(June 13, 2023). June is Black Music Month.  It’s also Pride Month.  What better way to commemorate both than by celebrating the greatest LGBTQ+ musicians of color in modern music history!

From soul music icons to dance divas and from blues trailblazers to hip-hop legends, Black artists in the LGBTQ+ community have been creating unforgettable music for more than a century and, in many cases, paved the way for a younger generation of artists who now have an easier time in the industry after coming out of the proverbial closet.

Since the beginning of modern music, which djrobblog defines as that of the past 100 or so years where commercialized recordings have been part of our cultural fabric, Black gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and gender-fluid artists have been making an indelible mark on the industry, with six of these artists now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This article pays tribute to those artists and more, with a ranking of who the blog considers to be the 25 greatest such musicians of all time.  From the older blues and rock legends like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Little Richard to fresh faces including Janelle Monáe, Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy, and everyone in between, these talented performers have delivered messages of love, romance, empowerment and inclusivity through their hits and their voices (and their attitudes). 

The below ranking also includes artists who are considered “gay-adjacent”—that is, those who never officially came out but who have been widely documented (and acknowledged by legitimate sources) to be part of the LGBTQ+ community.  Many of the older artists who are now deceased fall in this category, as societal norms prevented them from truly expressing themselves at the heights of their popularity (although some did it anyway!).

And while djrobblog doesn’t believe that being gay is a choice, rather a person’s decision to act on it or to come out is, the ranking below doesn’t include anyone who hasn’t come out as being part of the LGBTQ+ community (we’re not outing anyone here!).

For that reason, the blog didn’t include artists widely speculated (without evidence) to be gay, like 1980s R&B legend Freddie Jackson who has never proclaimed his sexuality either way, or the late R&B icon Luther Vandross who, in his lifetime, never stated he was gay (posthumous outing by Patti LaBelle notwithstanding). (In the spirit of inclusion, both men get this honorable mention and would’ve ranked very high absent this caveat.)

Artists that have recently come out, like soul crooner Tevin Campbell and rappers Da Brat and (indirectly) Queen Latifah, are represented, despite spending much of their heydays recording under the shroud of secrecy that thankfully their younger counterparts (think Ocean, Monáe, and Lacy) don’t have to today.

And speaking of hip-hop, the genre long guilty of employing a double standard where the only acceptable form of homoeroticism is that between two women—usually at the behest of a male rapper, younger LGBTQ+ rappers have been make themselves known more frequently while adding their own flare to music’s vast, colorful palette.  

This blogger, for one, would like to see a world in which “coming out” is a thing of the past, where people can simply love who they love and coexist in an accepting society without having to declare themselves one thing or another or risk losing their careers or families as a result.  

That’s a dream deferred as both the Black and LGBTQ+ communities have come under increased attack by today’s “anti-woke” movement (see recent deadly anti-trans laws and “critical race theory,” “don’t say gay” propaganda), as well as in our own Black communities (see recent vitriolic responses to Magic Johnson’s celebration of his queer son’s birthday…not fit for reposting here).

For these reasons, many Black artists have not come out, or they only recently have—in some cases long after their career commercial peaks—when they no longer have to rely on the appearance of being heterosexual or cis-gendered to sell records or downloads.

Regardless of when the artists made themselves known, they were considered for this exclusive djrobblog ranking of the 25 greatest, most influential Black LGBTQ+ musicians of all time, in celebration of both Black Music Month and Pride Month.

The rankings are presented in countdown order from No. 25 to No. 1, with the composite list included below the countdown, and a link to the blog’s exclusive Spotify playlist featuring songs from these artists.

As always, feel free to comment in the section at the bottom of the article or in any of the social media feeds where the article is posted.


Twenty-five. Young M.A.

Rapper Young M.A., which stands for Young Me. Always, is unlike many of the other artists on this list in that she launched her career after coming out as a lesbian (a label she no longer likes using) at age 18.  She has said in interviews that the decision to come out is what helped her better express herself in songs.  Her biggest hit, 2016’s “Ooouuu” (linked above), sold four million units and reached the Billboard Hot 100’s top 20.

Twenty-four. Kehlani

R&B singer Kehlani has seemingly had to face questions about not only their sexuality (and past relationships) but their ethnicity as well.  As the daughter of a Spanish/Native American mother and a Black father, Kehlani has stated they don’t mind being called “mixed.”  As for their sexuality, the artist whose only song to make the top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 was “Ring” (a Cardi B single on which Kehlani was featured), prefers using gender-neutral pronouns and once described themselves as pansexual. 

