Colman Domingo
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Black LGBTQ+ Pioneers You Should Know

Black LGBTQ Pioneers You Should Know

Essex HemphillX633

Essex Hemphill
Essex Hemphill first took to poetry as a Washington, D.C., teenager and didn't stop. In 1985 and 1986, Hemphill self-published his first books, but truly gained national attention when he appeared in the seminal anthology In The Life, a collection of writing by black, gay men in 1986. Thereafter, his poems were featured in two award-winning documentaries, Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston. Hemphill became known for his no-holds-barred handling of HIV/AIDS, race, and identity. He went on to win Lambda Literary Awards, and he was named a visiting scholar for the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in 1993. In the midst of a conservative Congress cracking down on publicly funded arts programs, he was named a fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts and received grants from the Pew Charitable Trust. In 1995, Hemphill died due to complications from AIDS.

Billy Strayhornx633

Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn weathered a tumultuous childhood with the help of music. A diminutive teenager with a passion and honed ear for music, Strayhorn was the only black musician in his high school's 25-member orchestra. He started a Cole Porter-esque musical review with skits and music. By age 23, he impressed Duke Ellington so much that he decided to hire him on the spot, despite not having a position for him in his orchestra. Within months, however, Strayhorn was writing arrangements and pushing Ellington's orchestra to perform its best—while living as an openly gay man. Strayhorn's 29-year collaborative partnership with Ellington birthed several major songs including "Take The 'A' Train," the groundbreaking, audacious musical Jump For Joy, and the 43-mnute jazz piece Black Brown and Beige performed at Carnegie Hall. Strayhorn broke out on his own, while also becoming an influential activist, working along with Martin Luther King Jr.

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