Today, two years after finding the booming vocals of Andy Bey on a Horace Silver album entitled “The United States of Mind”, in preparation for my new jazz zine, I just read that Andy Bey is gay and HIV positive. I hadn’t thought once about his sexuality but had got a kick out of the fact that he’s still performing today in his 70s. The heroism of aging performers is so underrated. But to find out he revealed his sexuality and health status on NPR in 1996, and then picture him at the piano at 79, makes hearing his deep voice that much better than it already was.
While reading a story about Homophobia in Jazz, I read the following about Bey…
“Still boyish at 62, Bey is at a peak of acclaim after decades of obscurity. His last three solo albums, Ballads, Blues & Bey (Evidence, 1996), Shades of Bey(Evidence, 1998) and the new Tuesdays in Chinatown (N2K) have introduced a wide audience to his cool, ethereal vocals, darkened with tinges of gospel, blues and jazz, and filled with eerie silences. Prestige has released Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters, a CD of two albums he made with his sisters, Geraldine and Salome, when they formed a funky vocal trio in the late ’50s and ’60s. Bey went on to sing with such hard-bop leaders as Horace Silver and Gary Bartz.
“Black, gay and HIV-positive—that’s kind of a heavy load!” he says, laughing. “I always experienced some kind of phobia, that’s for sure!” The musicians he knew spent a lot of time bragging about their women, which of course he didn’t. He felt their “cold-shoulder brush” of disapproval.
In 1996, without prodding, he revealed his sexuality and his health status to NPR’s Linda Wertheimer and to Andrew Velez in Out. “I knew I had nothing to lose,” he says. “I knew I had talent whether I was straight or gay. It was liberating, because I didn’t have to hide anymore. Like I’ve often said, being HIV-positive was a blessing in disguise. It took this major crisis in my life to probably help me make some of the best music I’ve ever made in my life, just to feel like a freer human being.”
Bey says, convincingly, that he doesn’t care what anyone says about him. “I think what matters is the individual himself, how he perceives himself. Who wants to be recognized by a bunch of assholes, anyway? What do you want from them? What can they give you? I can understand getting laws passed so you don’t go around bashing people, but you have to recognize yourself. I wouldn’t care so much if somebody called me a faggot now. At least I have an identity.”” - STORY by JAMES GAVIN