Twenty-three.  Steve Lacy

Rising superstar Steve Lacy came out as bisexual in a 2017 Tumblr post.  Actually, he stated when asked whether he’d date a guy, “sure, why not?”   That was well before his crowning moment in October 2022 with the No. 1 smash “Bad Habit,” which earned him Grammy nominations for both Record and Song of the Year.  “Bad Habit,” which has been characterized as a “lo-fi, psychedelic, R&B/pop bedroom ballad,” was about Lacy’s regret over missing an opportunity to confess his crush on someone.  It ended up being this blogger’s favorite song of 2022!

Twenty-two.  Da Brat

The 1990s rapper born Shawntae Harris in 1974 came out in 2020 and is now married to entrepreneur Jesseca Dupart. The couple are expecting their first child together. That’s nearly 30 years after Da Brat burst onto the scene with her debut album and single, “Funkdafied,” both of which went platinum in 1994 (the album becoming the first by a female solo rapper to do so).  Da Brat never had another album as big as Funkdafied, but she was featured on numerous hit remixes of other artists’ hits and was one of the biggest entities on Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def’s label and production company. 

Twenty-one. Jermaine Stewart

While the openly gay and highly talented late pop/R&B singer and dancer Jermaine Stewart (who died of AIDS-related complications in 1997 at age 39) will always be remembered for his ode to platonic relationships with the 1986 top-five pop hit “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off,” his recording career actually took off with his first single, the even synthier, more drum-machine-heavy “The Word Is Out,” whose lyrics—perhaps fittingly—described the betrayal of confidentiality about a forbidden love affair.  That song just missed the top-40, peaking at No. 41 on the Hot 100 in 1984.  Another hit, the reggae-tinged “Say It Again,” peaked at No. 27 on the chart, making it Stewart’s last American top-40 hit in 1988.

Twenty. Meshell Ndegeocello

The versatile Meshell Ndegeocello is likely known to pop fans for her big hit duet with John Mellencamp…the remake of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” in 1994.  Her most familiar song to soul music lovers might be her own composition “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night),” also a hit in ‘94.  Dance music followers likely remember her cover of Bill Withers’ “Who Is He (And What Is He To You),” a No. 1 Dance hit in ‘96.  But the Ndegeocello song that likely turned the most heads was the controversial “Leviticus: F****t,” which the German-born American singer penned about a male protagonist who is kicked out of his home because of his sexuality.  Despite the song’s provocative title and the resultant controversy, Ndegeocello, who is bisexual, has been an activist for LGBTQ+ causes for decades.  

Nineteen. Tyler, the Creator

The highly unapologetic (and why should he be?) California rapper who was born Tyler Gregory Okonma in 1991 has made numerous references to liking (and having) men in his song’s lyrics, something that hasn’t hurt his career one bit.  All six of his studio albums have reached the top five in Billboard, with the last two—2019’s Igor and 2021’s Call Me If You Get Lost (which returned to the top three as recently as April 2023)—hitting No. 1 and earning Tyler Grammy awards for Best Rap Album in 2020 and 2022, respectively.

Eighteen.  Big Freedia

In his own words, Big Freedia, born Freddie Ross, Jr. in New Orleans, LA, is a “gay, self-proclaimed mama’s boy who exploded onto the formerly underground Bounce music scene.”  Indeed, he singlehandedly elevated that scene to national awareness with her own reality TV shows and his influence and appearances on several major artists’ biggest hits, like Drake’s “Nice For What” (2018) and Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” (2022), both of which topped the Hot 100.  The gregarious Freedia (pronounced Freeda) is perhaps the only artist on this list who doesn’t have a chart hit of his own, but the gender-fluid artist (Wikipedia notably uses both male and female pronouns to describe her), did once prompt a Guinness Book of World Records entry for twerking and will forever be known as Queen of Bounce, the New Orleans style of hip-hop she popularized.  

Seventeen.  Lil Nas X

It’s hard to imagine anyone having a better start to his career than the rapper/singer known as Lil Nas X, born Montero Lamar Hill in 1999.  His very first hit, 2018’s country-leaning “Old Town Road,” topped the Hot 100 the following year and became the longest-running No. 1 song in the chart’s history (19 weeks), but not without controversy.  The semi-novelty song, which was receiving country radio airplay initially (and later featured a remix with Billy Ray Cyrus), was famously removed from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart after one week, prompting criticism (and likely helping add to the song’s publicity and viral status).  Lil Nas X, who came out as gay while “Road” was still No. 1, had a huge return to the charts in 2021 with his debut full-length studio album, Montero, and its highly provocative singles “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” “Industry Baby” and “That’s What I Want,” the first two of which also hit No. 1.

