Out & About & On The Rise

Allow me to introduce you to some of the most exciting up-and-coming gay artists. Upon hearing the music of each of the artists that are profiled in this piece, it occurred to me that they all have something in common, besides the fact that they are fabulously talented and out-of-the-closet. When Diana Ross recorded her now famous single “I’m Coming Out” just over 30 years ago (which unintentionally became an international gay anthem), five of six of these musicians weren’t even born yet. And the one that was, was still in diapers. But this exposé isn’t about age or nostalgia. It’s about the here and now – the raw intense talent of new musicians and the courage they embody to be categorized as gay musicians right out of the gate. I am still perplexed that in 2011 we still have to resort to labels. Why not just call them talented musicians, especially when it comes to their enormous gifts? But that’s (still) the way it is. I am as out & proud as these singers and songwriters, but I don’t have their musical gifts, nor their notoriety. However, I do have the opportunity to let you in on their incredible talent.

Derek Bishop

Derek Bishop recently released his debut CD titled “Resistance Is Beautiful,” and it’s a knockout! Bishop has many gripes and he has no intention of internalizing any of them. Instead, he’s taking a healthier approach to expressing himself. While most of us resort to traditional therapy or our nearest and dearest friends to vent our innermost thoughts, trials and tribulations, Bishop relies on his writing and performing. The result is one memorable pop song after another, all peppered with a touch of electronica and good old-fashioned old-school synthesizers. If I had to compare this singer/songwriter’s style of writing and performing to anyone familiar, I’d say I sense a hint of Elton and Billy Joel, combined with some incredible harmonies and backed with some reverb that would’ve made Phil Spector envious in his heyday. Mr. Bishop describes his music as “vintage keyboards, the occasional big band, marching band, Broadway orchestra pit, a suitcase-full of percussion, and of course a rock band,” and it’s all melded into one giant pot of pop perfection. To hear a sample of Bishop’s music, just check out the single and video “The Last Word” on YouTube and take a sample listen to the tracks on iTunes. They all carry a rollicking feel to them. But Bishop does have a soft side, most evident in his ballads, and most especially in the beautifully crafted and performed “Thinking About You.” There are many highlights, and they are certain to make you curious to hear more and to check out the entire 12-song collection that this newcomer has generously presented to us.

Jake Walden

Have you seen or heard any singer/songwriting acts out on the L.A. café circuit lately? If you haven’t, you’re missing out on a lot of great talent. If you have, you might be familiar with the buzz surrounding Jake Walden. With a voice that is flavored with some beautiful soul, not to mention his smokin’ good looks, his natural musical talent goes far beyond your average cabaret lounge singer. This guy has that “it” factor that not only warrants the buzz around town he’s been receiving, but it’s obvious to many that this guy is in it for the long haul. Longevity could be his middle name and he’s just getting started. Jake’s latest CD offering, “Same Something Different,” is a highly personal collection that carries with it his anxieties, as well as his intense love and passion. His voice transcends his incredible passion and goes straight from his heart to yours. Walden is such an emotive singer  – his live performances are nothing less than astonishing. But for those who aren’t able to catch him live, hearing him on record is the next best thing. Check out “Same Something Different” and take a listen to this wonderfully talented man. Jake says of the CD, “There’s always a sense of longing and some pain that comes along with seeking anything that’s great in life. I’m a person who has lived in a lot of darkness. This album doesn’t deny that, but at the same time through it, I step out into the light.” He sums it up perfectly. If you haven’t heard of him before, remember this recommendation. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Tom Goss

Tom Goss is a Wisconsin native who packed up his belongings and moved to the nation's capitol about seven years ago, and what a perfect place for him to be! Not only is he a great singer/songwriter, but he has added another label to his resume: activist. He not only uses his songs to promote love, but he also has planted a seed for gay rights in his lyrics, most especially and most recently on the subject of Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell. As a matter of fact, he has a terrific Public Service Announcement posted on YouTube with fellow balladeer, Matt Alber. The song they promote for DADT is “This Is Who We Are.” Before the two take to song on the National Mall, they have two ex-soldiers speak out on how they were “tossed out” for being gay. It’s a powerful message and a powerful video that only gives you a hint of what Tom stands for: his beliefs and the power of music, and how he uses it for the betterment of man and, most especially, the LGBT community. Aside from being an activist in song, he also pours out his heart in his love songs. In a recent interview, he spoke of his partner whom he met in 2006, and claims he then “had a lot to write about.” It’s a pleasure to hear great love songs without the typical clichés. They’re honest and they’re beautiful. His most recent CD, “Turn It Around,” was released in April, but you’ll find this 29-year-old with several selections for sale on iTunes, with his most popular CD’s “Back To Love” and “The Politics Of Love,” all three released within the past two years. Take a listen for yourself and see why people are talking about this important singer/songwriter/activist. The gay community is getting a stronger voice as time passes, and with Tom’s voice singing out loud and proud, we’re getting to where we need to be just a little faster. He’s a talent who made a name for himself quickly in the D.C. area, and with the last couple of CD’s, he’s been making a name for himself around the country. He has the gift of a great voice that not only conveys his messages of hope and tolerance, he sings about the most important message of all, and that is love. 

