Music has always been a key communication path for the LGBTQIA+ community, and over the years we have seen countless queer artists bless our ears with soul-moving tunes. Here’s a list (definitely not in order) of 20 LGBTQIA+ musicians who have graced our community.
Whether you’re a fan of the historical musicians that paved the way, or the ones still having the time of their life on stage today, this list includes a bit of both. Add these artists to your playlists and blast the tunes while you’re travelling – with friends or solo – to make your time that much more special!
Disco superstar Sylvester made waves in the 1970s and 80s through their disco rhythm and flamboyant image. Sylvester James was born in 1947 in Watts, Los Angeles, where they discovered their love for music and rhythm at the local church’s gospel choir.
As Sylvester grew older, the church became intolerant to their queerness, and Sylvester moved away to San Fransisco in 1970. Engorged in the edgy city’s vibrant counter-culture, Sylvester joined the iconic drag troupe ‘the Cockettes’ – which showcased blues and jazz similar to the greats like Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. After a failed band in 1973, Sylvester honed in on a solo career, and 1977 saw the launch of their debut album ‘Sylvester’ which received moderate success.
The second album however, in 1978 containing hits like ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’, blasted Sylvester into global success. Towards the late 1970s, Sylvester was hailed the ‘Queen of Disco’, awarded the key to the city of San Fransisco, and immortalised in the Dance Music Hall of Fame. They were also an activist and campaigned ferociously during the AIDS epidemic. Unfortunately, Sylvester passed away in 1988 due to complications of the virus, while leaving all future royalties to AIDS charities in San Fransisco.
You are an icon Sylvester!
Image source:Michael Ochs / Getty Images
2. Big Freedia
You’ve most likely heard Big Freedia’s voice, even if you don’t know who they are. Big Freedia is a legend in the music industry – specifically New Orleans’ bounce music community.
Freddie Ross was born in Louisiana, and similarly to Sylvester, their music journey started with a choir at a neighbourhood church. Their mother would often play hits by Patti Labelle, Michael Jackson, and Salt-N-Pepa, all slowly influencing Freedia’s relationship with music. The first time Big Freedia was on stage was in 1998, as a back-up dancer for a drag queen performing bounce music, and this is where they coined the title ‘Big Freedia Queen Diva’.
Freedia’s professional career began in 1999, with the release of the first single ‘An Ha, Oh Yeah’, which was performed all throughout New Orleans in underground clubs. His consequent single ‘Gin ’N My System’ was quoted by rapper Lil Wayne on a mixtape, which further platformed Freedia’s career. When discussing Freedia’s impact on the bounce music genre, music journalist Alison Fenterstock says:
“When Freedia is singing super aggressive, sexual lyrics about bad boyfriends or whatever, there’s something about being able to be the ‘I’ in the sentence… it’s tough to sing along about bitches and hoes when you’re a girl. When you identify with Freedia, you’re the agent of all this aggressive sexuality instead of its object.”
Since their performances in New Orleans, Big Freedia has worked with Beyoncé, was named Best Hip-Hop Artist at the ‘Best of the Beat’ Awards, has a GLAAD Award nominated album, and their voice is now recognised worldwide…..You already know!
3. Freddie Mercury
We couldn’t discuss LGBTQIA+ musicians without mentioning the lead singer of the band Queen who took over the world ever since their debut album in 1973. Freddie Mercury is regarded as one of the greatest voices to ever grace human music, and he is remembered for his intense talent and wildly free aesthetics.
Freddie was born in 1946 named Farrokh Bulsara in Tanzania to Indian-Parsi parents. The family moved to Middlesex, England in 1964, to escape troubles at home.
Here is where Freddie fell in love with writing and music, which he studied profusely before forming the band ‘Queen’ with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in 1970.
Mercury’s writing has been hailed as some of the most iconic writing pieces of all time, with hits like ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘We are the Champions’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Killer Queen’.
