André De Shields

De Shields, Andre 2017.jpg

André De Shields was born on January 12, 1946. He is a two-time Tony Award-nominated and Emmy and Obie Award-winning actor, singer, director, dancer, novelist, choreographer, lyricist, composer, and college professor.

André Robin De Shields was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the ninth of eleven children to Mary, who earned money by cleaning homes of white families who lived outside of their segregated neighborhood, and his father John, who was a tailor. “We were just hovering above impoverishment. Our two-story Federalist-style row house on Division Street was tight, and my brothers and sisters practically slept on top of each other,” De Shields recalled.

De Shields loved watching movies at a neighborhood theater throughout his youth. In 1954, when he was eight, De Shields had an epiphany while watching “Cabin in the Sky.” The 1943 movie starred every major Black performer at the time, but the actor who jumped off the screen for him was John “Bubbles” Sublett, who played Domino Johnson, the film’s seductive lothario. In the movie, Bubbles sings “Shine” backed by Duke Ellington’s orchestra. De Shields would later say, “When he dances up a flight of stairs at the end, a voice inside me said, ‘André, that’s what you’re going to do.’” Years later, De Shields would invite the aging and infirmed John Sublett to watch him pay tribute in nightclub performances.

In junior high school, André De Shields made a conscious decision to go to Baltimore City College, considered an elite public high school. To get in, he had to pass an entrance exam, and study a classical language. Fortunately, De Shields studied Latin, which helped him to be admitted. “I had to take two buses, and the experience was lonely and dangerous,” De Shields recounted.

De Shields graduated from the Baltimore City College High School in 1964. He then attended Wilmington College, a Quaker School where he was awarded a scholarship. While there, De Shields starred in a well-received production of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” After transferring colleges, De Shields received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. After Wisconsin, he earned a Master of Arts from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where he served as an adjunct professor.

De Shields began his professional career in the Chicago production of the rock-opera “Hair,” which led to a role in “The Me Nobody Knows” and membership in Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, where he created the role of Xander the Unconquerable in “Warp!” He made his Broadway debut as Xander in 1973, and next appeared in “And Don’t You Ever Forget It,” which closed during previews. De Shields made his mark in the title role of “The Wiz,” the 1975 Broadway musical by Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown, directed by Geoffrey Holder.

After providing choreography for two Bette Midler musical shows, De Shields returned to Broadway to perform in the musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in 1978. The original production ran for more than 1600 shows, and De Shields earned a 1978 Drama Desk nomination for his performance.

Three years later, De Shields returned to Broadway to perform in “Stardust: The Mitchell Parrish Musical.” In 1984, he wrote, choreographed, directed, and starred in “André De Shields’ Haarlem Nocturne at The Latin Quarter,” a Broadway musical revue that featured standards from the American songbook, pop hits from the early 1960s, and songs written by De Shields himself. He appeared in a revival of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in 1988, and next appeared on Broadway in 1997 as the Jester in “Play On!” a musical based on the songs of Duke Ellington. De Shields earned nominations for both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for his performance.

In 2000, André De Shields originated the role of Noah “Horse” T. Simmons in the McNally/ Yazbek musical adaptation of the film, “The Full Monty,” again garnering both a Tony and a Drama Desk nomination. He went on to appear in “Prymate” in 2004, in an off-Broadway production of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” in 2008 (for which he received another Drama Desk Award nomination), and in 2009, appeared on Broadway in the play “Impressionism.”

De Shields’ regional theatre credits include “Play On!” “The Full Monty,” “Waiting For Godot,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Dusyanta: A Tale of Kalidasa,” “The Gospel According to James,” and “Camino Real.”

In 2013, he portrayed Akela and King Louie in the world premiere of Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” receiving his third Jeff Award (outstanding achievement in the category of Actor in a Supporting Role—Musical for his role as King Louie), and garnered an Elliot Norton nomination for Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor, and an IRNE nomination for Best Supporting Actor—Musical. In 2014, he appeared in the musical “The Fortress of Solitude” at the Dallas Theater Center and The Public Theater. He had previously performed his role in “The Fortress of Solitude” at Vassar College in 2012.

