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Deborah Cox anxious to reconnect with local gay fans

Singer, actress to perform at Town next weekend

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R&B sensation Deborah Cox will perform at Town next weekend as part of Cherry Weekend. (Copyright 2010, Deco Entertainment. All rights reserved)

Many young, up-and-coming musical sensations get their start thanks to overzealous parents forcing them into the industry. Not so for chart-topping singer and actress Deborah Cox. Her interest in the business came from a genuine love of music.

Cox was born in Scarborough, Toronto, and she was singing in TV commercials at age 12 and performing in talent shows. In her teens, Cox began performing in nightclubs and was writing her own music. For a short period of time in the early 1990s, Cox continued her musical career as a backup vocalist for Celine Dion. In 1994, she realized that to advance her career, she would need to move to Los Angeles with her producer/songwriting partner, Lascelles Stephens.

The legendary Clive Davis signed her to Arista Records in 1995 and she released her self-titled debut album that year. It wasn’t until 1998 that the release of her album “One Wish” brought Cox huge pop success with the release of the album’s first single “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here.” The song spent 14 weeks at #1 on the Hot R&B charts in the U.S., as well as eight consecutive weeks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album went platinum, becoming Cox’s biggest-selling album to date.

Deborah Cox has enjoyed a career that has produced multiple chart-topping hits and a Broadway debut in the Elton John-Tim Rice musical “AIDA” in 2004. In addition, she has shown her commitment to her gay fans as part of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors Tour” in 2008 and she performed at last year’s Delaware Pride celebration in Rehoboth. Cox will be making a not-to-be missed appearance at Town Danceboutique, 2009 8th St., N.W., for the Cherry Fund sanctioned event “Town Presents Deborah Cox w/ DJ Ed Bailey” on April 10. The event starts at 9 p.m. with an entry fee of $25 and the event is for ages 21 and over.

The DC Agenda talked to Cox about her career and her musical influences.

DC Agenda: You started your career at age 12. What was the pressure like starting at such a young age?

Deborah Cox: I don’t remember there being much pressure. When I started, I was having a lot of fun, working with a lot of great people. I always found the business part to be the most challenging; like when it came time to find people to represent me, it was about finding people to trust, who had the same vision. Fortunately, I found those people at an early age and I was able to move forward.

DC Agenda: You began writing music as a teenager. What was your source of inspiration?

Cox: I have always listened to a lot of different artists. I have been greatly influenced by gospel music and artists like Yolanda Adams, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. Those were the ones who really stood out in my mind; they really provided inspiration.

DC Agenda: What was your impression of Los Angeles having moved from Canada to pursue your career?

Cox: My initial impression of Los Angeles was that everybody was really nice. It wasn’t a genuine nice though, it was the kind of nice that you could tell there was a motive behind it. Friendly with a motive you could say. Fortunately, I was able to sift through everyone and find the real genuine people. Now that I’m away from L.A., I have so many friends I miss back there, and some great memories of the city.

DC Agenda: What was your impression of the legendary Clive Davis and how were you treated by Arista Records?

Cox: To me it was like the law of attraction. Throughout my career, so many things have happened to me based on what I’ve focused on, what I believe in, so teaming up with Clive Davis on the first go around made perfect sense. My mentor growing up was Whitney Houston and I believed so much in her talent, her gift and her voice; Clive must have heard something similar in me as he did with Whitney. Clive is a consummate song man; he lives for the music, and is totally driven by the people and vocalists that he loves. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn a lot of this business from him.

DC Agenda: “Beautiful U R” peaked at #3 on the Canadian Hot AC Chart in January 2009 and hit #1 on the U.S. dance chart, becoming your 10th song to do so. It included lyrics such as, “It takes time/Don’t have all the answers/No matter how hard it gets/Hold on to what’s inside” and “Don’t never let nobody tear your world apart/Look in the mirror and see who you are/Beautiful U R.” Why do you think the song proved so popular?

