-friends finding my fascination with a black female singer quite bizarre. But to me she was, and still is incredible.
Beverley Knight MBE
Beverley Knight came along a little later in my teenage years, when I was about sixteen. Like Easther, it was all about Beverley's voice.
At the time I was transitioning from my darkest years (high school homophobia) to some of my brightest (college freedom) and Beverley's bright R&B style, which I now associate with quintessential 90s soul music, helped me through. Made it Back was my favourite Beverley Knight song. I was lucky enough to speak to Beverley last week. We chatted about her gay friends and what it means to be an LGBTQ ally. During our chat, Beverley said,
“I understand the value of allies. I’ve spent most of my life being one to my LGBTQIA friends; it doesn’t make me a “shero” or special. It just makes me a decent human who believes in equality in all things”
Skin is the lead singer of operatic rock band Skunk Anansie. My little sister Emily and I used to adore Skunk Anasie. If you've ever heard them, it might explain why my parents weren't such big fans. Skin's songs lull the listener in with soft electric guitars and whispery verses and then CLASH, BANG, BOOM... her choruses are loud, shouty, operatic, heavy guitar-laden moments of angsty joy. Think an angry angel with an electric guitar - that's Skin.
I personally identified with her androgynous look, too - she was probably the closest thing to an angry, gay person I'd found in my life so far; perfect for a fifteen year old, hormonal me. I should also mention as a black women she was, and still is very unique in the rock music world and for that I think she's a true hero.
Mary J Blige
Real Love by Mary J Blige featured on a soul compilation cassette tape that came free with a magazine when I was 11 (I think it may have been Fresh Hits). I took the tape on my inaugural school holiday to France and listened to it about 150 times on my AIWA walkman.
I only had the tiniest little picture of Mary, looking very conspicuous among a sea of white pop acts on the cassette sleeve's collage. Mary had a baggy leather jacket on and big, orange hair all tied up in a pineapple ponytail. Her voice instantly appealed to me - it sounded mature, a bit like one of the warbly older-ladies in the choir at church and Real Love was such an amazing tune. I've loved Mary J Blige ever since; her collaboration with George Michael, her incredible single I'm Going Down and more recently her 2014 album The London Sessions, written by Sam Smith and produced by Disclosure - the best soul/dance album ever made.
Who are your BAME heroes?
Steven McKell - TikTok star
"I remember watching Whoopi in Sister Act and felt empowered to sing whenever I wanted to, dance whenever I felt like it and don’t care who is watching. I still do it to this day!”
Gabriel Sey - Influencer, SuperDad
"Growing up there were many Black celebrities I looked up to and had a crush on. Haha. The crush being Halle Berry and a major crush on Lauryn hill and Aaliyah, LOL, but the person I was most drawn to was Eddie Murphy. I loved his confidence and his humour. I saw myself in him and I felt I could be like him. He made me comfortable in my skin. Also on the list is Michael Jackson, Dennis Rodman, and Michael Jordan Let’s just say representation matters."
Farrah Riley Grey - Artist and youth worker
"The first time I listened to Tracy Chapman was the first time I understood the revolutionary impact of music. Her music was accessible to me as a child. I felt awe from Chapman's ability to discuss issues around race, class, and domestic violence with simple melodies and powerful vocal storytelling. I’ve been re-listening to a lot of her albums recently, and have a sadness that so many of the issues she spoke about in the 80s/90s are still relevant in 2020."
Mickey Taylor - International pop star
"Whoopi Goldberg was my BAME hero. Not only was she hilarious, she was an incredible actress who really showed people what women of colour were capable of in entertainment and I saw the respect she was given. She still inspires me now."
John Harrison - Daddy's mate
"Bob Marley was the first artist I listened to who’s song words weren’t just nonsense but had a deeper meaning. “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds”
Samuel Pack - Singer and songwriter
"Heavily influenced by my sister, the power Beyoncé conveys always resonated with me, especially being gay. I always knew she felt different in a similar way to me because of my sister and her confidence was always something I looked up to."
Howey - Blogger and owner of PR firm Kreativedon
"Growing up, my dad would blast music from the likes of Fela, Bob Marley and lucky Dube. It is no wonder that I idolised these artist because their music was message with a purpose driven. With this being said, when I got my first walk-man the first cassette I asked for was Lauryn Hill’s first album. I would listen to ‘Everything is everything’ on repeat. This song drives the message ‘what is meant to be will be."
Aunty Emily - the boys' wonderful Aunty
"Skunk Anansie (Skin) was always mesmerising to watch and her voice is just incredible. ‘Charity’ was a definite go to when I just needed to get away from everything."
Please do remember to donate to Show Racism The Red Card via the JustGiving link at the very top of this blog post.