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Bill Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” is a queer jazz classic that has transcended generations

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While many classic jazz standards live on for decades through countless covers, only a few speak to the queer experience with such profound resonance. “Lush Life” by Billy Strayhorn is a song that does just that, and this melodic masterpiece has echoed across generations, being covered by divas like Nancy Wilson, Donna Summer, Queen Latifah, and Lady Gaga.Billy Strayhorn was an American jazz composer, pianist, lyricist, and arranger known for his long-term collaboration with Duke Ellington and as the first openly gay jazz musician.

Initially aspiring to be a classical pianist but shifting to jazz due to limited opportunities for black classical musicians, Billy Strayhorn met Duke Ellington in 1938 and impressed him enough to join his band in New York City.

Despite his significant contributions spanning over three decades to Ellington’s music, including creating sophisticated arrangements and co-writing famous compositions like “Take the ‘A’ Train” and the soundtrack to Anatomy of a Murder, Strayhorn often went uncredited and struggled with his hidden role.Subscribe to our newsletter for your front-row seat to all things entertainment with a sprinkle of everything else queer.Strayhorn would console himself with drinking and, sadly, died of cancer and alcohol abuse in 1964 at the age of 51.

His song “Lush Life” (1936), is a torch standard that sadly defines his own short, intense life. The song is well known as a harmonically complex and melodic tune, and less well known is the complex, dramatic meaning behind it.Some speculate that Strayhorn wanted to keep “Lush Life” for himself instead of letting it get associated with Ellington as “Take the A Train” and so many other compositions were.

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