What’s queer music? Find out at Center for Popular Music Studies conference Nov. 16

Music has a way to soothe the soul, and for many people from the LGBT community music has done that. Along the way, it gave rise to a type of music called queer music.

New findings about this music tradition’s history is the topic of conference on queer music, hosted by Case Western Reserve University’s Center for Popular Music Studies on Saturday, Nov. 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Harkness Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.

The one-day event will feature renowned scholars from across the country. Among the presenters is Mitchell Morris, the Valentine Professor of Music from Amherst College, who teaches a course on LGBT perspectives in popular music.

He defines queer music as that “created by, performed by or enthusiastically embraced by gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered folks in all their magnificent diversity and also by their allies, friends and partners on the margins of conventional sexual identity.”

But he also explains that it isn’t restricted to the LGBT performers; it also includes greats like Judy Garland, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton and Cher, who have a following among audiences in the sexual minority.

And he added that the music, like queer people, looks and sounds like everybody else…”that is, on the surface.”

As a young gay man, Morris found music offered him a crucial way of making sense of himself: “It taught me much about ways to think and feel; it fostered a community of imagination that made me less isolated.”

Music also gave Morris solace and strength that offered him ways toward a larger and more generous world of feeling. “I know that many LGBT people would say the same things,” he said.

The conference offers a way to highlight the music’s beauty and self-expression, even under adverse and variable circumstances, and is profoundly human, Morris said. “Knowing the intimate context of its creation and interpretation enriches all our experience and shows us important things about how the world looks through different eyes, and sounds to different ears.”

Joining Morris in presenting different aspects this music tradition will be:

  • Alice Echols, the Barbra Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies and professor of English at University of Southern California, is the author of several books, among which are Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Cultures (2010) and Scars of Sweet Paradise:  The Life and Times of Janis Joplin (named Los Angeles Times‘ best book of 1999). Hot Stuff explores disco and its connections with women’s liberation, the Civil Rights movement and the LGBT movement.
  • Stephan Pennington, assistant professor of music at Tufts University, studies transgender performances and identity. He teaches courses on African-American music, queer pop, rock n’ roll history, American music and the transatlantic jazz era between the world wars.
  • Judith Peraino is a professor of musicology and a member of the Medieval Studies Program and the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Cornell University. She is also the author of Listening to the Sirens:  Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig (2006).
  • Susan McClary, a professor of musicology at Case Western Reserve University, will respond to the conference presentations. She is known for her book, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (1991), an examination of cultural constructions of gender, sexuality, and the body in music from early 17th century opera to Madonna.

For more information about the conference, call or email Robert Walser, director of the Center for Popular Music Studies, at 216.368.4410 or email walser@case.edu.