André De Shields, Lillias White, Stefanie Powers, and Georgia Engel starred in the musical “Gotta Dance,” directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. It ran at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre for several weeks in December 2015 and January 2016.

De Shields has appeared on television on “Another World,” “Cosby,” “Sex and the City,” “Great Performances,” “Lipstick Jungle,” “Law & Order,” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” He won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Achievement for his performance in the 1982 NBC broadcast of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” De Shields played Tweedledum in a 1983 televised production of “Alice in Wonderland” that also included Eve Arden, Richard Burton, Colleen Dewhurst, James Coco, Kaye Ballard, and Nathan Lane.

De Shields has been the Harold Clurman Visiting Professor at the City University of New York-Hunter College, and a distinguished visiting professor at Southern Methodist University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

André De Shields has always been immensely proud to be a Black and same-gender loving artist, and has used his acclaim and fame to inspire others. He has in the past criticized the biases of casting directors and Hollywood in general, and the impact of that short-sightedness on actors of color and LGBTQ- identified performers.

We thank André De Shields for his lifelong commitment to performance and entertainment, and for his many contributions to our community.

Barbara Smith

Smith, Barbara 2017

Barbara Smith was born on December 16, 1946. She is a respected lesbian feminist, teacher, lecturer, author, scholar, publisher, revered critical thinker, and former public official and radio panelist. In 2005, Smith was among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Barbara Smith was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Gartrell Smith and Hilda Beall Smith. Her identical twin sister, Beverly Smith, is also a lesbian feminist, activist and writer.

Smith’s family migrated from Georgia to Ohio seeking relief from the racism of Jim Crow laws and better economic opportunities. Gartrell Smith was largely absent from family life; Hilda Beall Smith met her husband during her attendance at Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Georgia in the mid-1940s. Employed by the armed services, Gartrell Smith was possibly stationed in Cleveland when he and Hilda Beall Smith eloped. However, Beall Smith’s relatives did not approve of the marriage, and the relationship fell apart, forcing a then-pregnant Hilda Beall Smith to return home to her family. Barbara Smith and her sister were born prematurely.

Beall Smith died from complications of rheumatic fever when Barbara Smith was nine, and the siblings were brought up by Smiths’ extended family, with her grandmother as primary caretaker. They grew up in working-class family, living in a two-family house inhabited by their maternal grandmother, two aunts, and the husband of one aunt. Smith credits her dedication to scholarship to her familial upbringing—she was surrounded by an extended family made up entirely of intellectually and politically-oriented women. A librarian aunt brought books home, and made the house a center for discussion and pointed political awareness.

“I’m kind of a natural activist,” Smith later told “Ms.” magazine. “By the time I was eight I noticed that things were not fair.” Her grandmother had been a schoolteacher to Black pupils when she lived in Georgia. On education, Smith recalled, “School is your job. There was no intimidation around achieving in school. It was just like, you have a mind, you’re supposed to use it.”

As high school students, Smith and her sister Beverly participated in school desegregation protests in 1964. Before entering college, Smith became a volunteer for CORE in 1965, and while in college, participated in activities with Students for a Democratic Society. As Black Nationalism emerged from the civil rights movement, Smith became extremely put off by the sexism she experienced in male-dominated groups, and turned to Black feminist politics.

Despite being academically gifted and attending well-resourced public schools, Barbara Smith was a shy child who did not escape humiliating experiences of racism. She recalled instances of racial discrimination and grew up believing she was “ugly” because she did not see anyone in the media “who faintly looked like [her] being looked at as a beautiful person.” Watching their mother and aunts ignored by shopkeepers and insulted by white strangers, the twins sensed that there was something wrong. Smith wrote in “Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology,” that “The cold eyes of certain white teachers…the Black men who yelled from cars as Beverly and I stood waiting for the bus convinced me that I had done something horrible.” She also experienced racial hostility from a French instructor who believed Smith did not belong in her summer French seminar.

