By Brian Burns and Judd Proctor
When President Barack Obama spoke at the grand opening of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture on September 24, 2016, he quoted three gay icons.
The president kicked off his comments with the words of a famous writer. “James Baldwin once wrote,” Obama said, ‘For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard.'”
Later, stressing the importance of African-American inclusion in society, Obama referenced the last line of a poem by Langston Hughes: “I too, am America.”
African-Americans have shaped every aspect of our culture, Obama pointed out, reciting one of Walt Whitman’s lines, “We are large, containing multitudes.” This was taken from Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself.”
“The Great Mademoiselle”
Considered one of the greatest teachers of musical composition in the 20th century, Nadia Boulanger guided the careers of many of the most famous composers of her time. She was affectionately known as “Mademoiselle.”
Born in France in 1887, she came from a long line of superbly-talented musicians, and began studying organ and composition at age ten.
During her distinguished career, she molded many gay composers such as Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Gian Carlo Menotti and Leonard Bernstein.
Mademoiselle was the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
In her dying days, her students comforted her by singing Mozart, Schubert and Schumann. In 1979, a newspaper headline read simply, “Mademoiselle Is No More.”
“Joffrey Is Ballet”
The man behind the infamous Joffrey Ballet Company is Robert Joffrey. Ballet was his world ever since his childhood in the 1930s, but he was too short to make it his career.
At sixteen, Joffrey met twenty-two-year-old Gerald Arpino, who became his lifelong domestic partner and his ballet company’s resident choreographer.
Joffrey’s gifts were many. As a superb director and teacher, he revived many neglected masterworks, and in pushing the boundaries he drew young audiences to the art form.
While others equated ballet with women, Joffrey’s company staged ballets to showcase the sexual vitality and superb physical technique of male dancers.
In 1988, Joffrey died of AIDS. Yet his dance group remains one of America’s most glorious cultural institutions.