Shea Coulee & Scott Studenberg
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#TBT: The Original 'Born This Way'

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Before Lady Gaga was even a sequined twinkle in Cynthia Germanotta's eye, two queens recorded the out and proud gay anthem, "I Was Born This Way."

The song was written in 1971 by the wonderfully named Bunny Jones, a straight, black, Christian wife and mother. Jones started the record label Gaiee to give "gay people a label they can call home," as she explained to The Advocate in 1975, the year the first recorded version, by Valentino, became a minor hit.  

Before getting into the music business, Jones owned several salons, and because stereotypes are true for a reason, most of her employees were gay. Through her friendship with these gays, Jones learned of the struggles they faced on a daily basis. 

"I began to feel that gays are more suppressed than blacks, Chicanos, or other minorities," Jones said. "You hear of great designers or famous hairdressers, and that's about as far as society will let gays go."

So she wrote the lyrics to "I Was Born This Way," but it took a few years for her to find someone to put it to music, namely, heterosexual musician Chris Sprier. And then she had to find someone brave enough to record it.

Fresh off a revival of the musical Hair in Long Island, Charles "Valentino" Harris was just the gay for the gig. Jones sold Valentino's version of the song out of the back of her car, to the tune of 15,000 copies. This caught the attention of Motown head Berry Gordy, whose other great contribution to gay culture is, of course, Diana Ross.

Mahogany Twirl

With Motown's (albeit minimal) backing, Valentino's "I Was Born This Way" became a number one disco hit in the UK. Three years later, as was Motown tradition, the label recycled the song, this time with openly gay gospel singer Carl Bean.

Feeling limited by the gospel genre, Bean had left his previous label, ABC Records. However, good old Bunny Jones had fallen in love with Bean's voice on a gospel record and approached him to re-record "I Was Born This Way." 

"I was hesitant to sign with another record label, but after I found out what the song was I knew I had to do it," Bean told The Advocate in 1978. "It was like providence. They came to me with a song I have been looking for my whole life."

Featuring a new, more heavily "disco" arrangement by Motown's own Norman Harris and Ron Cursey, "I Was Born This Way" became a club hit, featuring numerous requisite remixes through the years from the likes of dancefloor gods Larry Levan, Tom Moulton, and Shep Pettibone.  

Bean, having once studied for the ministry, saw "I Was Born This Way" as a "sort of ministry for gay people." In 1982, he practiced what he preached, and began preaching what he practiced, when he founded the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, specifically for openly gay and lesbian African Americans.

Today, the UFCM continues to teach its "message of God's unconditional love and the principles of liberation theology to often ostracized communities." And "I Was Born This Way" continues to teach its message that disco-tinged gay liberation was the best thing to come out of the '70s. 

[h/t] Queer Music Heritage

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