Matt Morris

You might be familiar with Matt Morris. If you were fortunate enough to catch the “Hope For Haiti” telethon last year and wondered who the incredibly talented singer was that sang alongside Justin Timberlake on the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah,” that was Matt. As a matter of fact, that track from the telethon was the most downloaded off the album and collected the most relief money for the people of Haiti in the wake of their disastrous earthquake. Morris was born out of country roots. His dad, Gary Morris, was a major country star in the 80s, but country wasn’t Matt’s forte. The trait that Matt inherited from his famous father was his songwriting skill. Matt began his career early as a child star on The Disney Channel’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” with fellow co-stars Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. As a matter of fact, his songwriting skills were so sharp as a young man that he co-wrote a half dozen of Aguilera’s songs for her 2002 album “Stripped,” as well as collaborating on Kelly Clarkson’s #1 Grammy-nominated hit “Miss Independent,” and added his songwriting talents to Timberlake’s multi-platinum opus “FutureSex/LoveSounds” in 2006. In the early 2000s, Morris “came out” and has been very active as a singer in his own right. His most recent CD, “When Everything Breaks Open,” was released last year to critical acclaim and he can also be heard on several compilation albums, most notably Reba McEntire’s “Duets,” released in 2007, where he shares the song “The Only Promise That Remains” with the country chanteuse. Check out his two previous works as well; the 2002 CD “UnSpoken,” and the 2008 EP “Backstage At Bonnaroo And Other Acoustic Performances.”

Gregory Douglass

Interestingly enough, Gregory Douglass has been on the music scene since the turn of the century. At 30 years old, he’s just starting to get the buzz that most artists receive earlier in their careers. He’s had a string of albums, but it wasn’t until 2007, when he released the video “Hang Around” and his debut video “I Wanted To Run,” that he started to get much-deserved airplay on LOGO, and viewers started to take notice of this singer’s natural, folk/pop/rock sensibilities. In light of those two well-received videos, a few national gay publications garnished Douglass with radiant reviews in 2008. He has shared the stage with such impressive acts as Jason Mraz and India.Arie, and also released a great holiday album in 2009. Why am I focusing on an “up-and-coming” artist that has been recording for over a decade? The answer is that it wasn’t until his latest offering, an incredible performance of Adele’s “Set Fire To Rain” that hit YouTube as recently as five months ago, when that “buzz” really started to circulate about him and his incredible voice. Not exclusively in the U.S., but internationally as well. You don’t have to take my word for it, all you have to do is go online and check out his performance for yourself and see why after all these years in the business, Gregory Douglass is receiving the recognition and attention he deserves. The best is yet to come for this performer, and he has earned the right to be someone to watch.

Levi Kreis

In the past five years, Levi Kreis went from a struggling actor/singer to Tony Award-winning actor for his portrayal of the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis in the Broadway production “Million Dollar Quartet.” His Tony was for Best Featured Actor In A Musical. This 29-year-old first got national exposure when he was featured on NBC’s “The Apprentice” back in 2005. After that, he took $200.00 of his earnings to produce his very first CD titled “One Of The Ones” and taught himself everything he could about “the business.” He earned some money getting gigs where he could, and actually toured a bit on the strength of that collection of songs. The second time around, he had a little more money and decided to invest it into his sophomore CD release, “The World According To Levi.” It was at that time that the team organizing the 2009 musical “Million Dollar Quartet” noticed Kreis. His outstanding performance and the Tony Award allowed him the freedom to make more of his own choices. Just last month I was reading Billboard magazine and noticed they had listed Levi Kreis as one of the Top 5 “do-it-yourselfers.” He had emphasized that his career would be on his terms, and he would perform and play the parts and sing the songs that suited him. He’s not only comfortable in his own skin as an “out” performer, but he seems to live his life the same way he directs his career – just being true to himself. It’s refreshing and comforting to see a performer that could have taken an easier route by keeping his sexual identity hidden in order to make his transition up the ladder of success a bit easier, but that’s not who Levi Kreis is. His talent would have won out anyway. There are certain performers who have enough raw talent that their sexual preference is an afterthought. His skills as a musical artist are first and foremost front and center. With that said, take a listen to Levi Kreis on iTunes, and check him out on YouTube, and you’ll realize why he had the #1 video of 2009 on LOGO. Kreis has been in the studio recording his fourth yet-to-be-titled CD. It’s scheduled for release in February 2012.

© 2011 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.