Sixteen. Tracy Chapman

Folk-pop singer Tracy Chapman has never felt the need to publicly discuss her personal life, opting instead to keep her personal and professional lives separate.  But she is considered to be a privately “out” lesbian who has fought for LGBTQ rights as well as AIDS research and gender and racial equality.  Her two biggest hits are 1996’s “Give Me One Reason” and ‘88’s “Fast Car,” the latter of which is on the charts again thanks to a remake by country music’s Luke Combs, who just this week (at No. 4) surpassed the No. 6 chart peak of Chapman’s original. 

Fifteen. Tevin Campbell

Multi-platinum 1980s/90s soul star Tevin Campbell might not be on this list had it been compiled a year earlier.  He only officially came out as gay in August 2022 in a People magazine podcast (although he’d hinted at it in an earlier Twitter exchange following years of public speculation).  The former child star scored major hits as a teenager with classics like “Can We Talk,” “I’m Ready,” “Round and Round,” “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do,” and this blogger’s personal favorite, a vocal remake of the Brothers Johnson/Quincy Jones’ instrumental classic “Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me)” (video linked above). 

Fourteen. RuPaul

RuPaul Andre Charles, also known as the Queen of Drag, is most famous for his work helming the internationally successful RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise of reality TV shows (since 2009).  He’s won 12 Emmy awards for the show (making him the most awarded Black entertainer in Primetime Emmy Awards history).  He’s even won a Tony award and is considered the most famous drag queen in the world.  But none of that would have happened had it not been for the iconic dance smash “Supermodel (You Better Work),” which became an instant club classic and catch-phrase generator in 1993 with its parenthetical subtitle plus the phrase: “I have one thing to say.”  I can still picture the already tall AF, high-heeled RuPaul twirling around a basketball court, ball in hand, while she repeatedly lip-syncs the hilarious command “sashay, Shantay!” in the song’s music video. 

Thirteen.  Frank Ocean

The cultural significance of an artist announcing to the world that his first love was a man cannot be overstated, especially when the artist in question is a male singer/rapper and that artist had yet to release his first full-length studio album.  Such was the case for avant-garde musician Frank Ocean, born Christopher Edwin Breaux in 1987, who has since gained worldwide fame through his unorthodox songwriting and singing styles.  That first album, 2013’s Channel Orange, debuted at No. 2 in the wake of Ocean’s big personal reveal, and its followup, 2016’s Blonde, did even better, entering the Billboard chart at No. 1 and going platinum. While the world awaits his followup to Blonde, the highly favored and critically acclaimed Ocean has been maintaining a presence through festival appearances and one-off singles.

Twelve. Janelle Monáe

Singer/songwriter/actress Janelle Monáe has, astoundingly, only one major chart hit to her credit—the No. 1 smash “We Are Young” with the group Fun. in 2012.  But the colorful, talented artist, who identifies as pansexual, has a boatload of critically acclaimed albums including The ArchAndroid and Dirty Computer—the latter earning her an Album of the Year Grammy nomination.  She fuses pop, funk and soul and recently pulled out all the stops with her sexually charged, Lesbian-friendly video for the new reggae-flavored song “Lipstick Lover” (linked above).

Eleven. Joan Armatrading

British singer-songwriter and guitarist Joan Armatrading is perhaps one of the most underrated musicians of the 20th century.  Her professional recording career dates back to 1972 with most of her success—while not at superstar level here in America—coming on A&M Records.  She has released 20 studio albums, with the most recent, Consequences, coming in 2021.  Her songs, which she writes and mostly produces, speak for the artist who rarely discusses her personal life.  The songs tell of romance in a gender-neutral context and, according to the magazine The Advocate, contain lyrics that “read” as lesbian.  Armatrading, now 72, has been married to her partner Maggie Butler since 2011.

Ten.  Sylvester

Few artists were as important to the gay music scene as the falsetto-voiced, disco music icon Sylvester James, Jr., who won over clubs in the late 1970s with memorable classics like “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and this blogger’s personal favorite “Dance (Disco Heat),” both of which also made the pop top 40.  Backed by Two Tons of Fun singers Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, the openly gay Sylvester was known for his flamboyant (by 1970s’ standards) and androgynous appearance. And while white artists such as David Bowie and even Darryl Hall & John Oates were able to pull off the androgynous look in the ‘70s with little question, it was considered taboo for a Black musician to do so, making Sylvester a trailblazer and a man well before his time (before even Prince and Michael Jackson popularized the trend in the 1980s).  Sylvester died in 1988 of AIDS-related complications (age 41). 

