Colman Domingo
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Leslie Jordan on Going Gospel, Playing the Opry, and ‘Aunt Dolly’

Leslie Jordan on Going Gospel, Playing the Opry, and ‘Aunt Dolly’

If anyone could have pulled off a fringed, electric blue suit for their Grand Ole Opry debut, it’s Leslie Jordan. Just over a year after he became an Instagram superstar — growing 80,000 followers to 5.6 million fellow “hunker-downers,” as he lovingly called those who joined his Insta-journey during lockdown — Jordan played the mothership of country music, the Grand Ole Opry, in late May. And you can bet he dramatically raised the fringed sleeves of his bespoke suit to great effect for that Nashville crowd.

“I don’t think I’m going to walk out and make a big deal out of it. I’ll bet you I’m the first queer who’s ever been up here,” Jordan joked ahead of the performance. “I’m going to wear an electric blue suit. I’ll introduce myself as a Portable Wagoner instead of Porter Wagoner [the musician who had a show that helped cement Dolly Parton’s fame].”

The actor, singer, and author was there to perform three of the hymns he’d recorded for his debut album, Company’s Comin’. His appearance at the Opry and the album were just two of Jordan’s myriad accomplishments during a year of uncertainty. He also starred in CBS’s Call Me Kat alongside Mayim Bialik and wrote the lively memoir How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief From a Life Well Lived. As for his music career, whether it’s listening to him sing with Tanya Tucker, Brandi Carlile, Eddie Vedder, and Parton on the album or taking in his glorious Opry set, there’s something wholly moving about Jordan (known best for his comedic chops) reclaiming songs from the church he once left because he wasn’t welcomed as a gay person.

Leslie Jordan

Leslie Jordan at the Grand Ole Opry 

As it turns out, there’s a bit of symmetry between his skyrocketing Instagram persona and what would eventually become his gospel album.

“I had been doing Sunday hymn singing with a friend of mine named Travis Howard. We would go on the internet. We both grew up in the Baptist Church, and these old hymns that we sang were sort of like the fabric of our childhood,” Jordan said.

The Will & Grace star and Howard began performing the songs on Instagram. They soon had a following and an audience that craved more. Cut to April of 2021 and Jordan had recorded a full-length album of hymns culled from the songbook he knew as a child. Those gospel classics on the record include “This Little Light of Mine” with Katie Pruitt, “In the Sweet By and By” with T.J. Osborne, “Where the Soul Never Dies” with Parton, and “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” with Tucker.

The uplifting, inspirational, and healing songs on Company’s Comin’ have their roots in worship, but the music is for everyone. Not long after the album dropped, Jordan and Carlile, who’s a lesbian and has her own backstory with the church, engaged in a thoughtful conversation on Instagram about reconciling their relationship with religion as queer people.

“I got the wordage from Brandi when she says, ‘I’m a gay person of faith.’ And it’s hard sometimes to be a gay person of faith, because, you know, you were raised a certain way,” he said.

“When I’m being very dramatic, I’ll say, ‘Well, I walked away from the church.’ Well, I never walked away from the church. I just quit going,” Jordan added. “We all kind of did that as teenagers. There was no dramatic slamming of doors, and ‘I’ll never be back!’”

“How can you embrace something that doesn’t embrace you?” Jordan said, explaining the mindset that led him to leave the church for a time. “It’s not even up for argument. I’m homosexual, born this way. This is the way I am.”

Eventually, Jordan found his way back to the church with the help of a spiritual adviser and his time in recovery as his guide.

“You don’t have to worship in the house of worship. And it’s a God of your own understanding. That’s what I learned,” he said. “I learned more about my spirituality through my recovery. I’m 22 years completely clean and sober. And they have a wonderful, you know, God of your own understanding.”

As any abiding gay person might, Jordan also found solace and inspiration in the words of the great Dolly Parton, who is both religious and an enduring ally to LGBTQ+ people.

“For me, it goes so deep when she says things like, ‘Well, [in] the Bible I read Jesus never once mentioned gay people one way or another. You know, I don’t judge,’” Jordan said in his best Parton voice. “To me, that’s mountain wisdom.”

“So far as what she’s done for the gay community, I think the fact that she’s just always so accepting of us and loves us so much. That says so much when you’re as big a star as her to just accept us for who we are,” he shared. “She’s our Aunt Dolly, and I love her, love her, love her.”

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