The fourth annual Outmusic Awards (OMAs), celebrating excellence in queer recording, songwriting, and cultural activism, will take place in The Knitting Factory on June 13, with additional events that day and the day before. In all, 100 artists from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe submitted more than 500 songs for consideration.
In their short history, the OMAs have mainly spotlighted groundbreaking, independent artists who have proudly proclaimed their renegade identity. This year’s nominees, however, also include high-profile, commercially successful artists such as Janis Ian, Rufus Wainright, and Danish duo and U.K. chart toppers Junior Senior.
In terms of the recognition they grant to emerging talent, the OMAs’ importance cannot be overstated. Residents of metropolitan areas and those with digital expertise may have increased access to mainstream and alternative lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender artists, media, and content, but others, including LGBT youth in more remote areas, or in conservative communities, especially without the inclination to negotiate the Internet, may not be aware of such musical offerings.
Some even question the necessity of promoting and highlighting an LGBT niche in the music industry. Perhaps the answer is simple, even compelling: In light of the ongoing threat of HIV infections, internalized homophobia as seen in the despair of many LGBT youth, not to mention a U.S. military that scapegoats gay and lesbian troops, the more attention given to life-affirming music, especially that which challenges gender, racial, and sexual stereotypes, the better.
Last year’s OMAs were dominated by singer/songwriter Mark Weigle, who received an unprecedented five nominations and three awards. Though Weigle is absent from this year’s roster, perhaps because his latest CD features superbly-crafted cover songs rather than his own creations, 22-year-old soul singer and Berklee College of Music graduate Adam Joseph takes over with three nominations. His CD “How I Seem To Be Received” is nominated for an Outstanding New Recording in both the Male and Debut Male categories. Joseph also has an Out Song of The Year nomination for “Flow With My Soul.”
Other male multiple nominees include Minneapolis-based hip-hop artist Johnny Dangerous (“Dangerous Liaisons”), nominated in the Male and Debut Male categories; DreamWorks recording artist Rufus Wainwright (“Want One”), eligible in both the Male and Outstanding Songwriter categories; and Miami-based Steven Franz for Debut Male (“The One You Choose”) and Out Song (“Double My Wardrobe”).
Female double-nominees include Arizona-based Namoli Brennet’s Outstanding New Recording-Female (“Welcome to the Afterglow”) and Out Song (“We Belong”). Boston-based Catie Curtis has double hopes for New Recording-Female (“Acoustic Valentine”) and Out Song (“Honest World”).
Musical diversity abounds with Chicago punk rockers Super 8 Cum Shot, a previous winner who may score Outstanding New Recording-Band (“Super 8 Cum Shot Volume II”) plus Outstanding Producer (Jinx Titanic). San Francisco’s all-transgender Transcendence Gospel Choir gets two nods for Outstanding Choir Recording (“Whoever Believes”) and Outstanding Producer (Ashley Moore).
There are many returning winners and nominees. Kentucky-based folk duo Wishing Chair, double winners in 2003, team up with Kara Barnard to vie for Outstanding New Recording-Duo or Group. New York jazz composer Drew Paralic, a 2002 winner, could receive Outstanding New Recording-Instrumental (“Midnight At a Time”). Other return winners include Skott Freedman, Girlyman (formerly Garden Verge), and Eve Sicular of Isle of Klezbos.
Ari Gold, nominated in 2002, is up for Out Song (“He’s on My Team”). Alix Olson, nominated in 2001, is up for Out Musician Of The Year.
Other return nominees include The bootLICKERS, Robert Urban, Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, and Namoli Brennet.
While industry professionals and music critics choose most nominees, only Outmusic members select the Out Musician and Out Song winners. Since most Outmusic members reside in New York, concerns over regional bias sometimes surface.
This year’s Out Musician nominees all have notable achievements to their credit. Skott Freedman receives recognition for ongoing bisexual activism and contributions to LGBT non-profit centers. Freddy Freeman deserves accolades for fundraising efforts and promoting LGBT music events such as Bearapalooza. Kris Landherr has organized queer-friendly music events, fundraising, and AIDS-prevention work, while Robert Urban actively promotes LGBT musicians and does community fundraising and political lobbying. Queer activist Alix Olson serves as a female role model for “independent queer voice, spirit, and courage.”
Beyond the event’s whopping nine Out Song nominations, the gala awards ceremony warrants attention. Venerable British rocker Tom Robinson hosts the evening and will grace transgendered punk-rock diva Jayne County with the Out Music Heritage Award. Music journalist Larry Flick receives kudos for Outstanding Support, and women’s music pioneer Maxine Feldman (who wrote one of the first openly lesbian ballads, recorded in 1972) and LGBT Christian music activist Marsha Stevens earn Special Recognition awards.
Such an accolade is also due to Ed Mannix and Dan Martin for holding together Outmusic as a worthy labor of love and devotion.