Queer Music Artists You Need to Know

We celebrate some of music’s most important queer artists as part of LGBTQIA+ History Month...



Many of music’s most important, inspirational artists and songs have come from the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Over the course of history, queer artists have led the way and pushed the story of music ever-forwards.

From classical composer Benjamin Britten, who never publicly spoke about his sexuality, and pioneering Blues artist Ma Rainey to the gender fluidity of seventies auteurs such as David Bowie, Grace Jones and Lou Reed, the influence of LGBTQIA+ communities have run through music of many forms. 

Indeed, since contemporary pop landed in the mainstream conscious during the sixties, queer artists have risen to ever greater prominence across an array of genres, styles and fashions.

They may not have always been accepted but its often these individuals and groups who have driven creative innovation and set the bar for the rest to follow." 

As part of our LGBTQIA+ History Month series of content, here we’ll profile some past and present pioneering LGBTQIA+ artists and their key musical moments... 

Ma Rainey and the Blues

Ma Rainey, referred to by many as the ‘Mother of the Blues’, is a game-changing American artist and songwriter, not only for the music she wrote and performed but also for being open about her bisexuality at a time when few discussed it. 

Born in 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, Rainey rose to fame during the early 20th Century and, after being signed to Paramount Records, made more than 100 records between 1923 and 1928 with her lyrics often focusing on sexual attraction and androgyny. 

A key song from Rainey is 1928’s ‘Prove It On Me Blues’ with lyrics including: ‘Went out last night with a crowd of my friends / They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men/ It’s true I wear a collar and a tie…’). 

Watch the 2020 film 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' for more on her and her life...

Dusty Springfield 

Born in 1939, Dusty Springfield went on to become an iconic singer with one of the most distinctive soul voices to be heard during the sixties.

Originally born in Britain, she first made her name as part of a folk and country group called the Springfields before she embarked on a solo career. 

It was in the mid-sixties that Dusty hit her prime with some of her most well known hits - ‘The Son of a Preacher Man’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself’ and ‘The Look of Love’  - all helping define her career. 

Springfield received acclaim in 1969 when she released 'Dusty in Memphis', an album that was awarded a prestigious spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. She continued to release music and revisited fame with a collaboration with eighties pop legends, the Pet Shop Boys. 

Quizzed on her sexuality in September 1970, Springfield told Ray Connolly of the Evening Standard: "Many other people say I'm bent, and I've heard it so many times that I've almost learned to accept it ... I know I'm perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don't see why I shouldn't."

The Tom Robinson Band and 'Glad to Be Gay'

You might know Tom Robinson as BBC broadcaster but his Tom Robinson Band also had numerous seminal music moments including 'Glad to Be Gay'

Released in February 1978, 'Glad to Be Gay' is built on four verses criticising British society's attitudes towards gay people.

Each verse takes aim at the establishment for the double standards, discrimination and homophobia of the time. The first verse attacks the British police for their unwarranted raiding of gay pubs. Another dissects about the mental and physical impact of violence against gay people without reason except for their sexuality. 

Patrick Cowley and Sylvester 

As a musical movement, disco was born out of queer, Black and Latin communities in New York City during the seventies.

Initially, an underground sound heard in illicit spaces, it changed both the pop charts and the ways in which nightclubs sounded and the duo of producer Patrick Cowley and singer Sylvester were behind some of the scene's most brilliant moments. 

From ‘Menergy’ to Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and of course the orgasmic remix of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, few have been able to capture the heady rush of the dancefloor as Cowley and his musical accomplice." 

Sadly, Cowley died in 1982 from AIDS. His musical comrade in arms Sylvester was die from the same causes in 1988. You can still revel in their musical magic below...

Bronski Beat and Frankie Goes to Hollywood

In 1984, pop music in the UK started to embrace its queerness more overtly and infiltrate the mainstream chart thanks in part to the brilliant work of many new bands including Bronski Beat and Liverpool's Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

With both featuring gay members and singing about gay themes on their hits, they sparked controversy with their tracks, ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Relax’

Both were banned by established broadcasters but went on to become anthems for the LGBTQIA+ community - and pop music would never quite be the same again. 

Freddie Mercury 

As lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury was one of the most famous musical stars of his generation, heading up a bombastic rock band who defined the decade and huge events such as Live Aid and the group’s own legendary gig at Wembley. 

Often adopting different looks and styles for the band's videos and performances, Freddie never officially came out and passed away from Aids in 1991. Still, his legacy as an  LGBTQIA+ artist, songwriter and performer is a hugely important one. 

