Black Queer Music History, Pt. 3 (1970s-1990s)

We have finally made it into the funky music y’all! It’s the years of disco and electronic music and black queer musicians were into it! If you watched Netflix’s series The Get Down, you know that queer folks were hugely instrumental in the spread of disco. We see it in the 70s with Sylvester and RuPaul takes over for him in the 80s and 90s as the genre changes. Over in the UK, Labi Siffre was playing with reggae sounds. Black queer women musicians were using this period of time to dig back into their blues and Americana roots to come up with some gorgeous soundscapes as well. Me’shell Ndegeocello (heart eye emoji), Tracy Chapman, Gaye Adegbalola and others were leaning into that older sound and making it fresh again, and this time, their queerness wasn’t implied, it was outright. Queer musicians have always had music in the mainstream, but what’s exciting about this time is that people were able to be out during their careers. Black queer babes growing up during this time got to see someone with the same identity as them who looked like them gain fame and acclaim. Representation matters y’all. These artists normalized being out, and their dedication to their craft made it possible our favorite artists of the 20th century to be who they are! This is my favorite era because the variety we hear during this time period is something like never before. Finally, queer black folks get to individually express their identities and aesthetics!

You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), Sylvester

Bitter, Me’shell Ndegeocello

Give Me One Reason, Tracy Chapman

Party Train, RuPaul

Prove It On Me Blues, Gaye Adegbalola

You’ve Got a Hold On Me, Labi Siffre

Do You Wanna Funk, Sylvester

Fast Car, Tracy Chapman

Step Into the Projects, Me’shell Ndegeocello

Over and Over, Sylvester

Fool of Me, Me’shell Ndegeocello

She Just Wants to Dance, Gaye Adegbalola

U.N.I.T.Y, Queen Latifah*

Material World, Tracy Chapman

I Need Somebody to Love Tonight, Sylvester

Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl, Gaye Adegbalola

If That’s Your Boyfriend [He Wasn’t Last Night], Me’shell Ndegeocello

Summer is Coming, Labi Siffre

Big Ovaries, Baby, Gaye Adegbalola

Talkin’ Bout A Revolution, Tracy Chapman

Children of Children, Labi Siffre

Make Me Wanna Holler, Me’shell Ndegeocello

Woman’s Work, Tracy Chapman

*Sure, okay fine. “But Alaina,” you say, “Queen Latifah has never come out!!” But we all know. so she gets at least one song.

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Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 330 articles for us.


  1. I am bummed that today is not a work at home day for me so I can’t listen to this on repeat like I did the other ones, but that is my plan for tomorrow!

    Thanks for creating these delightful playlists!

  2. I remember when the video for U.N.I.T.Y. came out and loved the song and the video. Was always sad when MTV wasn’t playing the video that day. Plus Queen Latifah, and motorcycles is a great combo.

  3. Is the next installment the late 90s and 2000s? Skin, bisexual frontwoman of Skunk Anansie is my favorite. She’s black and British and amazing.

  4. Thank you for making these. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of Meshel Ndegeocello. She’s amazing! Parts 1 and 2 are also really filling out my “vintage lesbians who are possibly witches” playlist. Which was originally mostly Ella Fitzgerald covering songs traditionally performed men.

  5. Nice list, but No Joan Armatrading? That’s a big oversight-she’s legend. The Weakness In Me, Willow…and so many others.

  6. What about Linda Tillery, Gwen Avery, or Mary Watkins? The 70s were great for Women’s Music.

  7. Great list – but I agree that Joan Armatrading is a huge oversight. She wasn’t exactly out, but all the lesbians KNEW and her concerts were definitely big events in the dyke scene of the 80s. Less well know is Casselberry and Durpres … a NYC duo who played in the late 80s and 90s and performed the most amazing mix of reggae, country and soul … very political and very cool. (Their version Willie Nelson’s You Were Always On My Mind was mind-blowingly sexy.) It’s hard to find any recordings but they were fantastic.

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