Unfortunately, Freddie Mercury would contract HIV in the late 1980s, and the press were vicious to find out information about the singer and his physical state. His final public appearance on stage was in the 1990 Brit Awards, where the band were collecting their Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.
He died the next year in 1991 at his home in Kensington, at the age of 45. He remains one of world’s most talented musicians, and iconic queer trailblazers.
4. Ma Rainey
Often referred to as ‘the Mother of Blues’ – Ma Rainey was an American Blues singer who influenced an entire generation of blues and jazz artists.
She was born in 1886 under the name ‘Gertrude Pridgett’ and renamed herself ‘Ma Rainey’ as a play on her husband’s name ‘Pa Rainey’. Together they toured from 1923 onwards, and created many Blues standards such as ‘Moonshine Blues’ and ‘Soon This Morning’.
She also collaborated with the likes of Thomas Dorsey and Louis Armstrong, eventually touring and recording with the Georgia Jazz band until 1935. Ma Rainey’s vocal stylings and delivery made her a blues favourite, and she was posthumously inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She is remembered as a musical innovator who represents a key aspect of classical blues and black music.
Throughout her life, Ma Rainey had several relationships with women, and her music often contained lyrics with queer connotations. In the song ‘Prove it on me Blues’, she sings: “Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. They must’ve been women, ’cause I don’t like no men.”
She continues and seems to discuss society’s image of her as a queer woman, while being enamoured with a woman: “Where she went, I don’t know I mean to follow everywhere she goes; Folks say I’m crooked. I didn’t know where she took it, I want the whole world to know.”
Today, Ma Rainey reminds us how important queer visibility is, and we are so grateful for these lyrics!
Alejandra Ghersi Rodriguez, better-known under the stage name ‘Arca’, is a Venezuelan musician and record producer living in Barcelona.
Arca was born in Caracas, Venezuela’s biggest city, and this was where they found their love for music creation and production. From being inspired by all the music around them, their older brother also had a large music collection which Arca would frequently listen to.
They released music as a teenager under the stage name ‘Nuuro’, which received moderate attention in her home city of Caracas. In 2012, Arca’s first EP ‘Baron Libre’ was released as well as 2 more projects: ‘Stretch 1’ and ‘2’ later that year.
In 2013, they received credit for 5 songs on Kanye West’s album ‘Yeezus’, which dramatically increased the attention on Arca. Throughout the years they would write and produce for many artists including FKA Twigs, Björk, Kelley, and even opened for Beyoncé in Barcelona.
Arca’s work has been heavily influential on the current music scene, and their music has been a big push for experimental, IDM, and hip-hop music worldwide.
6. Elton John
Sir Elton Hercules John is a British LGBTQIA+ musician, icon, and vocal talent. He is acclaimed by critics for his work during the 1970s which dramatically impacted the music industry.
EltonJohn was born in Middlesex, England in 1947, and ended up leaving soon before his A-levels to focus on his professional music career. At 15, he was hired as a pianist at a local hotel/pub, and would often play the greats such as Ray Charles and a mix of his own songs.
Forming a band called ‘Bluesology’ with friends in 1962, his journey with music continued to flourish. He then became a writer for several artists at DJM Records, until he started to write and release his own music in 1968 with ‘I’ve Been Loving You’. The next year, Elton, alongside bandmates, released their debut album ‘Empty Sky’, and self-titled ‘Elton John’ in 1970. The world had fallen in love with their strong and unique emotional ballads.
In the mid 70s, John formed his own label, signing artists and creating a space for future queer artists to creatively express themselves. In 1974, the label released Elton John’s greatest hits, which topped the UK charts and sold over 17 million copies in the US.
John came out as bisexual in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1976, and said in 1992 that he feels ‘quite comfortable about being gay’. He was one of the first out-queer artists of the time, and is hailed as an LGBTQIA+ icon and musical legend.
7. Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin was an American rock songwriter and singer, who is regarded as one of the most widely-recognised performers of her time. She rocked crowds with her chilling and powerful vocals, and is now remembered as a queer musical icon.
Joplin was born in Texas in 1943, and discovered her love for blues music when listening to a friend’s album by Ma Rainey. Her fascination grew and she began to perform blues and folk with her fellow students at school.
Though her first release in 1962 was called ‘What Good Can Drinkin’ Do’ and was recorded from a friend’s living room, it managed to garner people’s interest in her sound. She left Texas and moved to San Francisco in 1964, where she met guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, and they recorded many blues standards. These became the unheard Joplin debut, which was released after her death.
Janis started working with the band ‘Big Brother and the Holding Company’ and the group, now with their new singer, garnered a cult following in local San Francisco hippie communities. The band’s debut album was released in 1967, and this launched Janis into intense international fame. The band split in the late 1960s and Janis released her solo album ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!’, which received worldwide critical acclaim.
Her relationships with women were often kept quiet because of the queer-phobic societal times, but she is now remembered as a queer icon and musical pioneer.
8. Kim Petras
Whether her music is your type or not, you cannot deny the musical and trailblazing endeavours of German singer and songwriter: Kim Petras.
Petras was born in Cologne, Germany, and began recording music as a teenager, and has been writing songs since the age of 12. She released an unoﬃcial album in 2011 called ‘Piece of Tape’, which attracted some listeners online. She independently released countless singles throughout 2017 to 2019, which generated significant buzz on Spotify and social media. She signed with Republic Records in 2021, and released her EP ‘Slut Pop’ in 2022.
This year she has made history, being the first openly trans artist to receive a Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, for ‘Unholy’ with Sam Smith. In her speech, she graciously acknowledged the trans journey and those who have come before her but didn’t receive recognition: “I want to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open for me so I could be here tonight.”
Kim announced her debut album release ‘Feed the Beast’ in June 2023, and the supporting tour is being speculated to be one of the highest grossing tours headlining a trans woman.
9. David Bowie
David Robert Jones, known to the world as David Bowie, was a British singer and performer. He is regarded as one of the most influential LGBTQIA+ musicians of the 20th century, for his musical reinvention and unique stage performances.
David was born in Brixton, London in 1947 and formed his first band at the age of 15. It was called ‘the Konrad’s’ and was influenced by Bowie’s love for rock and roll. They played at local youth groups and even weddings.
His first professional release was a single called ‘Liza Jane’ with a band called the King Bees. 3 years later, in 1967, Bowie released his solo and self-titled debut album. It received major acclaim for David’s fresh sound and raw lyrics, which spurred him to release ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ in 1970. He would go on to release 24 albums from 1970 – 2003, all with a distinct sound and energy. Bowie attracted one of the largest and most loyal fanbases the world has seen at the time, and his music continues to inspire artists of the next generation.
On January 22nd, 1972, Bowie oﬃcially came out in an interview with a music journalist, “I’m gay, and always have been.” There was widespread initial shock, as ‘homosexual acts’ were only decriminalised 5 years before this interview. The media constantly tried to create stories about Bowie’s sexuality, and it wasn’t until much later that societal attitudes began to change.
David Bowie was strong in the face of adversity, and his face remains visible in the queer hall of fame.
10. Ice Spice
Truly a bisexual icon of the times – Ice Spice is the queer people’s princess. Isis Naija Gaston was born in The Bronx, New York City, and was inspired by the lyrical geniuses of Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z and Lil Kim.
The past few years have seen Ice Spice take over the music scene, with her song ‘Munch’ platforming her into international fame. In an interview with Apple Music’s Ebro Darden, Ice Spice came out as bisexual, proclaiming she likes ‘good boys and girls’.
While many questioned the true meaning of this statement, she later confirmed her bisexuality, and we couldn’t celebrate more!
