In episode 18 of 50 Years of Heavy Metal, we're breaking down 100 years of LGBTQA+ representation in music.

Being openly gay in the 1920s wasn’t just rare, it was legitimately dangerous, but gay culture began to blossom in the Roaring ‘20s, especially throughout New York City’s club scene in Harlem, Greenwich Village and Times Square. As the LGBTQA+ community began to freely express themselves in certain spaces, artists began to hint at their sexuality through music.

Blues singer Ma Rainey is credited as a revolutionary figure for her lyrics on sexuality, first addressing the issue on her 1928 cut, “Prove It on Me Blues.”

I went out last night with a crowd of my friends
It must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men
Wear my clothes just like a fan
Talk to the gals just like any old man.

Ma Rainey is also believed to have had a relationship with blues icon Bessie Smith, who’s often credited as a forbearer for what would become rock 'n' roll. In 1930, Smith sang about her bisexuality in “The Boy in the Boat.”

When you see two women walking hand in hand
Just look ’em over and try to understand
They’ll go to those parties—have the lights down low
Only those parties where women can go.

Jumping forward to the 1950s, blues musician Billy Wright was one of the few openly gay musicians of his era, and he’s credited with helping Little Richard develop his flamboyant look. So rock and roll wasn’t just created by one gay man in Little Richard, it was created by two black, gay men from the south. As for Little Richard, the original lyrics to his rock n roll opus “Tutti Fruitti” actually read, "Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it don't fit, don't force it / You can grease it, make it easy." But the words were later rewritten by an outside lyricist and Little Richard’s ode to life as a gay man was lost on the cutting room floor.

Another man who came out relatively early was Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum. He spoke in-depth about his sexuality with The Advocate in 1993, following a previous interview where he came out to NME. "I never thought it was that important," Bottum said. "Since I went public I tend to see the prejudice that's being leveled against homosexuals. Before, I tended to think of it as a gossipy sort of a thing. Now I think of being openly gay as a political statement, something that in some small way furthers the gay rights movement ... Kids who are into hard rock and who may be dealing with the possibility of being gay themselves don't see a lot of positive role models."

There’s plenty more LGBTQA+ icons in rock and metal like Queen's Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Judas Priest's Rob Halford, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, Panic! at the Disco's Brendon Urie, Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace, Halestorm's Lzzy Hale, Jobriath, Tegan & Sara, the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley, Marcie Free, Dug Pinnick of King’s X, Otep, Gaahl, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert of Cynic, Husker Du's Bob Mould, Angel Vivaldi, Placebo's Brian Molko, Lynn Gunn, Randy ‘Biscuit’ Turner of the Big Boys, Gary Floyd from the Dicks, Life of Agony’s Mina Caputo, Melissa Martinez, Tyler Carter and the most important punk band of the 21st century, GLOSS.

Watch our full retrospective into The Truth About Sexuality in Rock + Metal in the video below. Happy Pride Month!

The Truth About Sexuality in Rock + Metal

26 LGBTQ+ Icons in Rock + Metal