The Proud Tradition of Queering Songs

Written by: Kara Kundert

One of the great traditions of gay musicians is that of “queering” songs – rewriting (or in some cases not rewriting) songs to speak to queer love. In its simplest form, it’s just a matter of maintaining the original pronouns of a song while switching the gender of the performer. You’ve probably heard your fair share of queered songs in your own jam circles, whether or not it was an intentional choice on the part of the singer.

What these little understated moments in music create are chances for LGBT musicians to both explore and accept their identities in low-stakes environments. It can be hard to find songs that speak to same-sex desire on their own, particularly in the American folk canon, so putting one’s own spin on an older song can serve as a stepping stone. By queering the art of others, it creates the space for one to eventually create queer art of one’s own.

It can also add a fresh perspective to an age-old song -- how does having an LGBT narrator change the meaning of the song? How does it challenge stereotypes and tropes?

And finally, the queering of songs by straight musicians serves to normalize same-sex attraction and love while removing taboos. For a woman to sing about her wife in a jam reinforces the idea that it's okay for women to love other women, and to lead full lives together as partners. Or, if it's bluegrass, tragically short but beautiful lives.

So let’s look at some prominent examples of queered bluegrass and old-time music, i.e. undeniably romantic songs sung from a same-sex perspective, in honor of this age-old tradition of gay teens everywhere. 

The Girl I Left Behind Me – First Ladies of Bluegrass

Oh the girl I left, the girl I left, the girl I left behind me
If ever I cross that bridge again, I’ll pick her up behind me

Big Spike Hammer – Della Mae

Now I’ve been lots of places, not much I ain’t done
I’ve still got things I wanna see
Well this spike hammer that I swing or the woman that I love
One’s gonna be the death of me

Crossing Muddy Waters – I'm With Her

Baby's gone and I don't know why
She let out this morning
Like a rusty shot in a hollow sky
She left me without warning

Say Darlin’ Say – Rising Appalachia

Hey, pretty darling, would you marry me
We’ll get married by the old oak tree
Say, darlin’, say

We’ll get married by the old oak tree
Two little babies just sittin’ on my knees
Say, darlin’, say

Angeline the Baker – Crooked Still

Angeline the baker lives on the village green
The way I’ve always loved her beats all you’ve ever seen

Angeline the baker, Angeline I know
I should have married Angeline just 20 years ago

Black-Eyed Suzie – The Goodbye Girls

I might get drunk and I might get woozy
But I’m going home with Black-Eyed Suzie

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