Changing openness and tolerance towards LGBTQ singer-songwriters

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A characteristic feature of the singer-songwriter idiom is the perceived confessional and personal nature of communication from musician to listener. The most commercially successful singer-songwriters use lyrics to describe personal experiences in ways heard by the listener as shared, universal experiences (falling in love, breaking up with a partner, and so on). Allan Moore concurs, describing this validation of listener’s life experiences as ‘second-person authenticity’. In most cases in the Anglophone pop mainstream, these assumed shared life experiences between creator and receiver reinforce the expected norm of the heterosexual, usually white, Western adult. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) perspectives complicate this universality. In this chapter, I consider how three LGBTQ singer-songwriters have used musical styles, lyrics, and extramusical actions and activities to effect and respond to changing social attitudes and tolerance over the last fifty years. Elton John Reginald Kenneth Dwight was born in Pinner, Middlesex (UK) on 25 March 1947. He began playing the piano aged three, and was awarded a Junior Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music aged eleven. In 1962, he began performing in a local pub, playing the piano to accompany himself singing cover versions of contemporary hits as well as his own songs. Two years later he joined his first band, The Corvettes, which later reformed as Bluesology. Dwight took his stage name from the Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and their lead singer Long John Baldry, and legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John in 1967. In 1967, Elton John answered a ‘Talent Wanted’ advert in the New Musical Express. Ray Williams of the NME put him in touch with lyricist Bernie Taupin, and thus began the longstanding songwriting collaboration that persists to this day. (For more biographical detail, and issues of authorship and performance, see Chapter 11.) The collaboration began remotely, with Taupin sending John completed lyrics to set to music. This can be seen as a modern-day counterpart to the ‘Lied singer-songwriters’ of the nineteenth-century (see Hamilton and Loges in Chapter 2) - although a distinction may be drawn between the latters’ tradition of setting established poetry to music, and John setting lyrics that Taupin had written for the purpose. Despite changing environments - the pair shared bunk beds at John’s mother’s Pinner home in the 1970s and later flat-shared - they have continued working in series to this day
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter
EditorsKatherine Williams, Justin A. Williams
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781316569207
ISBN (Print)9781107063648
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameCambridge Companions to Music
PublisherCambridge University Press

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