As MIKAH MUIR writes in the Gay Times: "I remember first seeing Queen’s performance of Top of The Tops (1974) when they performed 'Killer Queen', Freddie immediately grabbed my attention, with a shoulder length shag haircut, painted nails, draped in a fur coat and punctuating verses with rolling expressive hands. I had until that point never seen a man so confidently express his femininity."

George Michael 

As a member of eighties pop duo Wham, then an acclaimed solo artist, George Michael’s influence as a songwriter and queer artist cannot be underestimated.  

After his sexuality was front page news following a police sting operation in LA in 1998, the artist responded with the magnificent ‘Outside’ and its great video.

In the video, Michael dressed as a member of the LAPD and turned the scene of his 'public downfall' - a public toilet - into a glittering disco party." 

It was this defiance and the way he handled the news that cemented Michael's reputation as a gay icon until his passing in 2016.

Speaking in an interview with the Guardian in 2005, he boldly took on the way in which queer sexuality has been treated by the media. 

“You only have to turn on the television to see the whole of British society being comforted by gay men who are so clearly gay and so obviously sexually unthreatening” 

“Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable, and automatically my response to that is to say I’m a dirty filthy f**ker and if you can’t deal with it, you can’t deal with it.”

Years & Years

Years & Years is the name for the electronic pop of solo artist and actor, Olly Alexander. Originally a trio, the band's debut studio album, 'Communion', debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart in July 2015 and was the fastest-selling debut album of the year from a UK signed group. 

The group split becoming a solo vehicle for Alexander who enjoyed a top three album with 2022's 'Night Call'. He starred in Channel 4 drama, 'It's a Sin', while has also been an advocate for positive mental health and wellbeing within the LGBTQIA+ community. 

He has previously revealed how he was advised to keep his sexuality to himself after being told by an adviser during the early days of his career. 

Commenting, he said: "I ignored her advice. When a journalist did ask me about my sexuality, I said 'Yes, I'm gay and this song is about a man'."

Honey Dijon

Honey Dijon has been an unstoppable force of nature within house music circles for more than two decades.

Weaned on the greats such as Derrick Carter, Mark Farina and Frankie Knuckles, then the likes of Danny Tenaglia in New York City, it's the energy in both DJ sets and music production that has made transgender artist Honey such a star. 

A regular selector in dance music clubs such as Berghain in Berlin and Smart Bar in Chicago, she has been a much in demand DJ and voice for marginalised groups. As she told the Guardian in a recent interview: 

I had to create the space I occupy. I transitioned at the same time I started my DJ career, in 1998, which was at a time when there was hardly any trans visibility."

Her recent album - 'Black Girl Magic' - is a call to arms while she's also won a Grammy for her contribution to Beyonce's most recent success, 'Renaissance'. Check out her brilliant Boiler Room DJ set below for more...

Arlo Parks

British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks earned two Grammy nominations in 2022 for her 2021 debut album, 'Collapsed in Sunbeams', a stunning collection of music about happiness, heartbreak and sadness in our modern world.    

Although the awards went to St. Vincent and Olivia Rodrigo, respectively, the twenty-something Parks, went onto win the Mercury Prize for the record which has been critically acclaimed from all corners. 

Commenting on the record, the Mercury judges said: "Addressing such complex issues as mental health and sexuality with real empathy, displaying a lyrical wisdom that belied her 21 years, with ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ Arlo Parks has created an album that has captured the spirit of the year in a positive, forward thinking fashion."

A much anticipated new LP is expected to emerge via Transgressive Records in spring of 2023. 

Kim Petras 

Born in Germany, trans female artist Kim Petras may have been making music for more than 10 years but it's in the last year that her star has exploded on its ascendance. 

Her collaborative 2022 single 'Unholy' with Sam Smith topped charts internationally, including the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first openly transgender solo artist to reach number one in the US.

She made history in February 2023 by winning the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance alongside Smith for their collaboration. 

In her emotional acceptance speech at the event, Petras not only thanked the queer community but also her friend SOPHIE, the Scottish electronic producer who sadly passed in an accident in 2021. 

"I just want to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me, who kicked these doors open for me so I could be here tonight ... Thank you so much for your inspiration, SOPHIE. I adore you, and your inspiration will forever be in my music."

Banner image: Arlo Parks' Facebook

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by ICMP staff writer
February 8, 2023
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