The current star of the American female rap scene is queer, and her sheer visibility is amazing for her, others like her, and the community in general. Her music continues to go viral on social media, and she has collaborated with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, PinkPantheress, and even appears on the soundtrack for the new Barbie film.
The queer people’s princess is truly everywhere, and we are so grateful. Her queerness reminds us that there is no one single way to express or feel your identity, and that we are a lot more fluid than we may assume.
11. Cat Burns
Cat Burns is a British songwriter and vocalist, who first created shockwaves through her music on TikTok back in 2022. She has now been nominated for 3 Brit Awards and her star is just beginning to shine.
Burns is London based, and her parents were born in Liberia – forced to move due to the civil war. Her music speaks to queer souls, QTIPOC+, and has become an important piece of representation for queer black women.
She first released her EP ‘Adolescent’ independently in 2016 while at BRIT School, and her second EP in 2019. It wasn’t until the national lockdown where Burns started to share covers of her favourite songs on TikTok, and the rest is history! While discussing her identity and sexuality with ‘Gay Times’, Burns stated: “If you’re a Black woman, I want you to feel heard and seen. We are vulnerable people who are capable of having lots of emotions. And, being a Black queer woman adds a layer to that.”
Her recent appearance on Sam Smith’s new single with Jessie Reyez has become a staple for queer collaboration and creation. Check out Cat’s discography, from her moving singles this year, to her 2016 debut EP as a teenager.
12. Sam Smith
Sam Smith is truly a global phenomenon and one of the most famous LGBTQIA+ musicians performing today. But before they became the icon we know and love, Sam Smith was a feature on Disclosure’s breakthrough track ‘Latch’, platforming Sam’s voice around the world.
Sam was born in London, and discovered their love for music through jazz bands and pianists. In 2007, they joined Youth Music Theatre UK, and were given the space to flex their creative muscles.
Following Sam’s lead singles in 2012 and 2013, they released their debut album ‘In the Lonely Hour’ in 2014 to mass critical acclaim. It became the second best selling album that year in the UK and US.
In 2017, Sam came out as genderqueer, to a society where many still didn’t understand. They became a vital genderqueer representative in the public realm, and a reminder of the fluidity of gender. Despite ignorant hate and queer-phobia, Smith remains a queer icon who is shaping the world for our future generations. They are currently scheduled to visit Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania on their upcoming tour ‘Gloria’ – don’t miss out!
Sydney Loren Bennett is an American musician and lyricist who shook the world’s music scene with the formation of the iconic band ‘The Internet’. She built a local supportive fanbase through her work in the music collective ‘Odd Future’, until she stepped out to pursue ‘The Internet’.
Syd grew up in a very musical household: her mother being a passionate musician and her uncle being an international reggae producer, Syd had a thirst for music creation. She began making music while living in her parents house, and their band released over 4 albums between 2011 and 2018. Their 2016 work ‘Ego Death’ was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’ and their discography continues to inspire.
Syd released her solo debut album in 2017, called ‘Fin’, and the world was introduced to a fresh new sound. Since then, Syd has worked with the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Zayn Malik, and even produced the track ‘Plastic oﬀ the Sofa’ on Beyoncé’s Renaissance album.
She remains unapologetically queer, and when discussing her queerness she said: “I’ve always made it a point to just be gay, it was just like: ‘Look, there’s a girl in the video with me. What else do I need to say?’”
Syd creates essential music containing unapologetic queer love in her lyrics and visuals. Her 2022 album ‘Broken Hearts Club’ continues to impress – have a listen if you haven’t already!
14. Janelle Monáe
Rapper, actor, singer and songwriter – there’s nothing Janelle can’t do.
Monáe was born in Kansas City, and learned to sing beautifully at the local church. They were a huge fan of Lauryn Hill, bought ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ twice, and began performing covers at talent shows. Janelle ended up winning 3 years in a row, and quickly realised there was a talent that needed to be nurtured .
