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Music and AIDS  
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The most important figure in avant-garde circles--and probably the most important figure in music about AIDS--is vocalist/composer/performer Diamanda Galás. She has been creating works about AIDS since before the death of her brother, writer Philip-Dimitri Galás, in 1986. The most important of her works include the Plague Mass (1984) and the three-part Masque of the Red Death (1986-88), both of which exemplify her combination of savagely visceral texts with extraordinary vocalizations and complex musical textures.

Other women composers who have written avant-garde works include Meredith Monk (New York Requiem, 1993), Laurie Anderson (Love among the Sailors, 1994), and Pauline Oliveros (Epigraphs in the Time of AIDS, 1994).

Works by gay men include Gerhard Stäbler's Warnung mit Liebeslied (1986), Robert Moran's minimalist Requiem: Chant du cygne (1990), and Bob Ostertag's powerful All The Rage (1993), recorded by the Kronos Quartet.

Artist/writer David Wojnarowicz worked on many collaborative pieces of which one of the most "musical" was ITSOFOMO, written with composer Ben Neill (1989).

The health crisis has directly affected the musical world as much as other areas of the arts. Among many musicians who have died are Klaus Nomi (1944-1983), Calvin Hampton (1938-1984), Sylvester (1947-1988), Freddie Mercury (1946-1991), Michael Callen (1954-1993), and Robert Savage (1951-1993).

Outside the urban West, protest and educational musics referring to AIDS have appeared in Mexico, South Africa, and (undoubtedly) many other countries. Limited distribution networks and language barriers have kept most from becoming available to English-speaking audiences. An exception is AIDS: How Could I Know? (1989), a bilingual recording produced by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.

Despite the range of genres and works, there has been less music written about AIDS than there has been production in other art forms. This fact may be attributable to the strictures of the music industry, or to aspects of the nature of music.

Still, it is perhaps not too much to claim that the evident increase during the 1980s and 1990s in musical works that focused on grief, sympathy, or healing, some of which can be associated with "new age" music, is rooted in cultural changes that came out of the AIDS crisis.

Paul Attinello

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arts >> Overview:  AIDS Activism in the Arts

In response to the AIDS epidemic, a number of activist groups, including Gran Fury and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, have used art as a means to raise awareness about the epidemic.

arts >> Overview:  Musical Theater and Film

The musical has been a significant aspect of American gay male culture, manifesting itself both in diva worship and, more recently, in the presentation of openly gay characters and shows written by gay writers primarily for gay audiences.

arts >> B-52s

Commonly known as the "World's Greatest Party Band," the B-52sĀ features openly gay members who are active in glbtq, AIDS, environmental and animal rights issues.

arts >> Corigliano, John

American composer of symphonies, chamber works, choral settings, operas, and film scores, John Corigliano has created some of the most moving music inspired by the AIDS epidemic.

arts >> Greyson, John

Canadian director John Greyson is internationally recognized as an avant-garde filmmaker and video artist whose work confronts issues related to homosexuality, gay rights, and AIDS activism.

arts >> John, Sir Elton

Pop superstar Elton John's combination of melodic skills, dynamic charisma, and raucous performance style have make him a remarkably popular musical artist.

arts >> Larson, Jonathan

Although apparently heterosexual, musical theater composer Jonathan Larson wrote sympathetically about a diverse community of artists, many of whom are glbtq.

arts >> Mercury, Freddie

The front man of one of the world's most popular rock groups, Queen, Freddie Mercury was noted for his flamboyant, gender-bending androgyny.

arts >> Pet Shop Boys

The recordings of the British pop duo Pet Shop Boys may be seen as a reaction to events that stirred the British gay community in the last two decades of the twentieth century.

arts >> Porter, Cole

Living the paradoxical life of an openly closeted gay man, songwriter Cole Porter introduced non-normative values and risqué double entendres into what was one of the most pedestrian and hackneyed of cultural forms.

arts >> Reed, Lou

In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, bisexual rock musician Lou Reed, pencil-thin, craggy, and dressed in tough leather or androgynous glitz, came to symbolize the rebellious outsider.

arts >> Rorem, Ned

American composer Ned Rorem is one of the most accomplished and prolific composers of art songs in the world, but his musical and literary endeavors extend far beyond this specialized field.

arts >> Somerville, Jimmy

Noted for his diminutive size and amazing voice, Jimmy Somerville achieved fame as the lead singer with the openly gay pop groups Bronski Beat and The Communards; many of his songs are overtly political and deal with such issues as gay relationships and the loss of friends to AIDS.

arts >> Sylvester

One of the most original and talented musicians to come out of the disco arena, Sylvester was a versatile stylist who brought depth--as well as campiness--to all his material.

arts >> Wojnarowicz, David

The first gay American artist to respond to the AIDS crisis with anger and moral outrage, David Wojnarowicz used his art as a polemical tool with which to indict those he held responsible for the AIDS epidemic and to document his own suffering.


Attinello, Paul. "Music and AIDS: Some Interesting Works." GLSG Newsletter 10.1 (Spring 2000): 4-6.

Avena, Thomas, ed. Life Sentences: Writers, Artists, and AIDS. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994.

Baker, Rob. The Art of AIDS. New York: Continuum, 1994.

Dellamora, Richard, and Daniel Fischlin, eds. The Work of Opera: Genre, Nationhood, and Difference. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Dunbar-Hall, Peter. "Rock Songs as Messages: Issues of Health and Lifestyle in Central Australian Aboriginal Communities." Popular Music and Society 20.2 (Summer 1996): 43-67.

Galás, Diamanda. The Shit of God. New York: High Risk, 1996.

Hughes, Walter. "In the Empire of the Beat: Discipline and Disco." Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture. Andrew Ross and Tricia Rose, eds. New York: Routledge, 1994. 147-157.

Hutcheon, Linda, and Michael Hutcheon. Opera: Desire, Disease, Death. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

Jones, Wendell, and David Stanley. "AIDS! The Musical!" Sharing the Delirium: Second Generation AIDS Plays and Performances. Therese Jones, ed. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 1994. 207-221.

Lee, Colin. Music at the Edge: Music Therapy Experiences of a Musician with AIDS. New York: Routledge, 1996.

McLellan, Jay. OutLoud!: Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Recordings, first CD-ROM edition. Amsterdam: OutLoud Press, 1998.

Román, David. Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Ward, Keith. "Musical Responses to HIV and AIDS." Perspectives on American Music since 1950. James Heintze, ed. New York: Garland, 1999. 323-351.


    Citation Information
    Author: Attinello, Paul  
    Entry Title: Music and AIDS  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 30, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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