Two Civic Fellows offer their top music picks for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

Music choices for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month include (clockwise from top left) Frank Ocean, Dame Ethel Smyth, Jennifer Higdon, Billy Strayhorn, SOPHIE and Julius Eastman

June is Pride Month, and to mark the occasion, two Civic Fellows have selected songs that celebrate the LGBTQIA+ experience. Dylan Marshall Feldpausch, who plays violin in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and Abby Black, a horn player who has finished three years in the Civic, routinely curate chamber-music concerts featuring diverse works by living composers. For this playlist, they offer eclectic choices written or performed by LGBTQIA+ artists ranging from Dame Ethel Smyth to Frank Ocean. Whether you prefer classical, jazz, rock, R&B or EDM, crank up the following tracks and let the rainbow flag fly.

“Immaterial” (2018) by SOPHIE

SOPHIE, who tragically passed away early last year, is an icon in the trans and electronic music communities. This track, like the rest of the album it comes from, explores freedom in gender expression by opening up the sonic toolkit to the full range of possibilities that computers and synthesizers are now offering. There is very much an analog between the technology of music-making and the technology of gender expression at work in this song. It’s also an A1 bop. Dylan Marshall Feldpausch

“Lush Life” by Billy Strayhorn 

Composer, arranger and pianist Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) was one of the few openly gay musicians of his time. He started as a classical pianist, but moved toward jazz because Black classical pianists were practically nonexistent. Individuality and sexual freedom played a large role in his music. He wrote one of his most iconic works, “Lush Life,” when he was just a teenager. He worked closely with Duke Ellington on the New York jazz scene. (Strayhorn recorded this track in 1964 and wrote the song in 1933-36.) Abby Black

“Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” (1976) by Queen

Like SOPHIE, Queen is a group very much in the vein of artists who have leveraged their radical commitment to personal authenticity in their art against entrenched genre boundaries and changed the musical landscape in the process. It’s impossible to choose a single track that is fully  representative of the impact Queen had on the landscape of rock music; this song was chosen simply because it’s a master class in melodic taste on the parts of both Freddie Mercury and Brian May. (DMF)

“Gay Guerrilla” (1979) by Julius Eastman 

Minimalist composer Julius Eastman relied on the beauty of simple chords and a steady pulse when writing his music. His premature death at 49 and his identity as a gay Black man led to many of his manuscripts vanishing. “Gay Guerrilla” is based on the Lutheran Hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Eastman defined a guerrilla as ”someone who is, in any case, sacrificing his life for a point of view. Those who belong to the cause will sacrifice their blood, because, without blood, there is no cause.” (AB)

“Galileo” (1992) by Indigo Girls

Indigo Girls have the Midas touch when it comes to high-energy folk music; there are so many absolute hits in their repertoire that it’s hard to pick just one. But this song is perfect because it reminds us that across their long careers, the Indigo Girls, like Galileo, have been voices of incredible reason and sensibility, waiting for the world to catch up to them. (DMF)

Partita for 8 Voices (2012), written by Caroline Shaw 

The youngest-ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Music, Caroline Shaw works across genres with artists spanning from Kanye West to the New York Philharmonic. Partita tor 8 Voices is an a cappella work, with each movement named after a different Baroque dance. It was composed for the ensemble Roomful of Teeth (heard here). (AB)

“I Don’t Want It at All” (2017) by Kim Petras

Kim Petras has been a very public representative of the trans community since she was a teenager, and it’s incredibly heartwarming to see this important part of her identity be blown out of the water by her explosive career as a top-tier pop star. With a voice like a laser beam from heaven, Petras knows what we want, and she isn’t shy about giving it to us. This song (written with three others) was her breakout hit, and the music video features an iconic cameo from Paris Hilton. (DMF)

blue cathedral (1999) by Jennifer Higdon 

Jennifer Higdon is one of the most celebrated contemporary classical composers of her time. She is married to Cheryl Lawson, and their marriage was officiated by iconic conductor Marin Alsop. Written as a concerto for orchestra in celebration of the Curtis Institute’s 75th anniversary, the piece contemplates the journey of life and death. Higdon suggests that the cathedral is “a symbolic doorway into and out of this world” and “the blue represents all potential and progression of journeys.” (AB)

“Seigfried” (2016) by Frank Ocean

If you had to pick a poet laureate for R&B, Frank Ocean would have to be on the shortlist. Combine his eloquence with a Puccini-like intuition for timbre and gesture, and it’s easy to understand why his fans still do their daily prayers for another full-length album from him, which hasn’t happened since “Seigfried” came out on “Blonde” in 2016. Frank Ocean leans into the difficult aspects of queer black life, and in so doing, gives everyone who knows some of these difficulties something incredibly beautiful to embrace. (DMF)

“The March of the Women” (1910) by Ethel Smyth 

British composer and suffragette Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was a champion of women’s rights and the first woman composer to be awarded the title of damehood. Smyth marched and protested for women’s rights and full equality. While doing so, she was incarcerated for two months. During her incarceration, she wrote “The March of the Women,” which became the protest anthem for the women’s movement in England. (AB)