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The most musical time of the year

Sharon Jones, Brian Setzer, Ru and Kylie among this year’s holiday releases



holiday album
holiday album, gay news, Washington Blade

This year’s holiday album releases are as varied as you might expect. Among this year’s offerings are albums from the Braxton Family, vets of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and the Smoke Fairies. (Images courtesy Def Jam, Project Publicity, Surfdog Inc., Daptone Records and Full Time Hobby respectively)

Every year like clockwork, starting as early as October, we’re inundated with a new batch of holiday albums.

Artists of every conceivable genre have recorded seasonal collections over the decades, with some of them becoming timeless classics that are an integral part of the holidays for millions. This year’s slate is lacking in star power, but more than makes up for it in diversity and overall quality. Here are 10 of the best freshly cut holiday releases of 2015 that will help make your festivities especially jolly.


India.Arie and Joe Sample “Christmas With Friends”


Legendary jazz pianist Joe Sample was working with R&B vocalist India.Arie on what would become “Christmas with Friends” when he died from mesothelioma last year. His warm keyboards are featured on four songs, and Arie honored his memory with a co-billing and a place on the album’s cover. “Christmas with Friends” is an elegant collection of holiday favorites, sung beautifully by Arie and featuring an impressively diverse roster of guests such as Michael McDonald, Brandy and Kirk Whalum. Particularly stunning is Arie’s duet with gospel singer Gene Moore, Jr. on “Mary Did You Know?” “Christmas with Friends” is the perfect soundtrack for a mellow evening at home in front of the Christmas tree and a crackling fireplace.


The Braxton Family “Braxton Family Christmas”


Tamar Braxton released her seasonal “Winter Loversland” album two years ago, and now her siblings have followed suit with their own offering, “Braxton Family Christmas.” Although it’s a brief collection at only eight songs, its festive charm makes it well worth picking up. Even brother Michael gets in on the family act with his lovely duet with sister Toni, “Under My Christmas Tree.” The ladies harmonize and switch up lead vocal parts as they jaunt through well-known classics like “This Christmas” and “Mary, Did You Know” and lesser-known gems like “Everyday Is Christmas” and “Blessed New Year” with soulful energy and good cheer.


Marc Broussard “Magnolias & Mistletoe”


“Magnolias & Mistletoe” is the first holiday album by Louisiana-based Marc Broussard and he brings his trademark husky vocals and bluesy bayou vibe to a stellar collection of standards and two originals. Broussard doesn’t stray too far from the traditional arrangements of holiday staples “O Holy Night,” “The Christmas Song” and “The First Noel,” allowing his powerhouse voice to shine over the stripped-down instrumentation. Broussard closes the album with two superb original ballads, “When Christmas Comes Along” and “Almost Christmas.” “Magnolias & Mistletoe” was clearly a labor of love and Broussard’s genuine heart and sincerity come through in every track.


Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra “Big Band Holidays”


Famed jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is the musical director for New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and on “Big Band Holidays” he leads the uber-talented collective though a fresh and lively parade of holiday favorites. Particularly noteworthy is the eight-minute take on “What Child is This?” featuring the acclaimed vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant. Washington, D.C.-based singer René Marie is fantastic on her two tracks, a playful take on “Zat You, Santa Claus?” and an elegant performance of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” “Big Band Holidays” is a joyous presentation of the Orchestra at their exhilarating best.


Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings “It’s a Holiday Soul Party”


Nobody does old-school soul like Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and they prove it once again on their first seasonal collection “It’s a Holiday Soul Party.” The album is aptly named, as the always-tight Dap Kings deliver their smokin’ hot retro R&B vibe and Jones expertly vamps her way through 11 classics and originals. Tired of the same old boring renditions? Check out Jones & the Dap Kings on their wildly hoppin’ take on “White Christmas,” or the smoldering groove they deliver on “Funky Little Drummer Boy.” “It’s a Holiday Soul Party” will be entertaining festive revelers for years to come.


Kylie Minogue “Kylie Christmas”


Pop diva Kylie Minogue shines on her first holiday offering, “Kylie Christmas.” It’s a surprisingly traditional and elegant collection of standards and originals from an artist who is usually more at home with kinetic dancefloor beats. There are some non-traditional moments, such as turning the new wave classic “Only You” by Yaz into a gorgeous duet with James Corden. Minogue’s reverent take on The Pretenders’ bittersweet “2000 Miles” is pure beauty. Minogue does give in to her electrifying pop impulses on “100 Degrees,” a duet with her sister Dannii. “Kylie Christmas” is essential for any holiday party mix you might be cooking up to entertain family and friends.