Smith cites James Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” as inspiring her through his portrayal of families that were like hers. A gifted student, Smith excelled in her honors classes, and gained entrance to Mount Holyoke College in 1965. Fatigued by the racial animosity at the college, she transferred to the New School in New York City, and pursued her studies in social science. She later returned to graduate from Mount Holyoke for her senior year in 1969.

Barbara Smith has been politically active in many movements for social justice since the 1960s. She was among the first to define an African American women’s literary tradition, and stood out among a wave of scholars and critics leading in that definition, and establishing Black women’s studies in college and university curricula. Since the early 1970s, Smith has been active as a critic, teacher, lecturer, author, scholar, and publisher of Black feminist critical thought.

Smith settled in Boston after receiving a Master of Art degree in literature from the University of Pittsburgh. Smith’s staff position at “Ms.” allowed her to obtain critical contacts, and through the publication, met Margaret Sloan, a founder of the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO). Both woman were intrigued by the call for attendance to the NBFO’s Eastern Regional Conference in 1974, and caucused with women from the Boston area, and made contacts in order to establish a Boston NBFO chapter, which they established in 1975. The Boston chapter maintained an independent nature, deciding as a group to focus on consciousness-raising and grassroots organizing that assisted the poor and working classes of Boston.

The Boston chapter held politics that were significantly more radical than the platform of the NBFO, and decided to split entirely and form a separate group. Named after a successful military operation led by Harriet Tubman during the Civil War at a river in South Carolina, the Combahee River Collective moved quickly to write a manifesto. The Combahee River Collective Statement identified the group on the grounds of being a class-conscious, sexuality-affirming, Black feminist organization. Recognizing lesbianism as a legitimate identity reinforced the debate within Black feminism and the larger women’s movement.

As a socialist Black feminist organization, the collective emphasized the intersections of racial, gender, heterosexist, and class oppression in the lives of African Americans, and other women of color. Like other Black feminist organizations at the time, Combahee articulated “many of the concerns specific to Black women, from anger with Black men for dating and marrying white women, to internal conflict over skin color, hair texture, and facial features, to the differences between the mobility of white and Black women…also attacking the myth of Black matriarch and stereotypical portrayals of Black women in popular culture.”

Additionally, the collective worked on issues such as “reproductive rights, rape, prison reform, sterilization abuse, violence against women, health care, and racism within the white women’s movement.” The collective’s organizational structure was deliberately not articulated, to avoid hierarchy and provide members with a sense of equality, and was cited in a memo authored by Smith as essential to ensuring that Black feminism would survive as a radical movement. But the organization lost momentum, as conversations of lesbianism and educational advancement alienated some members from participating. As a result of leadership conflict and interpersonal disputes, membership in Combahee declined, and the last meeting was held in February 1980.

An enthusiast of American literature and writing, Smith pursued English study throughout her education. She entered graduate study in literature in an attempt to seek out women writers of color, but came to terms with the fact that Black women were not included in the American literary canon. After reading an article in “Ms.” that Alice Walker would be teaching a course on African American women writers, Smith enrolled, and vowed to teach women writers of color whenever she taught; she began doing so once she received a teaching load at Emerson College in 1973.

Dismayed that works available by writers of color prominently featured the experiences of men, a suggestion of her friend Audre Lorde compelled Smith to establish Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980 in Boston, and they relocated to New York in 1981. In collaboration with a number of notable writers and feminist thinkers, including Lorde and June Jordan, they published several pamphlets and books that would come to be embraced in ethnic studies, women’s studies, queer studies, and Black studies programs. Included were “Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology,” “This Bridge Called My Back,” “Cuentos: Stories by Latinas,” and “I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities.” Smith has stated the legacy of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press lies in contemporary publishing, as women of color writers, such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, have entered the American literary canon. In addition, it influenced feminist studies in incorporating intersectionality as a legitimate lens of inquiry.