Cox: I think “Beautiful U R” was one of those songs that really resonated with the core of women. It came from the perspective that I’ve felt for a long time that during hard times you sometimes need to lean on yourself, and try and find a way through any negativity going on and really love yourself no matter what. You can’t wait for validation from the world, and that is hard sometimes for women because we are expected to do and be so much for so many people that at times we forget about ourselves. I also believe “Beautiful U R” branched off beyond women and spoke to everybody. Anyone can find a song that they can totally relate to.

DC Agenda: What projects are you working on now?

Cox: I’m currently working on my new album and I’m also preparing to be on Broadway in the role of Josephine Baker in “JOSEPHINE.”

DC Agenda: You made your Broadway debut in the Elton John-Tim Rice musical “AIDA.” What was that experience like?

Cox: I’ve been a fan of Elton John’s music for a long time; I love his songs, the lyrics and music. Elton has had a very colorful career, and I think his music is very diverse. I’ve always clung to artists who have an amazing time being very diverse, and Elton definitely is. Playing the role of Aida was definitely the opportunity of a lifetime because the songs are just so moving and I felt a lot of passion singing them.

DC Agenda: You will be appearing in D.C. at Town Danceboutique. What should your fans expect?

Cox: It’s definitely going to be high energy. I haven’t been to D.C. in a while so it’s going to be really exciting to see all my fans and reconnect with all of them. I really do love my fans so it is so exciting to get to connect one on one. I get such an adrenaline rush from performing in front of an audience, so I can’t wait to be back in D.C.

Deborah Cox lives in Miami. She is married to her manager, Lascelles Stephens. They have three children, Isaiah, Sumayah and Kaila Michelle.

Cherry Weekend event schedule

Cherry Weekend, the annual charitable lineup of gay parties and other events, arrives next week and runs from April 8-11. For full details and to purchase tickets, visit cherryfund.org. Events benefit HIV/AIDS youth service organizations. Full coverage in next week’s DC Agenda.

A partial schedule of events:

April 8: Opening party with DJ Jason Royce at Mova, 1435 P St., N.W., 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Admission is free, 21+

April 9: Dark Cherry emceed by Tim Woody at EFN Lounge, 1318 9th St., N.W., 5:30-9:30 p.m. 21+

April 9: Friday Night Party w/ DJ Alyson Calagna and opening DJ Jason Horswill at Apex, 1415 22nd St., N.W., 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Cover is $11; 18+
April 10: Moody Mia (Moody’s Birthday Party) with Joe Gauthreaux at Town, 2009 8th St., N.W., 2-7 p.m. 21+

April 10: Town Presents Deborah Cox with DJ Ed Bailey at Town, 2009 8th St., N.W., 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Cover is $25, 21+

April 11: Sunday Morning Party with DJ Susan Morabito at Cobalt, 1639 R St., N.W., 4:30-9:30 a.m. Cover is $15, 21+
April 11: Sunday Closing Party with DJ Abel and opening DJ tim e at Town, 2009 8th St., N.W., 8:30-1:30 a.m. Cover is $20, 21+

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson doc premieres this weekend

Remembering 10 times iconic singer was there for LGBTQ community

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Janet Jackson’s two-part, four-hour documentary debuts this weekend. (File photo by Shilla Patel)

Iconic singer Janet Jackson, a longtime LGBTQ ally, unveils her long-awaited documentary simply titled “Janet” on Friday, Jan. 28. It concludes the following night; each installment is two hours long. 

Jackson has said she spent five years compiling footage and creating the documentary, which airs at 8 p.m. both nights on A&E and Lifetime networks. It was produced by Jackson and her brother Randy Jackson and it’s timed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her 1982 debut album. 

An extended trailer for the film reveals Jackson will talk candidly about her brother Michael and the 2004 Super Bowl incident, including the news that Justin Timberlake reached out and asked her to join him during his widely panned 2018 Super Bowl return performance. 

Prior to the pandemic, Jackson announced a new studio album and tour titled “Black Diamond,” but both were postponed due to COVID. No official word about the status of either, but speculation is rampant that she will finally release the new album once the documentary airs.

