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How Music Helps Black Queer Artists and Industry Creatives Tell Their Stories


Photo credit: Jonathan Parham

In the vibrant tapestry of human expression and experience, music has always been a powerful medium for storytelling, and one with historical significance in Black communities. Music's ability to evoke emotions, paint vivid imagery, and convey deep narratives has made it a vital tool for sharing experiences. At GLAAD's inaugural Black Queer Creative Summit, powered by Gilead Sciences and sponsored by Spotify, attendees had the opportunity to learn from and connect with artists and music industry professionals who've long navigated their identities through their work.

The summit was geared towards empowering, educating, and training emerging Black LGBTQ creatives across five sectors of the entertainment industry. The summit's Music Supervision Track featured panels that shed light on the profound impact of music in telling the stories of Black LGBTQ artists, and how music resonates with audiences of various backgrounds.

One panel on music supervision, Music Can Tell Your Story, Too, was moderated by Victor Jackson, artist and founder of Glam Rock Soul Entertainment Group, and featured Jess Furman, Sr. Executive Creative Director of Sound Revolver; Ryan Butler, Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion of The Recording Academy; and Alaysia Sierra, Head of R&B at Spotify. For the Record got a sneak preview of the conversation between Victor, Jess, Alaysia, and Ryan.

What does working within the world of music mean to you in terms of your identity? Do you have personal experiences where music has become a powerful medium for expressing your Black queer identity? (L R: Ryan Butler, Alaysia Sierra, Jess Furman, Victor Jackson)

Victor: I fully consider it. I move through the world as a Black queer man, so in approving my music, the writing of it, the creating the performances of it, it's very important to me to take up space in my authenticity. To take up space in my Blackness, in my queerness, and in the divinity of both. So, it has a large impact on how I show up in the world and how I show up in the studio and on stage.

I'm actually on tour right now with an artist named CANDIACE; she's popular from The Real Housewives of Potomac, but I've been touring with her at City Wineries this summer, and it's really been awesome to see how the audience responds to the music, to the performance. People are singing along to the pronouns that also relate to who I love and who I share my love with. People always come up to me after and say, I didn't know I needed to hear these songs about Black queer love until I heard your songs.

Jess: For me, as a queer woman, it's about maintaining a sense of visibility in all the different areas and holding the door open. We do a lot with Women in the Mix, showing that there are women producers, writers, and engineers. We held Out Sessions a couple of years ago with my non-profit, Motion Creative, which were three days of a writing camp for LGBTQ creators, and everything there, including the food and wine vendors, were queer.

It's a big goal for me to bring visibility to my community, to hold the door open, and make sure that if I get tapped for an initiative because of my identity, I hold them accountable to not just checking that box, but to bringing on other LGBTQ participants and vendors.

Alaysia: Being a Black, queer, nonbinary person in music means a lot to me, because I know how important it is for that visibility. When I was looking at the industry growing up, I actually never really saw anyone who shared my identities and so I know for people who aspire to work in music to look in and see someone who looks like them will reassure them that it's possible. I think on the other side, the internal work that I'm able to do by having a seat here is to advocate for inclusion. And providing space and access to queer artists, creatives and future execs is equally as important as anything else I do.

Ryan: Throughout my career, I've strived to uplift marginalized voices and break down harmful stereotypes, whether in the Black community or queer community. As a Black queer man, I understand firsthand how narratives shape perceptions and that representation matters. At the Recording Academy, I've worked closely with our leaders across all verticals to ensure we are proactively inclusive and are fostering a sense of belonging. We've taken concrete steps like establishing scholarships for aspiring Black music creators and professionals, advocating for more diverse GRAMMY voters, and launching the Black Music Collective and LGBTQ Task Force.

On a personal level, I try to highlight the intersectionality and indivisibility of identity whenever possible. I firmly believe that showing people's humanity is key to fostering empathy and understanding. I've produced events that center queer artists of color and given talks on embracing authentic self-expression. My hope is that my advocacy helps dispel limiting assumptions about what it means to be Black and queer, or any identity. I think narrative change starts with individual connections. If I can help just one person feel seen or rethink bias through my own story, it's progress.

There is still much work to be done, but I'm dedicated to uplifting marginalized voices, promoting diverse talent, and inspiring people to approach social issues with nuance, compassion, and an open mind. Authentic representation in media and culture can be incredibly powerful in creating change. I'm grateful to do my part in steering the industry toward greater inclusivity and equity.

The artist's perspective Several of the artists in attendance, including Atlanta-based HAL S, 23-year-old techno-R&B creator SHAH, singer-songwriter-producer-motivational speaker-advocate Nathan Townsend, Berlin-base
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