During her time as publisher of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, Smith continued to write, and produced a collection of her essays, articles, and reviews after her involvement in Kitchen Press ended. Smith’s article, “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism” (1982), first published in “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies,” is frequently cited as the breakthrough article in opening the field of Black women’s literature and Black lesbian discussion.

Smith has edited three major collections about Black women: “Conditions (magazine): Five, The Black Women’s Issue” in 1979, “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies” in 1982, and “Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology.” She collected her various writings in the anthology “The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom” in 1998. She is also a co-author of “Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism.”

Barbara Smith’s essays, reviews, articles, short stories, and literary criticism have appeared in a range of publications, including “The New York Times Book Review,” “The Black Scholar,” “Ms.,” “Gay Community News,” “The Guardian,” “The Village Voice,” “Conditions,” and “The Nation.”

Smith has taught English, African American literature, Black women writers, and Black women’s studies at a number of institutions for more than forty years, most recently at the College of Saint Rose. Since 2010, Barbara Smith has been a public service professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany’s School of Social Welfare in Albany, New York.

A born leader with many talents, The Honorable Barbara Smith served two terms representing the Fourth Ward in the City of Albany’s Common Council, where she focused on addressing violence and increasing educational opportunity for youth and families, especially in economically challenged neighborhoods. In 2008, she served as the Council’s liaison to the Gun Violence Task Force, and led the effort to establish Albany SNUG/CeaseFire. In April 2013, she announced that she would not seek re-election, and declared her support for her Democratic Primary opponent, Kelly Kimbrough.

In 2014, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith” was published by State University of New York Press. By combining hard-to-find historical documents with new unpublished interviews with fellow activists and scholars, the book uncovers the deep roots of today’s “identity politics” and “intersectionality,” and serves as an essential primer for practicing solidarity and resistance. In recognition of her groundbreaking contributions, the Albany Public Library Foundation awarded Barbara Smith the title of Literary Legend on November 14, 2015.

Smith is an activist against Islamaphobia, starting a website and coordinating marches in support of immigrants and refugees.

In August 2017, Smith resigned as a regular panelist on WAMC Radio’s “The Roundtable” because, she said, the program lacks diversity.

Smith continues to lecture, and has donated her papers to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, New York. She currently works with the City of Albany Mayor’s Office, overseeing initiatives that address economic, racial, and social inequality. According to Smith, her ultimate hope is that “…we can recognize the humanity of people’s differences, and try to treat each other more humanely.”

We thank Barbara Smith for her visionary leadership, her empowering writing, and for her many contributions to our community.

 

Ifti Nasim

Nasim, Ifti 2017

Ifti Nasim was born on September 15, 1946 (to July 22, 2011). He was a gay Pakistani American poet, writer, broadcaster, and activist who co-founded Chicago Sangat, an organization to support the LGBTQ South Asian community. Nasim was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996.

IIftikhar “Ifti” Nasim was born in Faisalabad, Pakistan (then called Lyallpur) in 1946, although an exact birthdate has been difficult to document. In an interview with “The Friday Times,” Nasim stated, “I was born in Lyallpur and my date of birth is 15 September 1946…” Nasim was born into a large family of seven children, and following his mother’s death, his journalist father remarried and moved to a new home. He worked odd jobs to help support his struggling family.

It was a difficult childhood for Nasim, and life as a teenager was no easier. In a predominantly Muslim country that didn’t allow people to live as openly LGBTQ, his coming out process was a painful one. “When it dawned on me that I am gay I was totally devastated,” he told “The Friday Times.” “I found no reason to live. I was very suicidal. But luckily I bumped into Chandar Nath Ahuja, a professional psychologist.”

When he was 16, Nasim was shot after reading a poem at a protest against martial law. “I put a cloth on my leg and went home,” he recalled. “I didn’t tell anyone. The next day my sister came into my room and saw blood all over.” He was confined to a bed for the next six months.

At 21 years old, Nasim’s parents pushed for an arranged marriage, but Nasim said he didn’t want to sneak around on a wife. “I did not want to live a double life,” he told the “Chicago Tribune.” “I did not want to leave a wife at home and go out and pick up guys. I thought that was a dishonest way of living.” By this time, Nasim had already acknowledged to himself that he was gay, and had several sexual encounters with other men.

