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Christmastime with Lorrie Morgan

Country diva reflects on life, family and career in advance of Birchmere show

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Lorrie Morgan, gay news, Washington Blade

Lorrie Morgan has had a busy year. In addition to her first solo album in five years, she also put out a collection of re-recordings of her hits. (Photo courtesy Morgan)

Lorrie Morgan’s Enchanted Christmas

 

Sunday, Dec. 18

 

7:30 p.m.

 

The Birchmere

 

3701 Mount Vernon Ave.

 

Alexandria, VA

 

$45

 

birchmere.com

It’s been a busy and successful year for country diva Lorrie Morgan. February saw the release of her first solo album in five years, “Letting Go … Slow,” followed by a re-recorded hits collection, “A Picture Of Me — Greatest Hits & More,” a month later.

In addition to recording, Morgan has been on the road performing her own concert dates along with doing her “Grits and Glamour” show featuring fellow country star, Pam Tillis.

December finds Morgan touring with her “Enchanted Christmas” show, which comes to the Birchmere on Sunday, Dec. 18. This is the country star’s third time in the D.C.  area this year, but her first time playing the Birchmere.

During an early morning phone interview, Morgan talks about Christmas, her new music, her gay following among other things from the front porch of her new home in Portland, Tenn.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What can fans expect from your Christmas show?

LORRIE MORGAN: The only thing they can expect is I’m actually not doing any of my hits. It’s all keeping Christ in Christmas and it’s all about Christmas. I just decided you know what, I’m not here to promote my songs. I love Christmas. I’m very dedicated to that time of year and I feel like all through the year I do songs about me and now it’s about Christ so that’s what we’re gonna do.

BLADE: Do you have a favorite childhood Christmas memory?

MORGAN: People ask me all the time about my favorite childhood Christmas memory and I don’t have any, because they were all the best I ever had. Christmas growing up at our house was a magical time. My dad believed in surprises and magic and candy land and just created this fantasy for us children that was a double-edged sword because when we grew up, we were in for a big surprise (laughs). It was always a magical time for me. There were no favorite memories, they were all perfect for me.

BLADE: You’ve recorded two Christmas albums, the popular 1993 “Merry Christmas From London” and 2007’s “An Old Fashioned Christmas.” With touring the last few holiday seasons, do you plan on recording another Christmas album?

MORGAN: Not right now. My next album I want to do is a country oldies and the next one is a gospel album. I’m really looking forward to that. I don’t know when a Christmas album would be due. I don’t think I could ever top “Merry Christmas From London.”

BLADE: Would your country oldies album be similar to your 2009 country covers album, “A Moment In Time”?

MORGAN: Um, not as lush as “A Moment in Time.” I’m actually gonna do it as a duet album with Pam Tillis. She’ll be doing part of ’em and I’ll be doing part of ’em. It’ll be produced by Richard Landis, so I’m really excited about that. Very excited.

BLADE: Speaking of Pam Tillis, the two of you have been doing a successful tour for the past few years called “Grits and Glamour” and recorded an album together (2013’s “Dos Divas”). You have this great chemistry together on stage. Why do you two get along so well?

MORGAN: It’s funny (laughs) I don’t know if you’ll understand this or print it correctly, but we’re like a couple old broads walking around in a daze in a new music industry … blind leading the blind and we’re having a blast. We laugh at everything. We’re blessed, selling out crowds. I get tickled and she gets tickled and most of the time I get tickled about her. Pam is … we’re both perfectionists in our music. I’m more loose on stage and she about falls off her stool because she never knows what I’m going to say.

BLADE: You’ve released quite a few albums that while they’ve had great songs, they didn’t get the recognition they deserved. Do you ever get discouraged?

MORGAN: Oh yeah, I do, but it’s a natural part of the business (pauses). It’s kind of like living and dying. You know dying is a natural part of living and nobody’s on top forever and nobody can be on top forever and you never brace yourself for that moment when your like, “Damn, I haven’t had a hit record in 24 years.” (laughs)

BLADE: Your new album, “Letting Go…Slow” is a mixture of different genres that features originals along with a handful of covers. What inspired you to record this type of album?

MORGAN: Well, it’s been over five years since I’ve had a solo album of my own and these are songs I handpicked myself, songs I wanted to do for 20 some years and for one reason or another never got to do them. I don’t know, I don’t feel like there’s a reason or plan to release a country album. I just wanted to release these songs. The song that inspired the album is a song called “Spilt Milk.” I heard that song, God, 16, 17 years ago. I was at a benefit in New York City and the entertainer that night was Kristina Train and I never heard of her in my life and she came out and was just this class act with a great band behind her. She started singing “Spilt Milk” and my eyes started crying, I was like, “I’m out of control here.” I finally got to meet her this year at the Opry and she was so sweet and complimentary of our version of her song.

