Being an “out” country singer was never Brandy Clark’s goal. Clark has just always strived to make the best music possible. But the singer realized in recent years much like the trailblazers she’s looked to in her life, she has become one for a new generation of people who are learning more about themselves. In this blog written by Clark, she pays homage to her early inspiration k.d. lang and shares her personal journey as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Throughout June, better known as Pride Month, Sounds Like Nashville will feature several other blogs written by members of the community or allies of it. Stay tuned for more. For now, please read Brandy’s entry below…
When asked to write an open letter for gay pride month about the importance of LGBTQ representation in the country music community, my first thought was of k.d. lang. As a young girl growing up in Morton, Washington, k.d. lang was one of the first country singers that I remember hearing on the speakers of my parent’s home stereo. Her albums Shadowland, Ingenue, Drag and Absolute Torch and Twang were always on heavy rotation on my mom’s playlist and so by proxy, on mine as well. k.d. was a REAL country singer with a throaty voice often compared to Patsy Cline, which was why my mom was such a fan. I remember a music video where k.d. teamed up with some classic country queens (Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee and Kitty Wells) for the classic “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. k.d. lang was every bit the archetype country queen that they were, BUT it wasn’t only her music that made such a lasting impact on me. I remember watching a performance with my mom where k.d. made a comment to the audience about being a “Lawrence Welk Fan.” I didn’t know what this meant. I had seen the Lawrence Welk Show, but I knew that this was some sort of a joke with the audience. And so I asked my mom what she meant. My mom told me that she was making a joke about being a “lesbian”… a word that I had never heard. I asked my mom what that word meant and she explained to me that that was a gay woman. I’m sure I didn’t know what “gay” meant that day either, as it is my first memory of the word.
Fast forward many years later, I am in my early 20s, living in Nashville, learning to write songs, working towards getting those songs and myself heard AND discovering that I am in fact a lesbian. Not an easy realization for me to come to terms with. I think probably not an easy realization for anyone to come to terms with, but in 1997/1998 there wasn’t much representation of the LGBTQ community in mainstream country music. So in my mind, I had a couple of options… 1. I could be closeted and chase an artist career or 2. I could be openly gay and be a songwriter. I chose number 2 for a while, because I never much liked that closet. In my opinion, it’s nowhere to live unless you are a winter coat. But that itch to be an artist who makes their own records and sings their own songs never died in me, and by the time I had the opportunity to make my first album 12 Stories, I was too far out of the closet to ever go back in. As excited as I was to make that album and take the journey of a recording artist, I was also scared because I knew that my sexuality would be a talking point and not one I was real eager to discuss. I mean who really wants to talk about their sexuality??? Everyone around me worked really hard and continues to work hard to always keep the focus on the music I am making, but inevitably, it does come up from time to time and the longer I’m making my own records the more I welcome it. And so much of the reason that I welcome it is because of k.d. lang. During those early days of releasing music, I thought about k.d. lang a lot and would tell myself that there was a place for an openly gay singer/songwriter like myself in country music in 2013/2014 because there was a place for an openly gay singer/songwriter like k.d. lang in the late 80s and early 90s. Had k.d. not been so visible, I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to be. So thank you k.d. lang wherever you are for not only sharing your incredible art, but also for being your authentic self. It’s made it much easier for me to be my authentic self.
I was very recently reminded of how important visibility is. I was leaving an interview at my alma mater Belmont University when a young female student stopped me. She nervously said, “Excuse me…I just wanted to thank you for all that you do for the LGBTQ community. You are a torch and it really makes a difference for a lot of kids. Me being one of them.” I was so moved and taken aback by this. Mostly because I don’t see myself as doing “a lot” for the LGBTQ community. I see myself as someone who makes music and doesn’t hide who I am in doing it. I’m not marching in parades…I’m just being me. BUT “just” being me clearly has made an impact on this young girl. Much like k.d. lang “just” being who she is made an impact on me.
Visibility is important because we often times have to see someone blaze a trail before we can walk down it ourselves. So, thank you to all the trailblazers who came before me and made this an easier path to walk on.