Before Sylvester James was crowned the Queen of Disco, the soulful "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" singer was a troubled teenager who had been kicked out of the house and found comfort in music. After years of struggling Sylvester finally hit it big in 1978 when he released Step II. Though Sylvester died in 1988 at the age of 41, but his songs live on. In fact, Concord Music will be releasing a collection of Sylvester's greatest hits later this month.
You've likely never heard Strayhorn's voice, but you've heard his work: for three decades, from roughly 1940-1967, the openly gay composer and pianist helped Duke Ellington craft his greatest hits, including "Chelsea Bridge," which is not about the future New York gayborhood, but about London, instead.
The first African-American woman to headline a feature film and a star performer from the early-1920s until her 1975 death, bilingual singer and actress Josephine Baker enjoyed more fame and fortune than almost any star then or since, black or white, gay or straight.
A Tennessee street performer who got her break as a back up dancer for Ma Rainey, blues legend Bessie Smith never hid her bisexuality, even when it caused strife in her marriage to security guard Jack Gee. Her sexuality, of course, never hurt her career: she was and remains one of the most beloved singers of all time.
There's really nothing to say about RuPaul that she hasn't said herself, but it's worth nothing that she has been mainstreaming drag queen camp since 1993's "Supermodel (You Better Work)." Respect.
Frankie Knuckles: Where would the gay circuit scene be without Frankie Knuckles, the Bronx-born DJ and producer who helped establish House music?
Most popular in the early 1970s for his moderate hits "It Must Be Love" and "Crying, Laughing, Lying, Loving," the always openly British musician gay Labi Siffre had a surprise 1987 success with his anti-apartheid track "(Something Inside) So Strong," and more recently, his 1975 track I Got The has been sampled by a wide-range of hip-hop musicians, including Eminem, a man with a complicated relationship with the gay community.
LastO's harder edge and his love of men blend terrifically on tracks like "Hello Boyz" and the irrepressible jam "Back It On Up." His latest LP, Where's Vivian, showed maturity and an ability to rhyme that could rival the best MCs out there.
Currently working on a demo for Island/Def Jam records, Chicago-based musician Nehemiah Akbar first fell in love with music at a Janet Jackson concert.
Heavy metal guitarist Doug Pinnick has been hard-rocking out of the closet since 1998 and recently released a high-profile collaboration Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and Fastbacks drummer Richard Stuverud.
For LA-born rapper Deadlee, the music is the message, one that combats anti-LGBT lyrics and sentiments in the broader hip-hop community.
Piano player Tony Jackson lived out and proud in Chicago at the height of the jazz age and his homosexuality didn't stop him from becoming an integral part of the city's cabaret scene and a frequent collaborator of Jelly Roll Morton and also wrote the Ragtime standard "Pretty Baby," which is reportedly about his boyfriend.
Born Yitz Jordan in Baltimore, Y-Love's career centers mostly in Brooklyn, where he's become one of the most notable members of a growing Hassidic Jewish hip-hop scene.
For the majority of his career, including through two Grammy nominations, B.Slade was known as gospel singer Tonex, but he changed his name, and his tone, in recent years, deciding R&B and dance were the paths for him.
Mostly known for his work with Hercules and Love Affair and stereogamus, Shaun J. Wright's swooping vocals deserve their own disc.
Don't try to pigeon-hole Yo! Majesty, a lesbian and Christian duo consisting of Jwl B and Shon B. They sound like hip-hop one moment, crunk the next, punk a few tracks later and electro elsewhere. The women haven't released an album since 2008, but they did recently collaborate with Elephant on the track "The Let-Go."
One of the most prominent and pioneering queer hip-hop artists around, Tori Fixx got his start in 90s-era Minneapolis and then San Francisco, where he worked with the group Rainbow Flava before launching a solo career that in 2007 brought him to Tyra Banks's talk show.
The six albums Rahsaan Patterson has released since 1997 are lyrical proof that you can be out and black in the music scene and still get signed.
Detroit-born, Brooklyn-based Angel Haze is definitely one to watch. Her EP "Reservation" dropped last year and she also collaborated with rising star Dizzy Wright, has been featured in XXL Magazine and on MTV and is currently putting the finishing touches on her debut full-length Dirty Gold, all of which may help make her one of the biggest breakouts of 2013.