BLADE: Has “Spilt Milk” inspired you to maybe record a jazz album?

MORGAN: Oh yes! I plan on doing everything. I’m excited about it.

BLADE: You released a second album this year, “A Picture of Me — Greatest Hits & More.” How did that come about?

MORGAN: Well, a label contacted me from California and they wanted to redo, remake the hits, which is always kind of weird to me. The only thing that interested me in doing it was I got to put new songs on the album. I got to do a lot of Keith (Whitley) songs.

BLADE: Any plans to do a whole album of Keith Whitley songs?

MORGAN: I want to, but it’s a fine line to what people think you’re doing it for and just being respectful. My son (Jesse Keith Whitley) is following in his dad’s footsteps and he’s doing great. I’m gonna save that stuff for him.

BLADE: When did you first notice you had a gay following?

MORGAN: God, it’s been a long time, a long time! Let me see (pauses) it’s been probably 30 years (laughs).

BLADE: What do you think the appeal is?

MORGAN: I think they know I’m real. I don’t judge people. I love music, I love singing about real issues and life and women just don’t go through that stuff, men do as well. I’ve had a lot of gay friends all my life. One of my best friends is gay and we have the best time when we’re together that I can ever have with anybody. I guess it’s just the appeal that I don’t judge, I really don’t give a damn what your sexual preference is, I really don’t care. You know what my favorite movie is? “Birdcage.” I love that movie, me and my best friend always … he calls Miss. Albert because I’m always like, “I need a Pirin tablet” (laughs). I love that people are lightening up and seeing that this is not a bad thing. I’d like to delve back, I don’t know if anybody ever has, but I’d like to delve back to the early days of Christianity or before and see (pauses) I’d like to see when people first started feeling those emotions. Wouldn’t you?

BLADE: Yeah, it would clear a lot of things up. I think so much of how you treat people has to do with how you’re raised and your surroundings.

MORGAN: I think a lot of it and most of it. What doesn’t bother me is the love. When you love somebody with your heart and soul, I don’t think God can look down on that. I just don’t. Now if you walked around hating people and looting, killing people, that’s not good. But softness and being kind to people, nurturing someone. I don’t believe God looks down on that. I did a gay pride festival a couple years ago and it was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever done in my life. These people knew ever word, they were dressed like me, we were excited, they were excited and we had the best time.

BLADE: Quite a few years ago, you said, “Drama is something that lets you know you’re still alive.” Do you still feel that way?

MORGAN: I do, you know, the older I’ve gotten I thought the drama would settle down, but there’s a new kind of drama now. I had a friend of mine who told me that every seven to 10 years you go through changes with your body that open your eyes to learning what you had questions to for years. Now there’s a new drama in my life, not so much romantic drama, boyfriend/girlfriend drama, now it’s losing people you love, it’s a different age of my life and kids growing up, and grandkids and worrying about different things. With each part of your life there becomes a different drama you have to deal with. Yeah, it still lets you know you’re alive. You have tears and you have heartbreak and I feel sorry for people who don’t have a friend who they have loved and have lost because there’s no way to describe that feeling of overcoming, but you gotta learn to live with it and it makes you a stronger and better person.

BLADE: I feel you gotta lose a little bit to gain more in the long run as you get older.

MORGAN: Well you are right. Let me tell you something sweetie, it only gets better. It does. When I hit 40, my girlfriend told me it’s like magic. You wake up and you’re 40 and (laughs) I get it now! I wake up and I’m like, “Oh my God, I know all the answers to the questions I had all these years.” Then you hit another slump and you’re an idiot again (laughs). Then you find out that every five, seven, 10 years, you hit this new horizon that puts you at another level and it’s interesting to sit back and let it happen.

BLADE: You’ve accomplished so much in your professional and personal life. What are you most proud of?

MORGAN: I know it’s corny, but it’s gotta be my children. What they lived through at the height of my career and they were little. I always tried to make their basketball games and their proms and their school picnics and I did really damn good. You know, I would cancel a $60,000 date to make my son’s basketball game. I didn’t care at that time. They were and they are the most important things in my life. My daughter is a wonderful mother and she’s full of funny, loving ways. My son is wild as a damn buck, but he’ll give you the shirt off his back. He’s just a good ol’ southern rocker boy. My grand kids and what we have, what Randy and I tried to make is a peaceful place our kids can always come. I’ll never turn my kids away. Are they perfect? No, show me someone who is. To me they are. My son gets to go on the road with me a lot. He sings a couple songs when he’s not working. I just love those kids! They are my life.

Lorrie Morgan, gay news, Washington Blade

Lorrie Morgan says despite the ups and downs of her career and personal life, her gay fans have stuck by her. (Photo courtesy Morgan)

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Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

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‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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