Nine.  Queen Latifah

The multi-hyphenate rapper-singer-actress-hostess Queen Latifah (born Dana Owens in Newark, NJ in 1970) has been an LGBTQ+ advocate for nearly her entire career.  Although the “U.N.I.T.Y.” and “Ladies First” rapper never officially declared herself to be one label or another and has stated she doesn’t care whether or not people think she’s gay, what gets the Grammy-winning, Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated legend on this list is her public acknowledgement of longtime romantic partner Eboni Nichols during a Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech at the June 2021 BET awards, which she ended with “happy Pride!” She and Nichols are jointly raising a son.

Eight.  Frankie Knuckles

There’s a lot of royalty on this list.  The queens of Bounce, Drag, Blues, and arguably pop, as well as the first King of Rock and Roll are all represented here.  Another icon that falls in the royal category is the late King or, more accurately, “Godfather of House Music,” Frankie Knuckles—the New York City-born, Chicago-honed DJ who famously developed an entire genre of music based on his unique DJ-ing and remixing skills.  His brand of “house music,” first popularized by (and named for) his DJ work at Chicago’s Warehouse nightclub, was characterized by its bass-and-synth-heavy, drum machine-driven, disco influence.  Knuckles, who was openly gay and released two albums of his own, won a Grammy in 1997 for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical, and has been inducted in the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.  He died in Chi in 2014 from complications due to diabetes (age 59).

Seven. Billy Preston

Singer-songwriter-keyboardist Billy Preston gained fame as a session musician on many rock legends’ records during the 1960s and early ‘70s (like that of Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, The Rolling Stones and the Beatles) before embarking on a solo career that would see him earn five top-5 pop hits—including the No. 1 classics “Will It Go ‘Round In Circles” and “Nothing From Nothing” in 1973 and ‘74, respectively.  It was his credit on the Beatles’ “Get Back” that earned him the title of “The Fifth Beatle,” one he disputably shares with others including the band’s producer George Martin.  Preston, who for religious reasons struggled with his sexuality and came out as gay just before he died in 2006 of respiratory failure (age 59), was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the category of Musical Excellence in 2021.

Six.  Bessie Smith

The legendary, Chattanooga-born blues singer and early rock and roll influence Bessie Smith is one of two singers on this list whose success mostly predates the existence of popular music charts.  Considered the “Empress of the Blues,” and the original “baddest bitch,” Smith became one of the first artists to record what were then known as “race records” and gained unprecedented fame by recording provocative, sexually liberated songs like “Downhearted Blues,” “Careless Love Blues,” and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”  At one point, Smith was the highest-paid Black entertainer in America, a status she attained through highly successful tours in the segregated South and songs that defied conservative views on the roles (and loves) of women.  She was well-known to have had dalliances with both men and women, despite her marriages to the former.  Smith died in 1937 in a car crash at the age of 43.

Five.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe

With a list of musical influences as long and diverse as the following: Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Karen Carpenter, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Isaac Hayes, Tina Turner and Neil Sedaka—most of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—the only real question is how it took more than 30 years after the institution was created before Sister Rosetta Tharpe was herself inducted.  But this “queer Black woman” born Rosetta Nubin in Arkansas was finally given her proper recognition in 2018 as one of rock’s most influential pioneers.  Tharpe, who had relationships with men and women, was one of the first performers—and arguably the first Black woman—to slay on the electric guitar.  She was another one of music’s badasses who was shamefully under-recognized before interest in her work recently resurfaced.  In the past decade, a play depicting her working and personal relationship with protégé Marie Knight has won praise. In 1973, Tharpe died in Philly at age 58 following a stroke (after suffering from diabetes).

Four. Johnny Mathis

Legendary crooner Johnny Mathis is one of the best-selling artists in music history, with reportedly more than 350 million in worldwide sales since his professional recording career began in 1956.  From that year on, Mathis released at least one and sometimes two or three albums every year until 1983–the first year without a record of new material from the singer born in Texas in 1935.  While Mathis is mostly known for pop standards like his 1957 No. 1 hit “Chances Are,” this blogger’s favorite will always be the Deniece Williams duet “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” the 1978 smash that returned Mathis to No. 1 for the first time in over 21 years.  In recent years, I’ve binged on his long-lost, Chic-produced album I Love My Lady, which was recorded in 1981 but finally saw its release in 2017.  Mathis, who is 87 and has dated men and women, finally officially came out as gay in 2006 (after an earlier 1982 article in Us magazine had outed him following an “off-the-record” statement he gave during an interview).

