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Christmastime with Lorrie Morgan

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



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



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)


a&e features

Girls Rock! DC empowers young people through music, social justice education

Organization founded in October 2007



Youth leaders of Girls Rock DC! (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC, an organization operating at the intersection of art and activism, is dedicated to empowering young people through music and social justice education. 

Since its founding in October 2007; Girls Rock! DC has been creating a supportive, inclusive and equitable space that centers around girls and nonbinary youth, with a special emphasis on uplifting Black and Brown youth. At the core of Girls Rock! DC’s mission is a unique approach to music education, viewing it through a social justice and equity lens. 

“It’s a place where people can come explore their interest in music in a safe environment, figure out their own voice, and have a platform to say it,” Board Vice Chair Nicole Savage said.

This approach allows D.C.’s young people to build a sense of community and explore their passion for social change through after-school programs, workshops and camps.

The organization’s roots trace back to the first rock camp for girls in August 2001 in Portland, Ore. Similar camps have emerged worldwide since then, forming the International Girls Rock Camp Alliance. Girls Rock! DC is a member of this alliance, contributing to the larger community’s growth and advocacy for inclusivity in the music industry.

Girls Rock! DC’s annual programs now serve more than 100 young people and 20 adults, offering after-school programs and camps. Participants receive instruction on the electric guitar, the electric bass, keyboards, drum kits and other instruments or on a microphone and form bands to write and perform their own original songs. Beyond music, the program includes workshops on underrepresented histories in the music industry, community injustice issues and empowerment topics that include running for office and body positivity.

“I’ve been playing shows in the D.C. music scene for about six years, and I feel like Girls Rock! DC is the perfect amalgamation of everything that I stand for,” said Outreach Associate Lily Mónico. “So many music spaces are male dominated and I think there is a need for queer femme youth in music.”

Lily Mónico (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident not only in its leadership but also in the way it creates a safe space for queer and nonbinary individuals. Language is a crucial component, and Girls Rock! DC ensures that both campers and volunteers embrace inclusivity. 

“It is a very open and creative space, where there’s no judgment,” Zadyn Higgins, one of the youth leaders, emphasized. “It is the first time for a lot of us, to be in a space where we’re truly able to be ourselves.”

In creating a safe environment, Girls Rock! DC implements practices that include name tags with preferred names and pronouns, along with pronoun banners that help kids understand and respect diverse identities. 

“It’s really cool to watch these kids understand and just immediately get it,” said Higgins. 

Zadyn Higgins (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Girls Rock! DC is also more than a music education organization; it’s a community where individuals can embark on a transformative journey that extends beyond their initial participation as campers. Many start their Girls Rock! DC experience as enthusiastic campers, learning to play instruments, forming bands and expressing their creativity in a supportive environment. The organization’s impact, however, doesn’t stop there. This inspiration leads them to volunteer and intern within the organization. 

The unique progression from camper to volunteer or intern, and eventually to a full-fledged role within the organization, exemplifies Girls Rock! DC as a place where growth is not confined to a single week of camp but extends into an ongoing, impactful journey. It’s a testament to the organization’s commitment to nurturing talent, empowering individuals and fostering a lifelong connection with the values for which Girls Rock! DC stands.

One of the highlights of Girls Rock! DC is its summer camp, where kids between 8-18 learn to play instruments, form bands, write songs and perform in just one week. Higgins shared a poignant moment from a showcase,

“To see them go from, like, crying a little bit about how scared they were to going out on the stage and performing their little hearts out was so sweet,” said Higgins.

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! D.C.)

Nzali Mwanza-Shannon, another youth leader, agreed that the camp is the highlight of the program. 

“The summer camp, I’ve met so many friends, and it’s always kind of scary coming up to the end, but after we get to perform and everything, I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to perform and meet new people and be so creative and do it all in a week,” said Mwanza-Shannon.

Forty-three young people who showcased their original songs and DJ sets at D.C.’s legendary 9:30 Club attended the first Girls Rock! DC camp in 2007. They performed to a crowd of 700 enthusiastic fans. The organization since then has grown exponentially, with each passing year bringing more energy, vibrancy and fun to the camp experience.

Since the pandemic, however, the organization has struggled financially, experiencing a funding shortage as well as reduced growth in attracting new members. 

Augusta Smith, who is a youth leader and a member of the band Petrichor, expressed concern about the potential impact on the unique and friendly environment that Girls Rock! DC provides. 

“We’ve kind of been really slow and barely making enough money. And this year, we’re having a funding shortage,” said Smith. 

The impact of Girls Rock! DC extends beyond musical skills, fostering leadership, self-expression and a passion for social change through creative collaboration and community power-building. Mwanza-Shannon hopes to be a part of Girls Rock! DC for a long time, 

“I want to keep on meeting new people,” said Mwanza-Shannon. “I want to keep on being able to perform at these different places and have different experiences.”