“Musically, what I’ve done, like doing ‘Rhythm Nation’ or doing ‘New Agenda’ or doing ‘Skin Game,’ creating those bodies of work with Jimmy and Terry, I feel like I’ve laid a certain foundation,” Jackson tells Allure magazine in a new cover story this month. “I would hope that I’d be able to continue if I choose to. You know what I mean? But only time will tell.”

As Jackson’s legion of queer fans awaits this weekend’s premiere, the Blade takes a look back at 10 times Janet was there for the LGBTQ community. 

1. “The Velvet Rope” project. In 1997, Jackson released her critically acclaimed sixth studio album “The Velvet Rope,” an introspective and deeply personal collection of songs that touched on her depression, but also tackled LGBTQ issues. On the track “Free Xone,” she spoke out forcefully against anti-LGBT bias. She also covered Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night,” without changing the pronouns in the love song, prompting speculation about her sexual orientation. But it was her international No. 1 hit “Together Again” that continues to resonate with LGBTQ fans. An upbeat, joyful dance song, it was conceived as a tribute to Jackson’s friends who died of AIDS.

2. GLAAD award. In 2008, Ellen DeGeneres presented Jackson with the Vanguard Award at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards. GLAAD’s president said, “We are delighted to honor Janet Jackson at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles as such a visible, welcoming and inclusive ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Ms. Jackson has a tremendous following inside the LGBT community and out, and having her stand with us against the defamation that LGBT people still face in our country is extremely significant.”

3. Ebony magazine interview about her sexuality. In 2001, Jackson gave an interview to Ebony magazine in which she was asked about her sexual orientation. “I don’t mind people thinking that I’m gay or calling me gay,” she said. “People are going to believe whatever they want. Yes, I hang out at gay clubs … I go where the music is good. I love people regardless of sexual preference, regardless of race. No, I am not bisexual. I have been linked with dancers in our group because we are so close. I grew up in a big family. I love being affectionate. I love intimacy and I am not afraid to show it.”

4. Video support for It Gets Better, Trevor Project. In 2010, Jackson recorded a video for the Trevor Project and later appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to promote awareness of youth suicide. “If you’re LGBT you’re probably thinking you’re all alone, but you’re not,” she said in the video. “I can relate because I was one of those kids who internalized everything.”

5. “State of the World Tour.” Jackson’s LGBTQ support continued in 2017. Her tour’s opening sequence highlighted a range of problems facing the world, from famine and war to police brutality and included a call for justice and for LGBTQ rights.

6. “The Kids.” Jackson has always employed a diverse crew of professional dancers for her videos and tours. Some of her closest friends and collaborators over the years have been prominent out gay and lesbian choreographers, singers, dancers, makeup artists and designers. She lovingly refers to her backup dancers as “the Kids.”

7. NYC Pride performance. In 2004, Jackson performed for a packed audience at Pride Dance NYC at Pier 54.

8. “Will & Grace” cameo. In 2004, Jackson made a memorable cameo on “Will & Grace,” judging a dance-off between Jack and another dancer.

9. HRC, AIDS Project Los Angeles awards. In 2005, Jackson was honored by both the Human Rights Campaign and AIDS Project Los Angeles for her work raising money for AIDS charities.

10. Janet’s Blade interview. In 2006, Jackson granted an exclusive interview to the Washington Blade. It was one of the rare times she touched on the Super Bowl controversy and her brother Michael’s acquittal on child molestation charges, telling Blade Editor Kevin Naff, “I got all of that out of my system, that’s not what I’m feeling right now. I wrote about [those controversies] but I didn’t choose to put it out there on the album.” In the interview, Jackson also reiterated her support for marriage equality, said she’d never had a sexual relationship with a woman and revealed that she’d never met Madonna.

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Music & Concerts

BETTY holiday show rocks D.C.

Queer band returns home

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BETTY (Photo by Gene Reed, 2021)

D.C. native band BETTY kicked off its “Holly Jollypocalypse” tour with a show at City Winery on Dec. 5. 