Mint Condition “Healing Season”


Mint Condition has been dispensing its sexy brand of R&B since the early ‘90s. Nearly 25 years since its debut, the quintet offers a relentlessly entertaining holiday album, “Healing Season.” They avoid the same old chestnuts that get recycled year after year, instead bringing their upbeat funky style to rave-ups like “1 Brand Name” and James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto.” Most of “Healing Season” is taken up by soulful ballads like “1st Snowfall,” a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” and the exquisite title track, a prayer for peace in a world that needs it desperately.


RuPaul’s Drag Race “Christmas Queens”


Some of the most memorable contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” serve up holiday realness on “Christmas Queens,” a collection of nervy and naughty Christmas nuggets certain to delight fans of the show. Sharon Needles’ punk-rock version of “Jingle Bells” is priceless, and Jiggy Caliente is hilarious on “Ratchet Christmas.” Miss Fame delivers a lovely retro take on the dreamy “Toyland.” “Christmas Queens” offers a campy respite from the same old earnest perennials we hear every year. And if that wasn’t enough, RuPaul also released a new holiday CD this year, “Slay Belles,” so sashay away to your favorite retailer and grab them both.


The Brian Setzer Orchestra “Rockin’ Rudolph”


Iconic Stray Cats’ frontman and guitarist Brian Setzer swings and rocks his way through 12 seasonal gems on “Rockin’ Rudolph,” the third holiday album with his big band orchestra. “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is a natural for Setzer, and “Here Comes Santa Claus” stands out as well. Perhaps the most surprising is his atmospheric take on “Carol of the Bells,” one of the best versions of that classic in ages. “Rockin’ Rudolph” starts right back up from where “Boogie Woogie Christmas” and “Dig That Crazy Christmas” left off, with fun festive energy and plenty of groove.


Smoke Fairies “Wild Winter”


For something a bit different and more contemplative, British indie-pop duo Smoke Fairies’ seasonal collection “Wild Winter” is definitely not the kind of stuff you might hear at Macy’s. The 10 dreamy tracks are made for late nights and candlelight while the wind roars outside and the snow piles deep. Crystalline vocals gleam over a bed of hazy keyboards and guitar on the darkly beautiful “Snowglobe Blizzard,” “Three Kings” and the wonderfully atmospheric title-track “Wild Winter” is a different kind of holiday album, but after all the frivolity and exuberance it’s the perfect antidote for chilling at home after the party is over.


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Taste of Pride celebrates LGBTQ and allied restaurants

Weeklong event will feature local eateries and bars



Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will headline the opening event for Taste of Pride.

Get ready to celebrate LGBTQ-owned, managed, and allied restaurants at Taste of Pride from Oct. 2-8. 

The weeklong event is a new initiative by Capital Pride Alliance. In 2021, the organization put on a single-day brunch event in June at LGBTQ and allied restaurants, but this is the first weeklong iteration. 

About 15 local restaurants and bars are set to participate, including As You Are, Shaw’s Tavern, Jane Jane, and Code Red. There’s also an opening party on Monday, Oct. 2 featuring food and drink vendors without a traditional brick-and-mortar space, like Suga Chef and Vegan Junk Food. 

Taste of Pride will raise funds for the Pride365 fund, which supports local LGBTQ organizations. There will be a three-course prix fixe menu at several of the participating locations, with lunch and brunch menus offered at $30, and dinner menus offered at $40 or $55. 

Kareem Queeman, known as Mr. Bake, will be headlining the opening event on the evening of Oct. 2 at Lost Generation Brewery. Queeman, the founder and owner of the renowned bakery Mr. Bake Sweets and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, said he’s excited to spotlight LGBTQ chefs and mixologists. 

Queeman said he’s proud to be a part of bringing queer culinary experts together to celebrate the work they’ve all done and discuss what changes need to come to the industry — there will be a panel discussion on Oct. 2 covering those topics. LGBTQ chefs have long gone unnoticed, he said, despite the innovative work they’ve done. 