Three.  Little Richard

Rock and Roll’s first King, Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman), was referred to as the “Architect of Rock and Roll” in deference to Elvis Presley. But title changes never took away from the legacy of one of rock’s most flamboyant, emotive and energetic entertainers ever!  With classics like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” the self-assured singer and piano-playing innovator/originator spanned the genres of blues, rock, gospel and R&B, while eventually becoming one of the inaugural inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986) and later the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Little Richard, who said his dad kicked him out of his childhood home for being effeminate, vacillated about his homosexuality, acknowledging past intimate encounters with men in one interview and denouncing homosexuality (including his own) as unholy in another.  The born-again Christian died of bone cancer in 2020 (age 87).

Two.  Ma Rainey

If blues icon Ma Rainey, born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, GA, were alive today, she’d be 137 years old, making her the earliest-born (1886) of all the artists on this list, and certainly one of the most respected. The singer of female-perspective blues songs performed in minstrel shows in the 1920s and began her recording career exactly 100 years ago in 1923 with songs like “Bad Luck Blues,” “Bo-Weavil Blues,” “Barrel House Blues,” and “Moonshine Blues,” among many others that year.  Her most famous recordings were 1924’s “See See Rider Blues” and, more recently, 1927’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the recording of which was immortalized in the Academy Award-winning Netflix film bearing the song’s title (and starring Viola Davis in the title role).  Rainey, who recorded with the likes of jazz greats Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong, was unapologetic in her admiration for both men and women.  She famously sang in the song “Prove It On Me,” written by Bessie Smith: “Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. They must have been women, ‘cause I don’t like no mens.”  Rainey, who died of a heart attack in 1939 (age 53), has been considered an early gay role-model for many and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. 

One.  Whitney Houston

Pop and R&B singing icon Whitney Houston might be considered another dubious add to this list in that she pinged many gaydars during her lifetime but never publicly came out as gay or bi and never confirmed her romantic relationship with former assistant and longtime partner Robin Crawford. But her family posthumously confirmed the relationship and allowed it to be prominently documented in the 2022 biopic depicting Whitney’s life, I Wanna Dance With Somebody.  Whitney is considered a gay icon and is easily the most accomplished and beloved artist on this list, with eleven No. 1 pop singles, several others that topped the R&B and dance music charts, three of the biggest-selling albums in history in her first two eponymous albums and The Bodyguard soundtrack, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and enough drag queens that wanted to be her to fill a dance hall the size of New York’s Paradise Garage!  Whitney died in 2012 of a drug-related bathtub drowning at the age of 48.

That’s the list!  Here now is the link to the exclusive DJRob Spotify playlist featuring songs from these artists, followed by the composite ranking of the artists in order from 1 to 25!  And don’t forget to comment below.

Special DJRob Spotify playlist featuring songs from these artists.
  1. Whitney Houston
  2. Ma Rainey
  3. Little Richard
  4. Johnny Mathis
  5. Sister Rosetta Tharpe 
  6. Bessie Smith
  7. Billy Preston
  8. Frankie Knuckles
  9. Queen Latifah
  10. Sylvester
  11. Joan Armatrading
  12. Janelle Monáe
  13. Frank Ocean
  14. RuPaul
  15. Tevin Campbell
  16. Tracy Chapman
  17. Lil Nas X
  18. Big Freedia
  19. Tyler, the Creator
  20. Meshell Ndegeocello 
  21. Jermaine Stewart
  22. Da Brat
  23. Steve Lacy
  24. Kehlani
  25. Young M. A.

Others considered: Todrick Hall, Rahsaan Patterson, ILoveMakonnen, Shea Diamond, Kevin Aviance, David Cole (of C&C Music Factory), Monifah

Up and coming: Arlo Parks, Kaytranada


DJRob (he/him/his), who, like singer Steve Lacy, creates his work using his iPhone, is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

You can also register for free (below) to receive notifications of future articles.

By DJ Rob

2 thoughts on “In honor of Black Music Month and Pride Month: the 25 greatest Black LGBTQ+ artists ever.”
  1. Great list. I think there many many more to name. I am waiting on a Sylvester biopic. I think his story would be excellent and very eye opening.

    1. Yeah I left off a couple (Josephine Baker, Rahsaan Patterson) that I had in an earlier list 🧐. Thanks and yes it would be good to see a pic on Sylvester, who may be my favorite artist on that list.

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