Like many of the singers on this list, Chris Willis got his start in gospel before branching out to other genres. Most readers will likely know him from his work with House DJ David Guetta, with whom Willis worked on the track "Love is Gone" and "Tomorrow Can Wait."
Big Freedia's been on the scene for a minute, mostly in New Orleans, where she helped grow the bounce music scene, but with her recent collaboration with RuPaul on the single "Peanut Butter" and an increasing press presence, don't be surprised if Big Freedia blows up big.
Shannon Funchess of the Brooklyn-based electronic music duo Light Asylum had an awesome 2012 -- their excellent self-titled LP won rave reviews (and helped them land on our 2012 Out 100 list) -- and we can only hope his and musical partner Bruno Coviello's upcoming work is just as arresting.
Who knows what greatness Rudy Lewis could have achieved had he not suffered a drug overdose in 1964, at the age of 27, when he was topping the charts as a member of iconic Drifters. The song "I Don't Want to Go On Without You" was recorded in closeted Lewis' honor.
Today's tabloids would have a field day with The Mother of the Blues, a titan of a singer who was arrested in 1925 for partaking in a lesbian orgy. But that didn't stop her from signing an exclusive contract with Paramount.
Another of the new generation of queer hip-hop artists and also a recent Out 100 honoree, Le1f, aka Khalif Diouf, got his start producing for Das Racist before starting a solo career that has seen him release two excellent mixtapes and contributed to fellow queer artist Mykke Blanco's track "Fuckin the DJ."
It wasn't until after appearing on American Idol and The Voice, and after a stint on Broadway in Rent, that Frenchie Davis came out as bisexual.
How do you solve a problem like Little Richard? He claims to be "ex-gay," which clearly isn't something to celebrate, but "ex-gay" is simply another form of denial. He's still gay, and his dominant role in popular culture earns him at least a mention, however shameful Richard Wayne Penniman's actions may be.
Bluesy-folk singer Tracy Chapman's music is rarely upbeat and gay, but that's alright: the Ohio-born singer of "Fast Car" and "Give Me One Reason" has provided the soundtrack for countless tender moments and broken hearts. Not all great songs are about sunshine and delight, right.
Though this rotating troupe of Oakland-based musicians disbanded in 2008, eight years after they first appeared at Stanford University, the heady double-D helped pioneer the queer hip-hop wave many of the artists here rode into their own careers.
Another artist whose name you may not know but whose work you've heard -- if not from her and John Mellencamp's 1994 cover of "Wild Night," then at least from her bass on Madonna's "I'd Rather Be Your Lover" -- Ndegeocello has ten Grammy award nominations under her belt and last year released a Nina Simone tribute album.
Old school crooner Johnny Mathis came out way back in 1982, telling Us Magazine, "Homosexuality is a lifestyle I've become accustomed to." The magazine later retracted that quote due to death threats and it wasn't until 2006 that Mathis again admitted he's into guys.
The class clown of the next generation of queer hip-hop musicians, Cakes da Killa, born Rashard Bradshaw, may also become leader of the pack. Vroom, vroom.
One of the most well-known performers to come out of New York's 90s-era club scene, Kevin Aviance became an anti-violence activist after being targeted in a 2006 hate crime. But never fear, he still makes time to strut through the Big Apple's night life.
Bloc Party broke onto the scene largely because of Kele Okereke's vocals, but Kele himself broke new ground as one of the few openly gay mainstream musicians of color. He's currently pursuing a solo career.
Another fabulous lady who needs no introduction, Billie Holiday was as good at hitting the right notes as she was at wooing the women, particularly Broadway and Hollywood star Tallulah Bankhead, who loved Holiday so much that she wrote to J. Edgar Hoover to request that Holiday's 1949 heroin charges be dropped. Hoover, a gushing Bankhead fan, agreed.
A paragon of the queer hip-hop scene, Zebra Katz (real name: Ojay Morgan) snagged serious buzz in 2012 when his debut single, “Ima Read” (a tribute to the documentary Paris Is Burning), was chosen by designer Rick Owens for the soundtrack of his runway show at Paris Fashion Week. With a string of other delirious clips under his belt (“1 Bad B*tch,” “Tear The House Up”), Katz is riding the wave of his budding success and preparing the release of his second LP.