“Queers have been in the industry doing the work for a very long time and we just haven’t really gotten that acknowledgment,” Queeman said. 

Providing this space for LGBTQ people in the restaurant industry is paramount to giving a sense of power and ownership in the work they do, Queeman said. He wishes there was this kind of space for him when he was coming up as a chef when he was younger. 

Taste of Pride is also a great opportunity for LGBTQ people looking to get into the industry to find safe spaces to work that are run by queer people, Queeman said. 

Rob Heim, the general manager at Shaw’s Tavern, said he’s looking forward to being a part of the event. And new fall menu items at Shaw’s Tavern will be available during Taste of Pride, which he’s thrilled to showcase. 

“I was really excited to help out and participate,” he said. “It’s a great idea.” 

The smaller number of participating restaurants in Taste of Pride is intentional, said Brandon Bayton, a volunteer executive producer organizing Taste of Pride. It’s so each restaurant can be well-represented during the week, and different restaurants will be highlighted on social media on separate days. Capital Pride Alliance is also partnering with influencers to get the word out. 

From left, food from 801 Restaurant and Bar and a drink from Code Red. (Code Red photo by Michael Emond; photos courtesy of Capital Pride Alliance)

Visibility — all year long 

It’s important to have events like Taste of Pride outside of June, Bayton said. 

“We exist 365 days,” Bayton said. “So we need to make sure that we continue the celebration and invite others to celebrate with us and just be authentically ourselves. We enjoy and do a lot of things other people do. There’s no reason why we should just be constrained to one month.”

Queeman agrees. His identity as a queer Black man doesn’t stop or start at any given month. 

“I’m not just a queer or gay man in June or I’m not just a Black man in February,” he said. 

And food is a major intersection that all people of all identities enjoy, Bayton said. It’s a simple way to bring people together. 

“We do the exact same things that everyone else does,” Bayton said. “We all eat. We all love to eat.” 

Taste of Pride will run from Oct. 2-8. For more information and to make reservations, visit

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Hip-Hop’s complicated history with queer representation

At 50, experts say the genre still doesn’t fully welcome LGBTQ inclusion



Rapper Lil Nas X faced backlash for his music video ‘Montero,’ but it debuted atop the Billboard 100.

I didn’t really start listening to rap until my college years. Like many queer Black children who grow up in the closet, shielded by puritanical Christianity from the beauty of a diverse world, I longed to be myself. But the affirming references I could pull from — in moments of solitude away from the wrath and disdain of family and friends — were in theater and pop music.

The soundtrack to my teenage years was an endless playlist of pop divas like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, whose lyrics encouraged me to sashay my hips anytime I strutted through a long stretch of corridor.

I was also obsessed with the consuming presence of powerful singers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and the hypnosis that was Chaka Khan. My childhood, an extrapolation of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays spent in church groups, choir practices, and worship services, necessitated that I be a fan of throaty, from-the-stomach singing. But something about the way these artists presented themselves warmed my queer little heart. LaBelle wore avant garde geometric hairdos paired with heavily shoulder-padded blazers. Houston loved an elegant slender gown. And Khan? It was the voluminous red mane that gently caressed her lower back for me. 

Listening to rap music in college was a political experience. My sociology classes politicized me and so it was only natural that I listened to rap music that expressed trauma, joy, and hope in the Black experience. However, I felt disconnected from the music because of a dearth of queer representation in the genre. 

Nevertheless, groups like Outkast felt nostalgic. While delivering hedonistic lyrics at lightning speed, André 3000 — one half of the rap duo — mesmerized with his sleek, shoulder-length silk pressed hair and colorful, flowing shirts and trousers — a style that could be translated as “gender-bending.” Despite the patriarchal presentation rampant in rap and Hip-Hop, Andr​​é 30000 represented to me, a kind of rebellious self-expression that I so badly wanted to emulate but couldn’t because of the psychological confines of my conservative upbringing. 

My discovery of Outkast was also sobering because it was a stark reminder of how queerness is also often used as an aesthetic in Hip-Hop while actual queer people are shunned, rebuked, and mocked. Queer people in Hip-Hop are like backstage wingmen, crucial to the development of the show but never important enough to make a curtain call. 

As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years since its inception in New York City, I am filled with joy because it’s been half a century of Black people owning their narratives and driving the culture. But it’s fair to ask: At whose expense? 

