Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

“A Good Bowl of Gumbo”: Celebrating the Queer Artistry of New Orleans & Louisiana

by Annie Parnell, Managing Editor

Lilli Lewis. Photo Credit: David Villalta

The musical and cultural influence of New Orleans and Louisiana is impossible to encapsulate in a single paragraph — or even in one article. Not only is the city of New Orleans the birthplace of jazz and the turf of historic legends like Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Tony Jackson, Fats Domino, and James Booker (to name a few), the state is home to a thriving array of musical histories, ranging from folkloric traditions of zydeco, Creole, and Cajun music to the vibrant world of the hip-hop subgenre bounce. New Orleans and Louisiana are also home to a world of contemporary queer music icons, such as Frank Ocean, Big Freedia, and Mary Gauthier.

Many of the LGBTQ+ musicians listed here are influenced by folk and country, but a time like the present calls on us to stop focusing on constructs like genre, and to use our platform to do what we can for those who need it and celebrate the rich cultural history of this region. In addition to the New Orleans and Louisiana-based musicians listed below, I’d like to draw attention to a few local groups that are working on hurricane recovery and in need of support:

Imagine Water Works

Southern Solidarity

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The Gambit’s list of mutual aid and emergency assistance groups in Southeast Louisiana

Hurricane IDA community support! El Pueblo Nola, organized by Cristiane Rosales-Fajardo

Hurricane Ida MutualAidLouisiana, organized by Mutual Aid Louisiana

United Houma Nation

Cajun Navy Foundation

Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy

Rise St. James

NOLA Black Youth Fund 

House of Tulip

Further resources (compiled by New Orleans locals, via Twitter and Google Docs)

Much love to all those affected by the ongoing crises caused by COVID-19 and Hurricane Ida. I wish everyone an easy return to home and to regular life, as well as a less anxious tomorrow.

Without further ado, here’s the music:

Lilli Lewis

Dubbed as the “folk rock diva of New Orleans” and described by Mandy Patinkin as “like listening to light,” Lilli Lewis is an outspoken member of the LGBTQ+ community and a frequent presence at The Black Opry, where she’s currently working on this October’s Black Opry Fest. Trained as an opera singer and classical pianist, her music is influenced by a rich variety of traditions, from folk and country to blues, jazz, and Americana — the last of which, coincidentally, is also the title of her upcoming album due in October.

Joy Clark

Joy Clark recently appeared at the Austin Loves New Orleans benefit show, which she helped to organize in a whopping 48 hours while weathering the storm in Texas. In 2012, she performed with Chaka Khan herself at the Essence Music Festival. When she’s not moving mountains, she’s making nourishing, gospel-influenced folk music that’s rooted distinctly in her hometown, to the tune of Tracy Chapman and be steadwell. Clark says that her uplifting song “Here” came during “a time of stress and new beginnings,” centering on the simple joys of nature and song. 

Katey Red

Katey Red was one of the first transgender artists in the world of bounce music, and she’s a frequent collaborator with Big Freedia, a fellow queer musician who has helped to popularize it on the global stage with performers like Drake and Kesha. This local legend is currently trying to recover from losing her home in Hurricane Ida, and can be reached on social media @imkateyred and by Venmo at @katey-red-2.

J. Rees

Described as a “queer southern swamp bard,” J. Rees is a renaissance creative based in Hammond, Louisiana. Their rich rootsy songs spin stories of love, loss, and survival. After personally assisting two Country Queer community members in evacuation efforts, J. Rees was recently able to replace a vehicle lost in Hurricane Ida, and has gone straight back to work. Their Facebook page has plenty of resources for hurricane recovery information and donations, and they’ve also begun assisting with local cleanup efforts and creating music about their experience in the hurricane.

Guts Club

The cosmic Americana of New Orleans-based Guts Club verges from the Okkervil River-esque satanic folk of their 2018 album Trench Foot to goth and post-punk-influenced synths. Their plans to produce a new album in 2020 were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but lately they’ve been on a kick reimagining television theme songs as trippy experimental pieces. Most recently, they released the Sopranos-inspired “Song for Carm” and The L-Word tribute “Song for Tina.”

Aybil

Aybil released her debut NBA-inspired single “Jordan Poole” in 2020. Her hip-hop influenced folk is tender and reflective, and her most recent EP Something for the Long Distance is a balm not only for the struggles of long-distance relationships, but for any sorts of troubled times. “Tell me, what does love mean across state lines?” the New Orleans transplant from Memphis asks in the EP’s titular track — a thoughtful musing from an artist who recently said on Instagram that life in Louisiana has cured her of a lifelong fear of driving across bridges.

Kei Slaughter

“Soul-Folk Sonic Storyteller” Kei Slaughter describes their music as “boku magik” and centers healing and connection in their work. A singer, songwriter, vocalist, flutist, and music therapist, their layered jazz-folk often has environmental and social justice themes, cultivated from their deep New Orleans roots. “Kudzu,” off their 2017 album Dark Fire, is a tender meditation on growth and harmony with nature.

Kelly Love Jones

Kelly Love Jones’ meditative acoustic music is grounded in mindfulness traditions and the rich musical tapestry of R&B, hip-hop, folk, and reggae. Described as “New Orleans Swag” and “a good bowl of gumbo,” her work centers on growth — a theme that’s explored in a variety of musical means, from incorporating singing bowls and affirmations to lyrically celebrating Black motherhood. Her conceptual art performance TRUST is set to be rescheduled at the New Orleans Museum of Art for a later date due to Hurricane Ida.

Ever More Nest

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana and now based in New Orleans, Americana singer-songwriter Kelcy Mae Wilburn recently launched the new musical project Ever More Nest after a period of creative growth spawned by a visit to Tennessee. Compared to Gregory Alan Isakov, Gillian Welch, and Nanci Griffith, Wilburn’s work is marked by poetic lyrics and a rootsy sound. Here’s her tribute to a neighboring region, “North Mississippi.”

Annie Parnell is the Managing Editor of Country Queer and cohost of the radio show Cowboy Church. She also runs the newsletter Tugboat. Her writing and reporting has been featured in WTJU, The Boot, Taste of Country, and the Virginia Literary Review.