The trio, including ally Alyson Palmer and queer sisters Elizabeth and Amy Ziff, debuted several new songs at the show like “Snow,” “Choose You” and “Mistletoe.” 

“Half this set is brand new for you people. You know why? Because we knew we were coming home,” Palmer said at the show. 

The group also played long-loved songs by their fans, like “Xmas Ain’t Coming This Year” and “Miracles Can Happen.” After many requests from the audience, the band played one of their most famous songs —  the theme song from the show “The L Word” — as an encore number. 

Throughout the show, the group expressed their gratitude to be able to perform live again, and recognized the loss so many have experienced over the past two years due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“This really has been an unbelievably challenging time, so challenging that we can’t even really wrap our brains around the PTSD,” Palmer told the audience. “A lot of us have lost a lot. In the past two years, we’ve lost all kinds of things. We’ve lost a lot of people. And that’s a horrible, horrible thing. But hopefully those people are somehow still connected to us.”

There was a familial feel to the night — Amy brought her daughter onstage throughout the show and the band performed the song “Saylor,” which is about her daughter. 

“She’s pretty lucky to see a couple of great goddess moms,” Amy told the audience. 

The band also welcomed local queer artist Be Steadwell to perform a mashup of a an original blues tune and “Silent Night.” Steadwell will be performing her show Drummer Bois: Queer Caroling with Be Steadwell at the Black Cat this Friday. To learn more, visit besteadwell.com. 

The members of BETTY, who proudly label themselves as “rule breakers” and “equality rockers” have been touring, writing, and advocating for social change through their music since 1986. 

“We’ve been together for 35 years as independent artists, which is pretty miraculous when you consider that with a capitalist system and how hard it is to exist as independent musicians and artists,” Elizabeth said in an interview. “We’re really grateful to our audiences, in particular to our queer community, that has really supported us forever and still does.”

BETTY’s first show was at the 9:30 club, and the band was excited to return to their home, the trio said in an interview. 

“D.C. was a great place to be to come together as feminists and as queer people and as political allies,” Amy said. 

Coming back and seeing the same work done by the same people in LGBTQ and feminist spaces in the District is “wonderful,” Palmer said.

“We’ve been politically engaged for so long and socially active for so long,” Palmer said.  “We grew up playing for protests and playing for those huge Gay Pride marches and pro-choice marches. I mean, that kind of thing just stays with you forever.”

The band has been featured in shows like “Encyclopedia,” and created their own off-Broadway show “BETTY RULES.” The group also launched a podcast in 2019 where they discuss how their band came to be, LGBTQ life and current events. BETTY is slated to release a  new album in spring 2022 in honor of the band’s 36th anniversary. 

Next, the band will travel to New York City, Cincinnati, Ohio, and New Hope, Pa. for the tour. Getting back in the swing of touring has been “incredible” but a physical marathon. 

“You forget that it’s very physical kind of show … so it’s really been funny getting back into shape in that way as well.”

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Music & Concerts

Forget streaming, the holiday classics return to area stages

Bring your proof of vaccination and check out a local production this season

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A scene from a previous Gay Men's Chorus of Washington Holiday Show. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year ago, the holiday season was streamed. But now, thanks to various protocols including masks and proof of vaccination, DMV theatergoers can come together and experience – live and in-person — both beloved classics and some promising new works. Here’s a smattering of what’s out there.

At Olney Theatre, Paul Morello is thrilled to bring back “A Christmas Carol 2021” (through Dec. 26), his solo adaptation of Dickens’ ghost story. Concerning returning to a live audience, Morello says, “While this is technically a one-person show, it’s really about the connection and collaboration with an audience, being in the same room, breathing in unison. I can’t do this without an audience and for a story that thrives on redemption, mortality, isolation, the need for community and connection, and the things that matter most, the timing couldn’t be better.”