A viral 2020 video shows rapper Boosie BadAzz, famed for hits like “Set It Off” and “Wipe Me Down,” rebuking NBA star Dwayne Wade and award-winning actress Gabrielle Union-Wade for publicly supporting their then-12-year-old daughter after she came out as transgender. 

“Don’t cut his dick off, bro,” said BadAzz with furrowed eyebrows and a gaze that kept turning away from the camera, revealing his tarnished diamond studs. “Don’t dress him as a woman dawg, he’s 12 years. He’s not up there yet.” 

The responses from both Wade and Union-Wade were a mixture of swift, sarcastically light-hearted, and hopeful.

“Sorry Boosie,” Union-Wade said to an audience during a live podcast appearance at Live Talks Los Angeles. “He’s so preoccupied, it’s almost like, ‘thou doth protest too much, Little Boos.’ You’ve got a lot of dick on your mind.”

Wade also appeared on an episode of podcast, “I AM ATHLETE,” and looked directly into the camera.

“Boosie, all the people who got something to say, J-Boogie who just came out with [something] recently, all the people who got something to say about my kids,” he said. “I thank you because you’re allowing the conversation to keep going forward because you know what? You might not have the answers today, I might not have the answers, but we’re growing from all these conversations.” 

This exchange between the Wades and BadAzz highlights the complicated relationship between Black LGBTQ individuals and allies and the greater Hip-Hop and rap genres and communities. While Black queer aesthetics have long informed self-expression in Hip-Hop, rappers have disparaged queerness through song lyrics and in interviews, or online rants like BadAzz, outside the recording studio. 

And despite LGBTQ rappers like Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Lil Nas X, and Saucy Santana achieving mainstream success, much work lies ahead to heal the trauma that persists from Hip-Hop’s history of  patriarchy and homophobia. 

“‘Progression’ will always be relative and subjective based on one’s positionality,” said Dr. Melvin Williams said in an email. Williams is an associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University. “Hip-hop has traditionally been in conversation with queer and non-normative sexualities and included LGBTQ+ people in the shaping of its cultural signifiers behind the scenes as choreographers, songwriters, make-up artists, set designers, and other roles stereotypically attributed to queer culture.”

“Although Hip-Hop incorporates queerness in their ethos, ideas, and trends, it does not privilege the prospect of an out LGBTQ+ rapper. Such reservations position LGBTQ+ people as mere labor in Hip-Hop’s behind-the-scenes cultivation, but not as rap performers in its mainstream distribution,” he added. 

This is especially true for Queen Latifah and DaBrat who existed in the genre for decades but didn’t publicly come out until 2021. Still, both faced backlash from the Black community for daring to challenge gender roles and expectations. 

Queen Latifah dodged questions about her sexuality for years before acknowledging her partner and their son in 2021. (Photo by DFree via Bigstock)

Lil Nas X also faced backlash for his music video “Montero” with satanic references, including one in which he slides down a pole and gives a character representing the devil a lap dance. Conservatives such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem accused him of trying to scandalize children. 

“You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am,” Nas X said in a note that accompanied “Montero.” The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”

Regardless, “Montero” debuted atop the Billboard 100. 

In an article published in “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society,” scholar C. Riley Snorton posited that celebrating queer visibility in mainstream media could be a problem as this kind of praise relies on artists presenting in acceptable forms of gender and sexuality expression and encourages representation that is “read alongside…perceptions of Hip-Hop as a site of Black misogyny and homophobia.” 

In the case of Frank Ocean, who came out in 2012 prior to the release of his album “Channel Orange,” his reception was warmer than most queer Hip-Hop artists because his style of music is singing, as opposed to rapping. Because of this, his music was viewed more as R’n’B or pop. 

“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine,” rapper Snoop Dogg told the Guardian in 2013. “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough.”

So what’s the solution for queer people in Hip-Hop? Digital media.

Williams, the Pace University professor, says that being divorced from record labels allows queer artists to be independent and distribute their music globally on their own terms. 

“We witnessed this fact with artists such as Azealia Banks, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Kevin Abstract, iLoveMakonnen, Lil Nas X, Mykki Blanco, and Saucy Santana, as well as legacy LGBTQ Hip-Hop acts like Big Freeda, DeepDickCollective, and Le1f,” he said. “The music industry has experienced an increasingly mobilized market due to the rise of digital media, social networking platforms, and streaming services.”

