Playlist: Black Queer Music History, Pt. 2 (1930s-1960s)

While the Harlem Renaissance made queerness a little more acceptable, the Great Depression stopped that in its tracks. The 1930s-1960s were a rocky time for everyone; the economy had tanked, then there was a war, and then the post-war era was all about rebuilding America (kinda feels similar to right now). Rebuilding America meant stricter gender roles, and a baby boom that felt almost compulsory. On top of this, Black queer folks were still very much so dealing with Jim Crow laws and overt racism in both the north and the south. There was also the whole McCarthy scandal going on where anyone seen as “unamerican” (aka not a Christian white dude) became a communist which was Not Good. Being out was not safe. But some artists still resisted. They used their musical performances and their fame to be able to have a little more freedom to play around. They were innovators in rock, soul, R&B, and jazz. Even before the civil rights movements of the ’60s and radical free love, these folks were practicing it.

Lush Life – Billy Strayhorn
Tutti Frutti – Little Richard*
Hound Dog – Big Mama Thornton
Boo-Wah Boo-Wah – Cab Calloway
The Joy of Loving You – Johnny Mathis
Chelsea Bridge – Billy Strayhorn
Oh Happy Day – Big Mama Thornton
Good Golly Miss Molly – Little Richard
Rock Me Baby – Big Mama Thornton
Who’s Yehoodi – Cab Calloway
Everything’s Coming Up Roses – Johnny Mathis
A Flower is a Lovesome Thing – Billy Strayhorn
Mixed Up Feeling – Big Mama Thornton
Born on the Bayou – Little Richard
Big Mama Swings – Big Mama Thornton
It Ain’t Necessarily So – Cab Calloway
In a Blue Summer Garden – Billy Strayhorn
Jail – Big Mama Thornton
Jump for Joy – Johnny Mathis
Big Mama’s New Love – Big Mama Thornton
Autumn in New York – Johnny Mathis

*Little Richard has had a back and forth relationship with ID-ing as gay. He now has a more liberal view about his sexuality, but it’s still kinda weird.

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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. Just like the first part, this is amazing. Thank you, Alaina

    “Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Water Blues Band” is one of my favorites albums of all times and “Everything Gonna Be Alright” is a song I listen on a loop constantly, now more than ever, because just like her “I feel it in my bones…”

  2. I am a big Johnny Mathis fan, especially his Christmas albums. I had no idea he was gay! Thank you, Alaina, for this awesome series. I love it!

  3. Thanks for the playlist, Alaina; 30s-60s music is nearly all I listen to these days!

    I was wondering what sources you have found for Cab Calloway being queer? I hadn’t heard that before (always taking note of jazz/oldies musicians who aren’t/weren’t straight!) and I would love to read more, but have been looking around the internet today with no luck…

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