(Photo courtesy of Frankie Amitrano of Girls Rock! DC)
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‘Blindspot’ reveals stories of NYC AIDS patients that haven’t been told

Former Blade reporter’s podcast focuses on POC, women, trans people



Kai Wright, a former Blade reporter, hosts the podcast ‘Blindspot.’ (Photo by Amy Pearl)

“We said that people had The Monster, because they had that look,” activist Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, said, remembering how people in her New York neighborhood reacted when people first got AIDS.

They didn’t know what to call it.

“They had the sucked in checks,” Reyes-Jimenez, added, “They were really thin…a lot of folks were saying, oh, you know, they had…cancer.”

“We actually had set up a bereavement clinic where the kids would tell us what they wanted to have when they die,” Maxine Frere, a retired nurse who worked at Harlem Hospital for 40 years and was the head nurse of its pediatric AIDS unit said, “How did they wanna die?”

“Nobody wanted to come on,” said former New York Gov. David Paterson, who in 1987 was Harlem’s state senator.

At that time, Manhattan Cable Television gave legislators the chance to do one show a year. “So I decided to do my show on the AIDS crisis and how there didn’t seem to be any response from the leadership in the Black community,” Paterson added.

These unforgettable voices with their searing recollections are among the many provocative, transformative stories told on Season 3 of “Blindspot,” the critically acclaimed podcast. 

“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” is co-produced by the History Channel and WNYC Studios. The six-episode podcast series, which launched on Jan. 18 and airs weekly through Feb. 22, is hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright with lead reporting by The Nation Magazine’s Lizzy Ratner.

The show is accompanied by a photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija. LaBeija is a New York City-based artist who was born HIV positive and lost her mother to the disease at 14. The exhibit, which features portraits of people whose stories are heard on “Blindspot,” runs at the Greene Space at WNYC through March 11.

If you think of AIDS, you’re likely to think of white cisgender gay men. (That’s been true for me, a cisgender lesbian, who lost loved ones to AIDS.)

From the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, most media and cultural attention has been focused on white gay men – from playwright and activist Larry Kramer to the movie “Philadelphia.”   

“Blindspot” revisits New York City, an epicenter of the early years of the HIV epidemic.

The podcast reveals stories of vulnerable people that haven’t been told. Of people of color, women, transgender people, children, drug-users, women in prison and the doctors, nurses and others who cared and advocated with and on their behalf.

“Blindspot,” through extensive reporting and immersive storytelling, makes people visible who were invisible during the AIDS epidemic. It makes us see people who have, largely, been left out of the history of AIDS.

Wright, 50, who is Black and gay, cares deeply about history. He is host and managing editor of “Notes from America with Kai Wright,” a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.

Recently, Wright, who worked as a reporter at the Washington Blade from 1996 to 2001, talked with me in a Zoom interview. The conversation ranged over a number of topics from why Wright got into journalism, to how stigma and health care disparities still exist today for people of color, transgender people and poor people with AIDS to the impact he hopes “Blindspot” will have.

“I came to work at the Blade in 1996,” Wright said, “the year after I got out of college.”

He’d done two six-month stints at PBS and “Foreign Policy.” But Wright thinks of the Blade as his first proper journalism job.

From his youth, Wright has been committed to social justice and to understanding his community. Reporting, from early on, has been his connection with social justice. “I often say, journalism has been my contribution to social justice movements,” Wright said.

His first journalistic connection to the Black community came when he was 15. Then, Wright became an intern with the Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder.

“That’s how I got the [journalism] bug,” Wright said.

Since then, Wright said, he’s worked almost exclusively with media that have a connection with the community.

Wright grew up in Indianapolis and went to college at Emory University in Atlanta. He didn’t intend to be a journalist, he wrote in an email to the Blade. At Emory, he studied international politics.

Wright’s life and work changed direction when he began working at the Blade. “I was a kid,” Wright said, “I’d just come out. I used journalism to find out what it meant to come out.”

Wright, when he came to Washington, D.C., was, as he recalled, just a kid. He didn’t know anyone in D.C. and there was a Black, queer community. This helped Wright to come out. “I couldn’t have told you that at the time,” he said, “but in retrospect I can see that I moved to  D.C. to come out.”

Journalism was Wright’s way of finding his way through coming out.

“I didn’t know if the Blade was hiring,” Wright said, “I just walked in.”

He didn’t have a deep resume but he had a lot to say. The Blade hired him and immediately put him to work reporting on AIDS.

“It was a pivotal cultural and political moment – a pivotal moment for the community,” Wright said.

That year, when Wright began working with the Blade, life-saving treatments (early drug cocktails) were emerging for AIDS.

“There was no way that HIV and AIDS wouldn’t become a central part of my journalism,” Wright said, “I really wanted to report on it.”

With the emergence of treatments, white gay men with health insurance began to feel that they were turning the page and that AIDS was no longer a death sentence.

“But, as a reporter, I was meeting Black gay men who were going into emergency mode about the AIDS epidemic,” Wright said.

Black people, poor people, drug users and others without health insurance and access to treatment were still dying and transmitting AIDS. “‘This is getting more and more dire,’ the activists said,” Wright recalls.