“More importantly, Black queer Hip-Hop artists are historicizing LGBTQ+ contributions and perspectives in documentaries, films, news specials, public forums, and podcasts. Ultimately, queer people engaging in Hip-Hop is a revolutionary act, and it remains vital for LGBTQ+ Hip-Hoppers to highlight their cultural contributions and share their histories,” he added. 

(Hip-Hop pioneers Public Enemy and Ice-T will headline The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, free concerts at the West Potomac Park on the National Mall in D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.)

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Cuisine and culture come together at The Square

D.C.’s newest food hall highlights Spanish flavors



(Photo by Scott Suchman)

Downtown got a bit tastier when “the next generation of food halls” opened its doors on Tuesday near the Farragut West Metro stop. Dubbed The Square, its half-dozen debut stalls are a Spanish-flecked mix of D.C. favorites, new concepts, and vendor-collaborative spirit.

After two years of planning – and teasing some big-name chefs – the market is, according to the owners, “where cuisine, culture, and community are woven together.”

Behind this ambitious project with lofty aims are Richie Brandenburg, who had a hand in creating Union Market and Rubén García, a creative director of the José Andrés Group who also was part of the team of Mercado Little Spain, the fairly new Spanish-themed Andres food hall in Hudson Yards.

Food halls have come a long way since the new Union Market awakened the concept a decade ago. Instead of simply rows of vendors in parallel lines, The Square has a new business model and perspective. This food hall shares revenue between the owners and its chef partners. Vendors are encouraged to collaborate, using one software system, and purchasing raw materials and liquor at scale together.

“Our goal was two-fold: to create a best-in-class hospitality offering with delicious foods for our guests; and behind the scenes, create the strong, complex infrastructure needed to nurture both young chefs and seasoned professionals, startups, and innovation within our industry,” says Brandenburg.

The Square has embraced a more chef-forward methodology, given that the founders/owners themselves are chefs. They’re bringing together a diverse mix of new talent and longtime favorites to connect, offer guidance to each other, and make the market into a destination. 

(Photos by Scott Suchman)

The first phase of The Square premiered this week. This phase encapsulates a selection of original concepts from well-known local chefs and business owners, and includes:

• Cashion’s Rendezvous – Oysters, crab cakes, and cocktails, from the owners of D.C. institutions and now-closed Cashion’s Eat Place and Johnny’s Half-Shell (Ann Cashion and John Fulchino).

• Jamón Jamón – Flamenco-forward food with hand-cut jamón Iberico, queso, and croquetas, sourced by García himself.

• Brasa – Grilled sausages and veggies are the stars here. Chef García oversees this Spanish street-food stall as well.

 Taqueria Xochi – Birria, guisado, and other street tacos, plus margs. Named after the ruins of Xochitecatl in Central Mexico, and from a Jose Andres alum.

• Yaocho – Fried chicken, juices, sweets, and libations.

• Junge’s – Churros and soft serve ice cream. Brandenburg and García both have a hand in this stall.

• Atrium Bar – The central watering hole for drinks. Atrium Bar serves cocktails, wine, and beer curated by The Square’s Beverage Director Owen Thompson.

“Having been part of Jose Andres’s restaurant group and getting to know Ruben and Richie, it’s amazing to see how their values align with ours at Taqueria Xochi. Seeing all these incredible chefs heading into Square feels like a full-circle moment,” said Geraldine Mendoza of Taqueria Xochi.

Slated for fall 2023, the next round of openings includes Flora Pizzeria, Cebicheria Chalaca, KIYOMI Sushi by Uchi, Shoals Market (a retail hub), and more. Additionally, chef Rubén García’s Spanish restaurant, Casa Teresa, will soon open next door to The Square.

The Square is just one of a handful of new food halls blossoming in and around D.C. Up in Brentwood, Md., miXt Food Hall is an art-adjacent space with tacos, a year-round fresh market, coffee, and beer. Across from Union Market is La Cosecha, a Latin marketplace with everything from street food to a Michelin starred restaurant and a festive vibe. Closer to The Square is Western Market by GW University, which opened in late 2021 with a buzzy, relaxed style.

For now, the Square is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Square plans to open on weekends and extend hours to offer dinner service in the coming months. A few alfresco seats will accompany the hall.

(Photo by Scott Suchman)
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