After earning a law degree from Punjab University in Lahore, Nasim asked his father to pay for a trip abroad so that he could further his studies in the United States, a country Nasim said he read about in “Life” magazine as “the place for gays to be in.” He settled in Detroit, enrolled at Wayne State University, and, in 1974, moved to Chicago. According to colleague Azra Raza, Nasim’s house in the United States became a sanctuary for members of the LGBTQ community seeking asylum.

Nasim was also a well-known car salesman in Chicago, and was noted for driving around in his gold Mercedes. He also didn’t shy away from fur coats, leather pants, a “pimp” hat, ostentatious jewelry, and dressing up in drag. Despite his flamboyant style, friends say Nasim was a private person, and very humble when it came to fighting for social justice.

In 1986, Nasim helped start Sangat Chicago, a South Asian LGBTQ organization named for the Sanskrit word for “togetherness.” He publicly railed against war, social injustice, and homophobia in his native Pakistan and other Muslim nations. In addition, he was a contributor to a Pakistani American newspaper, and regularly hosted a weekly radio show called “Radio Sargam.”

In addition to working on behalf of immigrant communities and those living with HIV/AIDS, Nasim perfected and performed his first love—poetry. He wrote in Urdu, Punjabi, and English; during his lifetime, three collections of poetry were published. “Narman” (1994), is believed to be the first open expression of homosexual themes in the Urdu language. Narman is a Persian word for “hermaphrodite,” and the work was met with controversy in Pakistan, where it had to be distributed underground. “Narman” was followed by “Myrmecophile” (2000), and “Abdoz” in 2005.

In 2003, Nasim suffered a heart attack and drove himself to the hospital in his Mercedes and wearing a mink. He recalled a nurse hitting on him, to which he responded, “Not now, please.”

Nasim died on July 22, 2011, after suffering a heart attack. Some sources list his date of death as July 23, but according to the Social Security Death Index, it was the previous day. He was survived by his partner of nearly 30 years.

“No one made me gay. I was born this way,” Nasim once said. “The only thing is I did not lie about it. Many homosexuals hide behind the curtain of so-called marriage. We should accept the truth, no matter how bitter it is.”

We remember Ifti Nasim for his contributions to poetry and for his steadfast support of our community.

Billy Preston

Preston, Billy 2017

Billy Preston was born on September 2, 1946 (to June 6, 2006). He was a celebrated musician whose versatility included R&B, rock, soul, funk and gospel. In addition to his successful, Grammy Award-winning career as a solo artist, Preston collaborated with some of the greatest names in the music industry, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Sly Stone.

William Everett “Billy” Preston was born in Houston, Texas, but moved to Los Angeles with his family at the age of three. It was here that Preston began playing piano, and by age ten he was performing organ onstage as backup to gospel artists such as Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and Andrae Crouch. When he was twelve, Preston appeared in the W.C. Handy biopic “St. Louis Blues” with Nat King Cole.

Even as he was progressing musically, Preston was being molested, as he would later reveal to his manager. He was sexually abused by the pianist in a touring company of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” when he was just nine years old. The abuse continued for the entire summer after Preston told his mother and she did not believe him. Later, he was molested by a local pastor. The incidents would have a negative impact on Preston for the remainder of his life.

In 1962, Billy Preston joined Little Richard’s band as an organist, and it was while performing in Hamburg, Germany that Preston first met The Beatles. In 1963, he played the organ on Sam Cooke’s “Night Beat” album, and released his first gospel album, “16 Years Soul,” that same year. In 1965, he released his secular debut album, “The Most Exciting Organ Ever,” and also performed on the mid-1960s ABC-TV musical variety series, “Shindig!” as a member of the show’s house band.