They told Wright, “The rest of the community is starting to turn the page. We can’t turn the page.”

In D.C., Wright could see, through his reporting, the racial discrimination in the community at large in the AIDS epidemic, and in the queer community.

Two things are true simultaneously, Wright said, when asked if there is still stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS today.

“Science has made so much progress,” Wright said, “It’s no longer necessary for any of us to die from HIV.”

“I take a pill once a day to prevent me from catching HIV,” he added, “I can do that. I am a person with insurance…with a great deal of social and economic privilege.”

But many people in the United States don’t have health insurance, and exist outside of the health care system. The divergence in treatment and stigma that he saw as a young reporter in 1996 are still there today, Wright said.

“The divergence in class and race has grown even more profound,” he said, “among people of color, young people – transgender people.”

Wright hopes  “Blindspot” will make people who lived through the epidemic and whose stories weren’t told, feel seen. And that “they will hear themselves and be reminded of the contributions they have made,” Wright said.

The queer press plays an important role in the LGBTQ community, Wright said. “We need a place to hash out our differences, share stories and ask questions that put our experience at the center of the conversation,” he emailed the Blade.

“There’s more space for us in media than when I started my career at the Blade,” Wright said, “but none of it is a replacement for journalism done by and for ourselves.”

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Valentine’s Day gifts for the queers you love

From pasta and chocolate to an Aspen getaway



Share the love on Feb. 14 with our thoughtful Valentine’s gift picks for everyone you like and lust.

Centrolina V-Day Pasta Kit

Washington, D.C.-based Centrolina’s seasonally inspired restaurant menu gets the delivered-to-your-door treatment with Chef Amy Brandwein’s holiday gift baskets featuring four handmade pastas and from-scratch sauces, including heart-shaped beet ravioli with ricotta and lemon butter, a mushroom and black truffle ragu, sunchoke tagliolini and oyster cacio pepe, and chestnut pappardelle, among other elevated-Italian recipes that you and your lil’ meatball can whip up on date night. $175,

La Maison du Chocolat

Heart-shaped candy clichés are much more palatable when the contents within are made in Paris instead of Hershey, Pa., and your intended will be sufficiently satisfied with La Maison du Chocolat’s selection of premium confections – including melt-in-your-mouth ganaches, pralinés and bouchées, oh my – available in festive and indulgent 14- and 44-piece boxes. $60-$140,

‘Spread the Love’ Plantable Pencils

SproutWorld’s set-of-eight Love Edition pencils set themselves up for seed-spreading jokes given Cupid’s context, but the real sentiment is sweeter: Plant the lead-free, graphite writing utensils (engraved with romantic quotes on certified wood) in potted soil and enjoy striking flowers and fragrant herbs in one to four weeks. $15,

W Aspen Getaway

Missed Aspen Gay Ski Week? No sweat. You’ll fight fewer crowds as the season winds down – without compromising your commitment to luxury – during a late-winter getaway to the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains at the W Aspen. Book unforgettable outdoor adventures, like heliskiing and dog sledding, with the property’s always-available concierge; spend après hour on the rooftop WET deck before diving into delicious dishes at onsite restaurant 39 Degrees; see and be seen at Ponyboy, the property’s cocktail-focused modern speakeasy rooted in New York City nightlife; and pour yourself a nightcap from your in-room mini bar before relaxing in the suite’s deep soaking tub – because, ya know, all in a day’s work.

Nexgrill Ora Pizza Oven

Not a fan of fancy dining out? Slip into those grey sweats he won’t let you wear in public, top off the Veuve, and fire up Nexgrill’s Ora 12 portable propane pizza oven wherein a to-temp cordierite baking stone will cook your personalized pies to perfection at up to 900 degrees. That’s burnin’ love, baby. $299,

‘Just Happy to Be Here’ YA Novel

Have a they/them in your life excited to expand their winter reading list? Gift a copy of Naomi Kanakia’s newly published YA coming-of-age novel, “Just Happy to Be Here,” about Tara, an Indian-American transgender teenager seeking quiet support and acceptance within her school’s prestigious academic group but instead becomes the center of attention when she draws the ire of administrators and alumni. $16,

Perfect Pairings 

Set it off this Valentine’s Day with a curated selection of wine and spirits, including the Pale Rosé, created by Sacha Lichine, of Whispering Angel fame; Flat Creek Estate’s red-blend trio, featuring the 2017 Super Texan, 2018 Four Horsemen, and Buttero; Ron Barceló’s Imperial Premium Blend 40th Aniversario rum; and the Bourbon Rosemary cocktail-in-a-can from Spirited Hive. $17-$199

Moon Bath Bomb

Stars aligned for that little meet-cute you told everybody about on TikTok, and you can trust the universe to provide ample relaxation when you plop Zodica Perfumery’s Moon Bath Bomb in the tub – there’s a specific formulation for every sign, which promises vibe-setting aromatherapy, activated charcoal for deep cleansing, and skin-soothing olive oil for the self-love glow-up you’ve been waiting for. $18,

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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