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BETTY’s triumphant return

D.C. band gearing up for World AIDS Day show

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BETTY, gay news, Washington Blade
BETTY interview, gay news, Washington Blade

From left are Elizabeth Ziff, Amy Ziff and Alyson Palmer of BETTY. (Photo by Erin Schaff)

BETTY 

 

World AIDS concert

 

The Hamilton

 

600 14th St., N.W.

 

Tuesday, Dec. 1

 

Doors 6:30 p.m.

 

Show 7:30 p.m.

 

$20-30

 

For fans of “The L Word,” BETTY has been in your living room for years.

The band, originating in Washington, formed after performing at a party for the original owner of the 9:30 Club, Dodie Bowers. Since then, sisters Amy and Elizabeth Ziff and Alyson Palmer have performed at numerous LGBT rights, pro-choice and HIV/AIDS awareness events. With Amy on vocals and cello, Elizabeth on vocals and guitar and Palmer on vocals and bass, the trio, who now reside in New York City, are approaching their 30th anniversary and performing at the Hamilton for World AIDS Day on Tuesday, Dec. 1. A portion of the profits will benefit Whitman-Walker Health.

During a phone interview in the recording studio, Amy and Elizabeth discussed their new album, ties to D.C. and how they feel about being called a lesbian band.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: What are you working on in the recording studio?

ELIZABETH: We’re working on our next album it should be out in springtime. Our next full album with the producer Mike Thorn.

 

BLADE: What’s the recording process been like so far?

ELIZABETH: It’s been good and interesting because Mike produced our first album in 1991, so it’s nice to be working with him again. We’ve done a couple of albums with him. It’s an interesting process to go back and look 20-something years ago and then to look now. I think it’s a little bit more open about change when you get to work with somebody that you’ve known a long time. You trust them a little bit more.

AMY: We’re looking at some songs that we’ve been performing and looking at them differently to record. It’s fun, it’s really opening them up.

 

BLADE: How did the band get started?

AMY: We started in Washington. We advertised on the radio for a bass player and I think Alyson was the third. Alyson called me at the job I had at the time and we talked for a really, really long time. She came over to audition and basically stayed almost all night.

ELIZABETH: Amy and I were actually still living at our parents’ house. We were little kids.

AMY: We laughed and starting working on songs and that was that. It was the beginning.

ELIZABETH: That was our first band together. Then Dodie Bowers from the original 9:30 Club asked us to sing at her Valentine’s Day party. She heard that we sing a cappella sometimes so we sang a cappella and then people loved it. So we decided to start BETTY. Coming up in 2016 this is going to be our 30th anniversary.

 

BLADE: You’re also very involved in LGBT rights and women’s equality. What made you decide to use your music this way? Was it always the plan to be so political?

AMY: I think we’ve always been political. We came of age in D.C. and it was a very political time. D.C. has always been political and I’m sure it still is, because the industry there is politics. So we were involved with feminist causes and LGBT stuff and AIDS work very early on. It was just a part of who we were. You went to Take Back the Night marches and you went to pro-choice stuff. When we started doing music we performed at them. It was sort of a synthesis of who we were as feminists and who we were as women at the time.

ELIZABETH: Also, AIDS started affecting a lot of our friends. As musicians, we tried to start singing or performing in any kind of way, on any scale, that would make us feel less helpless. Because our friends were getting sick and dying. I don’t know what comes first whether you’re an arts activist or an activist artist but they just seemed to happen at the same time.

AMY: Also, at the time we actually did some stuff for Whitman-Walker and early stuff for gay Pride. No one played at gay pride in the early days because people were afraid. It was back when it was hidden sort of behind P Street.

ELIZABETH: We were like, ‘Of course we’ll play for gay Pride,’ and we thanked our friends in the hospital and things like that. Whitman-Walker is such a great organization and has been around for so long and it’s in D.C. so it’s really fun to be back and to be able too give back a little to the community in D.C.

 

BLADE: The band has also provided the theme song for “The L Word.” How did that collaboration come about? Did you expect the show to be as popular as it became?

ELIZABETH: Ilene Chaiken asked four different bands to submit a theme song because she really wanted the theme song to reflect the actual song. So we submitted ours and three or four other bands did and the network chose the song, and they chose ours. We didn’t know the show was going to be such a seminal, groundbreaking show. It was really exciting to be a part of it. You have to understand that we had been together for 20 years already and then the show happened so it opened up a whole new thing for us. Especially in Europe and South America so that’s been really great and really fun.

 

BLADE: Since the band has been involved in things like “The L Word” and LGBT rights, how much of that is a part of your band’s identity?

ELIZABETH: As an identity, its female-identified. Now, we’ve never really labeled ourselves as a lesbian band because Alyson is straight. We’ve always played for gay rights and lesbian rights and trans rights. We’ve done a lot of pro-choice work, cancer and AIDS work. But our music hopefully transcends politics.

AMY: Our music isn’t really political. It’s fun and dance or folky or thoughtful. But we like to involve ourselves in causes that are important to us. But our music is pop music.

ELIZABETH: Other people can label us however they want. If they want us to be a lesbian band then right on. If they want us to be a gay band, fine. But we don’t really label ourselves because we don’t need to. I think labels hopefully are going away a little bit. Except for the label of being women and feminists.

 

BLADE: How do you find performing in D.C. different from your home base New York?

AMY: We are always really excited to go back to D.C. to perform. We actually did the soundscape for an exhibit at the Freer/Sackler museum right now. It’s called Peacock Room: Remix. It’s the re-do of Whistler’s Peacock Room. We were so excited to be a part of that and to be a part of Darren Waterston’s amazing piece. So we did some events in synthesis to promote that and to be a part of the Smithsonian. A lot of old friends came out and a lot of people that we hadn’t seen. When we did our off-Broadway show “BETTY Rules” we were excited that all of the references that we put in the show really came to life when we were performing in Washington. That’s when we started as a band. That was a really great time to perform our show there. It was so exciting.

ELIZABETH: We haven’t been back to play at a club in D.C. in a while. The last time was at the 9:30 Club and that was a few years ago. We heard the Hamilton was fun. What’s always been great about D.C. is that hopefully we get what we always get, which is a nice mix of race and gender and sexual identity as well.

AMY: People who knew us when we lived there can bring other people that don’t know about us or their kids or their parents.

ELIZABETH: People who know us from “The L Word” and are curious to see how we are live because we’re fun live.

 

BLADE: This show is also a holiday show. What can people expect? Will you be performing any of your new music?

AMY: I think a couple of our fresh new songs that we’ve never performed before will be there. And also some of our holiday songs that we’ve written. And some of our songs that aren’t holiday, but can be put in a holiday context. So you can expect to have a good time. Laugh a little bit, maybe feel a little bit. Move a little bit, cruise a little bit.

ELIZABETH: People will be cruising a lot.

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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