After dropping out of New York’s Musical and Dramatic Academy, Monáe moved to Atlanta to grow her sound with more control, influence, and love. In 2007, Janelle released her solo debut album ‘Metropolis’. Critics and fans alike could not get enough of this fresh sound.
In 2022, while on the ‘Red Table Talk’, Monáe stated: “I’m nonbinary, so I just don’t see myself as a woman, solely … I feel like god is so much bigger than the ‘he’ or the ‘she.’ And if I am from God, I am everything.” And when it came to pronouns, the icon said: “My pronouns are free-ass motherfucker—and they/them, her/she.”
Janelle has released their 4th studio album ‘The Age of Pleasure’, to again, widespread critical acclaim. Critics picked up on the unique blend of reggae and soul with afrobeat jam. They are currently on the ‘Age of Pleasure’ tour, coming to a city near you!
Kehlani Ashley Parrish is an American singer and songwriter. Introduced to the world as part of the teen group ‘Poplyfe’ in 2011, they are now one of the world’s most successful LGBTQIA+ musicians.
Born in Oakland, California, Kehlani was raised by their aunt, and initially studied dance at the Oakland School for the Arts. With the teen group ‘Poplyfe’, they toured the Bay Area and performed covers. The group landed a spot on America’s Got Talent where Kehlani was told ‘you’ve got real talent, but you don’t need the group’. They disbanded from the group, and released their debut solo track ‘ANTISUMMERLUV’, which enticed Nick Cannon, who invited Khelani into the studio.
Their second mixtape ‘You Should Be Here’ created a sizable fanbase, and landed at number 5 on Billboard’s Top R&B albums. They were even nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016 for the Best Urban Contemporary Album. They have since released 4 studio albums which have continued to inspire and be adored.
When discussing their gender identity with Byrdie Magazine, they stated why they use they/them pronouns: “Something feels really aﬃrming when people say they; it feels like you really see me.”
Their recent albums have been acclaimed by critics for being Kehlani’s most mature and eclectic bodies of work, and they continue to tour the world to share the beauty of queer music.
16. Mykki Blanco
Rapper, performer, activist and poet, Mykki Blanco is a queer American icon who has been releasing heat since 2012. She was born in Orange County, California, and at the age of 15 formed a performance collective called ‘Paint In Consciousness Experimental Theatre’ which she even won an award for.
In 2011, she released a book of poetry called ‘From the Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys’, exploring the relationship between queer youth and urban culture. Blanco is regarded as one of rap’s great queer pioneers, and since her debut has worked with the likes of Kanye West, Teyana Taylor, and Blood Orange. She is a trans trailblazer and activist, who continues to fight the stereotypes that the cis-gendered music industry puts on black trans artists, and is an exceptional example of queer talent.
In 2015, Mykki shared with fans on Facebook that she has been HIV positive since 2011, and kept quiet in fear of the impacts to her career. She bravely shared her story and continues to provide a platform for the open discussion of HIV within the queer community: “silence = death!”
Having such an icon like Mykki Blanco openly share her journey with HIV, especially as a black trans woman, has been fundamental in the fight to break the taboo, encouraging support and love instead. Thank you Mykki Blanco!
17. Arlo Parks
Anais Marinho, known publicly as Arlo Parks, is a British singer and musician. Her second album brought her critical acclaim, and won the iconic Mercury Prize for Best British Album in 2021.
Parks was born in West London, she was inspired by the great American poets, which heavily influenced her unique flair to lyric writing. During her childhood, she would often hear Fela Kuti’s ‘Water’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Sitting On the Dock of the Bay’, which nurtured her love for raw music. In 2018, she began uploading her own music to ‘BBC Music Introducing’, which was enjoyed and shared by radio presenters who would eventually sign and manage Parks. In November of the same year, she released her debut song ‘Cola’ which created buzz on Spotify’s popular playlists, and had a lot of people wanting more from Arlo Parks.
