Gays in Gospel music get shoutout

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Lucy Smith performs with musicians Donovan Mixon and Joshua Ramos. (Photos by Bob Black)

Lucy Smith ponders if it would have made a difference for her growing up if she could have heard gay vocalists.

“If, in my youth, I could have sat and seen artists who were gay, I wonder if it would have made a difference, if it would have me more comfortable in my own skin,” Smith said.

She noted many gay artists, like Clara Mae Ward who died at age 48, passed relatively young in life.

“I think it makes a difference when artists can’t be their entire self,” Smith said. “What additional burdens do you have on your mind, body and soul if you can’t be all that you think you are?”

Smith, who identifies as a lesbian, is the singer, composer, and bandleader of “Shout OUT: A Tribute to Gays in Gospel Music”.

The Pride Month show will be June 9 at the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago.

Smith, a native of Chicago’s South Side, is thrilled to be offering the show again after it was a success in Chicago Park District “Nights in the Park” performances last summer.

“I’m excited to present “Shout OUT”. It is a celebration of music people love and people know,” Smith said. “It honors the people who made these songs popular, people who were contributors to the history of music in this country.

“Almost everyone recognized in the concert and show is part of the LGBTQ community.”

“Shout OUT” is a concert celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community through the music of gospel and rock

Cheryl Corley (left) and Smith perform.

’n’ roll legends Richard Penniman (“Little Richard”), Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Rev. James Cleveland, Clara Mae Ward, and Billy Preston, all performed by the Lucy Smith Quintet. Throughout the concert, Chicago media personality Cheryl Corley, the show’s writer and narrator, shares the history of queer musical greats and their relationships to the church and the Civil Rights Movement, during which Gospel was an empowering soundtrack.

Many musicians of faith struggled with their sexuality and coming out publicly due to historically unwelcoming religious institutions — but all the artists featured in “Shout OUT” expressed their faith through music that has been treasured for generations. Their songs crossed from the sacred to the secular and inspired other musicians, such as Tharpe, the “Godmother of Rock ’n’ Roll,” who was an influence on Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, and Chuck Berry.

Smith was raised Catholic, but “as soon as I could I left because of the ridiculous hypocrisy.”

She went to a Catholic high school on a scholarship that included cleaning the school.

“I was OK with that. Serving is what part of being a Christian is all about. I equate service almost like being part of the purpose,” Smith said. “But then to call gays ‘disordered’ and ‘an abomination,’ I couldn’t stand for that … . They turned it into us and them.”

Smith said she still considers herself spiritual.

“It’s easier to come out as lesbian than as Christian sometimes,” she added. “In different parts of the country and even Illinois, people say you can’t be Christian and queer. That’s just silly-willy talk.”

Smith said she no longer feels conflicted when she takes the stage.

“I know it is OK to be here and to sing my music,” the singer said. “One of the original tunes in the show is “As I Am” and the lyrics say ‘God made me as I am, God takes me as I am.’”

Smith said the overwhelming response to the show when it was done in Chicago parks was positive.

“It was really emotional,” she said of show reactions. “I had people come up and say things like ‘I am a preacher’s kid and I had to leave the church. I could express my faith, but I had to hide who I was’ and ‘I had no idea some of these people were part of the gay community.’

“We went from agnostics to holy rollers being there … . The crowds were a wonderful mix of races, sexualities, and generations.”

As a performer, Smith said she is never terrified to take the stage, but there are concerns when going to communities and areas of the country.

“There are unnecessary laws and targeting of the LGBTQ+ community. There are punitive losses for people who identify as queer for expressing their identity,” Smith said. “There are harmful laws against trans individuals. We need to openly talk about queer stuff.”

The Lucy Smith Quintet includes Smith (vocals), Ernie Adams (drums), William Kurk (keyboards), Ivan Taylor (bass), and Derrick Tate (alto sax).

Smith is a singer, composer, bandleader, cultural programmer, and producer whose quartet/quintet is a part of Chicago’s music scene. She was born and raised in the Englewood community on the South Side of Chicago. Her musical collaborations include works for theater, film, and spoken word productions. Smith’s holiday album, “Singing Christmas”, ranked No. 1 on the Americana Charts in January 2023. She leads a myriad of musical combinations exploring traditional jazz, blues, gospel, and other music, including her project, Autumn in Augusta, a folk-and soul-fused tribute to her mother. AIA’s first CD release, “Songs My Mama Would Like”, garnered rave reviews, and Smith and her band were featured at the 2015 Chicago Jazz Festival. She worked for eight years as the music director for Fourth Presbyterian’s “Jazz at Four” service, where she created a jazz-infused paradigm for worship while rearranging centuries-old hymns and keeping alive the legacy of sacred jazz music.

Her other music director work includes projects at the Park West, Goodman, and Steppenwolf theaters, where she shared the stage with blues legend Koko Taylor. She has composed and performed music for the feature film “Hannah Free” and the documentary “Woke Up Black”. She cast and directed a reader’s theater production of Jewell Parker Rhodes’ “Ghost Boy”. Smith was the lead vocalist for the Center for Black Music Research’s Stop-Time Ensemble (Columbia College) and the Concord Orchestra. Smith was the producer/coordinator for the music stage at the Artists of the Wall Festival in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood for nine years. She performs for organizations working on social and economic justice issues. Smith completed jazz vocal (M. Mus) and jazz studies (B. Mus) under the tutelage of Bobbi Wilsyn, Orbert Davis, Jennifer Shelton and Patricia Barber. Before full-time musicianship, she was the associate director of the Crossroads Fund in Chicago.

For information on Smith, visit

“Shout OUT: A Tribute to Gays in Gospel Music” will be at 3 p.m. June 9 at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., Chicago. Tickets are $15 and available at