Conversations With The Duchess

“Remembering a Musical Genius: Prince Rocks Us with ‘Pop Life’ to Pop Culture” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith

     Greetings!  First, I want to give a shout out to Wyatt O’ Brian Evans for such an amazing opportunity to write this column for his extensive fan base.

     My nickname is “Duchess,” which was given to me by one of my lifelong friends who, unfortunately, succumbed to AIDS. As you read my bio at the end of this column, you will have the opportunity to review some of my accomplishments within the African American LGBT/SGL (same gender loving) community.

     For me, writing assists in putting my rapid thought process in concrete form.  And, it’s very therapeutic!  And like music, writing is “food for the soul.”  

     And like you, I also was saddened by the recent passing of the man who was formerly known as Prince.  Many of his fans were heartbroken with grief, and saddened by the unexpected death of this multi-talented artist and the music he left behind. However, we will to continue to remember his legacy.

     In fact, many of us recall when Prince first burst upon the scene with his provocative and erotic messages, which caused “parental consent” stickers to be placed on his succeeding albums.   I remembered when I was “coming out” of the closet, and the “Controversy” video was getting it’s gyrations on MTV during the 80’s.   

     I mean, could you believe it?  This small framed man dressed in Edwardian fashion, wearing women’s pumps, who was slightly clothed in lingerie and leading a band called the Revolution. His lyrics baptized and mesmerized you with this new gothic, funky beat.

     And let’s not forget the unforgettable, “Am I black or white?  Am I straight or gay?”   He was questioning our ethnic background with the temptation of our sexual orientation, along with the spellbinding Lord’s Prayer–in a salacious nightclub setting. The conversation about his song definitely pushed the envelope, which caused his video to be shown as late night adult entertainment. This was just the beginning of His Royal Badness crossing over into the mainstream media.

Prince

     In the spring of 1984, just one year before I graduated from Morgan State University, Prince introduced the world to what is now his signature album, “Purple Rain,”— as well as the song of the same name.   I remembered such tunes as “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” receiving much rotation on major radio stations, VH1 and MTV. It wouldn’t be Prince not to include exotic songs like “Darling Nikki” and “Erotic City” to keep up the tempo of the 80’s sexual revolution.

     Meanwhile, many artists were expressing their androgynous style on videos and television.  For example, there was Culture Club with their own outrageous Boy George singing “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” and Madonna crooning, “Justify My Love.” These artists were pushing the envelope–as well as our sexual imagination. What used to be censored is now being shown during VH1/MTV daytime rotations.

     In fact, the “Prince-inspired” sexual and Cultural Revolution gave birth to the Stonewall Anniversary Rally and the LGBTQ marches on Washington in the 80’s and 90’s. His songs would influence so many people, as well as myself.  I was especially “tinkering around” my own sexual orientation and impulsiveness toward black SGL men.  I, too, was “coming out” in such a way that produced radical changes in my life–and the people with whom I have associated from college to later life. This, too, were the “Sign o’ the Times,” another album Prince released in 1987.  It spoke to social and cultural norms, health disparities, the AIDS epidemic ravaging the black community, and drug trafficking—including the use of heroin/crack in poverty-stricken communities.

     Prince was like a scriptural prophet who was given historical revelations about the oneness of humankind. Truly, he was that creative visionary and genius who challenged many of us to think differently about who we were and how we engaged in society.

     Prince produced more than three decades of discographies that shined a bright light on raw sexuality and scriptural contemplation.  As well, he had written and produced songs for many artists who had just gotten their starts in the music industry, including his proteges Sheila E, The Time and Vanity 6.

     Lastly, I remembered his exclusive interview with Ebony magazine in July 2010, written by Harriette Cole.  During that interview, he was at the “ageless age” of 52. 

     Prince discussed his profound love of God, his religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness, and his acknowledgement of studying the bible.  In that interview, he  spoke of his tutelage of music legend Larry Graham, who also was a devout Jehovah’s Witness.  I was somewhat astonished by his truth about God and his relationship with people.  He commented, “Keep your friends close–and your teachers closer.”  Profound, indeed.

     On this past April 21st, the Artist Known as Prince Rogers Nelson made transition from earth into afterworld. We remember a legend. Musical polymath, prolific singer, songwriter, virtuoso guitarist, keyboardist and drummer. Film star. Oscar winner. Prince was truly one of a kind. After all, he’ll be the only one that knows sometimes it snows in April!  Thank you, Prince. There will never be another one like you in your little Red Corvette…

His Royal Highness,

Duchess

CARLTON SMITH  the one


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

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