Read about Black LGBT men and women who made a name of themselves in history to honor during Black History Month.
Billie Holiday (1915 –1959) - It is widely known that the Jazz singer had affairs with women.
Alvin Ailey (1931 –1989). Public Domain.
Ailey was an African-American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. He is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th-century concert dance. His company gained the nickname "Cultural Ambassador to the World" because of its extensive international touring. In 1977, Ailey was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1988, just one year before his death. In 2014, former President Barack Obama selected Ailey to be a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Felicia Pearson (May 18, 1980). Photo via Facebook.
Pearson is an American actress, author, and rapper. She is best known for playing a character of the same name, on “The Wire.” She wrote a memoir titled “Grace After Midnight” detailing her troubled childhood and time spent in prison for second-degree murder. “The Wire” aired on HBO between 2002 and 2008, the Baltimore-based actress was plucked out of a club for a role she fit perfectly — a butch lesbian criminal with a strong accent and a hard look.
William "Billy" Preston (1946 –2006). White House photo courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Library.
Preston was an American musician whose work included R&B, rock, soul, funk and gospel. A virtuoso keyboardist, Preston was recognized as a top session musician in the 1960s, during which he backed artists such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and the Beatles. In addition, Preston co-wrote "You Are So Beautiful,” which became a number 5 hit for Joe Cocker. Preston continued to record and perform with other artists, notably George Harrison after the Beatles' break-up, and Eric Clapton, and he played keyboards for the Rolling Stones on many of the group's albums and tours during the 1970s. Alongside Tony Sheridan, Preston was the only other musician to be credited on a Beatles recording: the artists on the number-one hit "Get Back" are given as "The Beatles with Billy Preston.” Since Sheridan was labeled alongside "The Beat Brothers,” Preston is, strictly speaking, the only artist to be labeled explicitly with "The Beatles.” Preston was openly gay but did not speak publicly about his sexuality.
RuPaul (November 17, 1960). Photo by DVSROSS via Flickr.
This legendary drag performer became famous in the 1990s as an actress and singer.
Bessie Smith (1894 –1937). Photo by Carl Van Vechten Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.
This blues singer was also known to have had love affairs with women.
Cheryl Swoopes (March 25, 1971). Photo by TonyTheTiger via Wikipedia.
Swoopes was the first woman to be signed in the WNBA when it was created. She has won three Olympic Gold medals and is a three-time WNBA MVP. In October 2005, with her announcement that she was gay, Swoopes became one of the highest-profile athletes in a team sport to do so publicly. Her partner is a former basketball player and Houston Comets assistant coach, Alisa Scott.
Little Richard (1932-2020). Public domain.
Little Richard was an American recording artist, songwriter, and musician. He has been an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than six decades. His most celebrated work dates from the mid-1950s where his dynamic music and charismatic showmanship laid the foundation for rock and roll. His music also had a pivotal impact on the formation of other popular music genres, including soul and funk. He influenced numerous singers and musicians across musical genres from rock to rap. In 1984, while he noted that he felt homosexuality was "unnatural" and "contagious,” he would tell Charles White that he was "omnisexual" after he was asked about his sex life. In 1995, he told Penthouse that he always knew he was gay. In 2007, Mojo magazine described him as a "bisexual alien.”
Pier Angelo was born in Italy, moved to England at the age of 17 and learned English at the Nelson School of English. He attended college and graduate school in Manhattan. In 2009 he founded SFGN with Norm Kent. Now he’s retired with his husband Tom and his Affenpinscher Cabbage. He still enjoys writing his column Off The Wall for SFGN.