In 1967, he joined Ray Charles’ band, which caught the attention of several prominent musicians, most notably, The Beatles. He would later contribute to their albums “Abbey Road,” the “White Album,” and “Let It Be,” and become one of the men known as “the fifth Beatle.” Signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1969, Preston released the album “That’s the Way God Planned It,” and made notable contributions to “The Concert for Bangladesh”, the George Harrison-organized charity concert.

Billy Preston’s solo career with A&M Records also peaked at this time, beginning with 1972’s “Outa-Space,” an instrumental track featuring the clavinet. The song reached #2 on the U.S. Hot 100, #1 on the R&B chart, and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded gold record status in June of 1972. He quickly followed up with the #1 hits “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing from Nothing,” and the #4 hit, “Space Race.”

In addition, Preston was co-writer, with The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson, of “You Are So Beautiful,” recorded by Preston and later a #5 hit for Joe Cocker. Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills and Nash) asked Preston if he could use Preston’s phrase “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,” a line Stills used to create his own hit record. On October 11, 1975, Preston joined Janis Ian as the first musical guest on the first episode of “Saturday Night Live.” After five years with A&M, Preston switched labels to Motown in 1976.

In 1980, Preston returned to the top ten with the Syreeta Wright duet “With You I’m Born Again,” reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. It would mark the beginning of a downfall in Preston’s personal and professional life in the 1980s and 1990s. He would be arrested and convicted of insurance fraud after setting fire to his own home in Los Angeles, and he was subsequently treated for alcohol and cocaine addictions. Preston was arrested for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old Mexican boy, after picking him up at a gathering point for day laborers. That year, Preston entered no contest pleas to the cocaine and assault charges. He was sentenced to nine months at a drug rehabilitation center and three months of house arrest.

Preston was invited to become a member of The Band in 1991, after the death of their piano player, Stan Szelest. He completed one tour, but his legal problems put an end to the collaboration before they had a chance to record together in the studio.

Preston overcame his problems by the mid-1990s, having toured with Eric Clapton, recording with Gary Walker, one of the vocalists in his Los Angeles-based band, and performing with a wide range of other artists. He also toured with Ringo Starr and appeared on his live album “Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.” In 1997 and 1998, he played organ during the choir selections on the UPN comedy show, “Good News.”

In 2005, Preston recorded “Go Where No One’s Gone Before,” the main title song for the anime series “L/R: Licensed by Royalty.” He played clavinet on the song “Warlocks” for the Red Hot Chili Peppers album, “Stadium Arcadium,” released in 2006. Preston’s final contributions were the organ on the Neil Diamond album, “12 Songs,” his keyboard work on “The Road to Escondido” by Eric Clapton and J. J. Cale, and some of the first tracks on the “Reach” album by Is’real Benton.

In March 2005, Billy Preston appeared on the fourth season finale of “American Idol,” performing piano with Vonzell Solomon on “With You I’m Born Again.” He made his last public appearance in late 2005 at the Los Angeles press junket for the re-release of the “Concert for Bangladesh” film. Appearing to be in good spirits, he addressed the press, and performed a set of “Give Me Love,” “My Sweet Lord,” and “Isn’t It a Pity,” featuring Dhani Harrison on guitar and Ringo Starr on drums.

Four days before he fell into a coma, Preston’s manager, Joyce Moore, spoke with Preston by phone after he attended a group therapy session. Preston was angry, and revealed that he told the group he was gay. When asked by Preston why she was crying, Moore responded, “Because you’re well. The reason that you had the drug problem was because you couldn’t come to terms with who you’ve become. For you to say it out loud in therapy means you’re cured. You’ll never have to do [drugs] again. You’re safe; you’re okay, Boo.”

After laying in a coma for nearly six months, Billy Preston died in Scottsdale Arizona, on June 6, 2006. Kidney disease, hypertension, and years of drug abuse led to his death at age 59.

Four year later, in his autobiography “Life,” Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones wrote, “And he [Preston] was gay at a time when nobody could be openly gay, which added difficulties to his life.” Friends say Preston feared the Black church and the music industry would never accept him.

We remember Billy Preston in deep appreciation for his passionate music, and his many contributions to our community.