2019 saw her debut EP ‘Super Sad Generation’, celebrated for its raw lyrics, emotional sound and clever word-play. It was clear Parks was a star in the making… 2021 became a pivotal year for Parks where her new single became BBC Radio 1’s ‘Tune of the Week’, and the release of her debut album ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ brought her international fame.
She went on to perform at the Graham Norton Show and ‘Later with Jools Holland’. She also won ‘Breakthrough Artist Award’ at the 2021 Brit Awards where it became clear thatParks was a fully fledged star. She came out as bisexual in 2019, and continues to be much needed for black queer representation. Stream her new album ‘My Soft Machine’!
18. Honey Dijon
Honey Dijon is an American DJ, electronic musician, and producer who grew up in the 1970s on the south side of Chicago. She started clubbing as a teen and was performing as a DJ in the 1990s – becoming a producer in 2000.
While in Chicago, she was mentored by fellow DJs Mark Farina and Derrick Carter, where she grew her musical skills. She moved to New York, and exposed NY clubs to the Chicago bounce, which was intensely well received.
In 2017, she finally released her debut album ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, which is commonly referred to as a legendary piece of trans queer house. Since then she has worked with brands like Dior and Louis Vuitton in music production for catwalks. You can now hear her music at fashion shows in London, Paris, Milan and New York countless nights of the week!
Dijon is a fierce trans rights activist, and fights for awareness over trans issues and experience. She remains a spokesperson for the trans community, and key representation for trans women of colour in club and fashion culture.
Uzoechi Emenike, with the stage name ‘MNEK’ is a British producer, singer and songwriter. He is one of the UK’s most successful producers, working with Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Madonna, H.E.R, Kylie Minogue, and so many more.
MNEK was born in Lewisham, London, and has been writing poetry since the age of 7. When he discovered music production on his computer, he harnessed his talent and published tracks onto Myspace when he was 14.
In 2011, at 16, MNEK began working with a production group called ‘Xenomania’, which landed his big breaks of working with The Saturdays and The Wanted. The same year, he released his debut single ‘If truth be told’.
His appearance on ‘Need U 100%’ with A*M*E gave him significant recognition, and he was listed on BBC’s Sound of 2014. His album in 2018 called ‘Language’ was celebrated worldwide, and it’s likely you’ve heard his music in clubs and bars.
Coming out as gay in his late teens, MNEK established a songwriting camp for queer singer-songwriters for pride, and has also provided a safe space for young people to discuss and share their identity and emotions.
With his plentiful collaborations, MNEK is always on the charts, and remains an amazing part of LGBTQIA+ representation in British dance music.
Brittnee Moore, known to the world as ‘Bbymutha’, is ‘the’ Tennessee rap queen. Introduced to the music industry through demos on Soundcloud, her unique sound and clever lyrics have taken the world by storm
Born in Tennessee, Bbbymutha was writing music since her teen years, and had a strong relationship with music that helped her through tough times. Her first oﬃcial release was a song called ‘Slut’ on Soundcloud, and the reception motivated her to create more.
Her breakthrough arrived in 2016, when her EP ‘Glow Kit’ became critically acclaimed, receiving attention from music stars such as Kehlani, SZA and Björk. She was featured on FADER’s ‘101 best songs of 2017’, and her stamp on the industry became undeniable.
Despite issues creating the album, her second studio album ‘Muthaland’ was released in 2020 and was heavily celebrated for its creativity, perspective, and humorous lines. She has since released 3 popular albums that continue to inspire her fans and other up-and-coming rappers.
Moore is also a mother of 4, and this constantly inspires her writing and musical drive. To date, she has 16 EPs to her name, and more on the way… Keep an eye out for Bbymutha!
Image source:David Wolff / Patrick/Referns
With a plethora of amazing queer artists to accompany you on your travels, never miss a chance to discover new magical LGBTQIA+ musicians!