Olney also presents “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” through Jan. 2. This musical “tale as old as time” stars out actor Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero plays the Beast. olneytheatre.org

For the holidays, Synetic Theater at Crystal City is reworking “Cinderella” (Nov. 27-Dec. 26). Led by an all-female team of creators, this festive take on the classic fairytale is inspired by Afro-Latino music and dance. Directed and adapted by Maria Simpkins who also plays the title role. synetictheater.org

Last year, because of COVID-19, Ford’s Theatre presented “A Christmas Carol” as a radio broadcast, but now the fully produced play returns to the venue’s historic stage through Dec. 27. A popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years, the thoroughly enjoyable and topnotch take on the Dickens’ classic features Craig Wallace reprising the part of Scrooge, the miser who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy. fords.org

Another D.C. tradition guaranteed to put audiences in a holiday mood is the Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” playing at the Warner Theatre through Dec. 26. Set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanted score, this charming and superbly executed offering takes place in Georgetown circa 1882 and features a retinue of historic figures along with children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather. Choreography is by Septime Webre. washingtonballet.org

The Folger Consort, the superb early music ensemble in residence at the Folger, will be performing seven concerts of “A Medieval Christmas” (Dec. 10-18) at St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill. A streaming version of the concert will also be available to view on-demand. folger.edu

At Lincoln Theatre, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. presents “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 4, 11, and 12) replete with tap-dancing elves, a dancing Christmas tree, snow, and a lot more. The fun and festive program’s song list includes “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “The 12 Rockin’ Days of Christmas,” and “Boogie Woogie Frosty.” Featured performances range from the full Chorus, soloists, all GMCW ensembles, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus. gmcw.org

Arena Stage is marking the season with August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” (through Dec. 26), a drama about a small group of friends who gather following the untimely death of their friend, a blues guitarist on the edge of stardom. Directed by Tazewell Thompson, the production features an exciting cast that includes local actors Dane Figueroa Edidi and Roz White. arenastage.org

Creative Cauldron is serving up some holiday magic with “The Christmas Angel” (Dec. 9-19). Based on a little-known 1910 novel by Abbey Farwell Brown, it’s the story of a lonely and bitter spinster who returns to happiness through a box of old toys. The commissioned new holiday musical is a collaboration of longtime musical collaborators and married couple Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics and book). creativecauldron.org

In keeping with the Yuletide spirit, the National Theatre presents two feel-good national tour musicals. First, it’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (through Dec. 5), a musical take on Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.”

Next up is “Tootsie” (Dec. 7-12), the hit musical based on the 1982 gender-bending film starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a popular soap opera. The show boasts a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and a score by Tony winner David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit). thenationaldc.com

Keegan Theatre presents its annual holiday offering, “An Irish Carol” (Dec. 10-31). Set in a modern Dublin pub, the funny yet poignant original work (a nod to Dickens) tracks the changes in the life of a rich but miserable publican over the course of one Christmas Eve. keegantheatre.org

At Theater J, it’s the Kinsey Sicks’ “Oy Vey in a Manger” (Dec. 17-25). Blending drag, four-part harmony, and political humor, the “dragapella beautyshop quartet” brings its own hilariously irreverent view on the holidays. theaterj.org

And through Jan. 2, Signature Theatre continues to brighten the season with its production of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” directed by the company’s out artistic director Matthew Gardiner and featuring out actor David Merino as Angel, a preternaturally energetic drag queen and percussionist. sigtheare.org

The Music Center at Strathmore, also in Bethesda, is presenting a wide range of musical holiday offerings including “Manheim Steamroller Christmas” (Dec. 3 and 4), a multimedia holiday tradition; Sarah Brightman in “A Christmas Symphony” (Dec. 6 and 7); “A Celtic Christmas with Séan Heely Celtic Band” (Dec. 11); Washington Bach Consort’s “Bach’s Epic Christmas Oratorio” (Dec. 11); the beloved “The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas” (Dec. 16 and 17); and last but not least “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 20), Tchaikovsky’s classic reimagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”). strathmore.org

And finally, something strictly for the kids: Imagination Stage presents “Corduroy” (Dec. 11-Jan. 24). Based on the beloved children’s books by Don Freeman, it’s the heartwarming story of a girl and her perfectly imperfect Teddy Bear. Best for ages 3-9. imaginationstage.org

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