LISTEN: This handsome straight crooner secretly sang America’s first gay record

It’s A Miracle That 1962 Jazz Record Love is a Vibe: For Adult Audiences Only Present. The record, tagged as “Sultry Style by the Most Unusual Singer”, features a male crooner singing love songs about other men.

Unlike most pre-Stonewall American queer music, there was no cheek or camp to the music. From the start, its producers set out to make an actual album for the underground gay audience.

It is remarkable that, if it were not for a classic Hollywood photographer, a quirky archivist and a radio show, the story behind this incredible record could never have been preserved.

Premier archivist JD Doyle played the record on his “Queer Music Heritage” radio show for years before being approached virtually out-of-the-blue by photographer Murray Garrett in 2012. The record contained no artist credits other than the cover photo and back. The liner is accredited by their design studio, “Garrett-Howard Inc.”. The latter of that name was revealed to be Murray’s studio partner, Gene Howard, and the record’s unnamed vocalist.

Howard was clearly straight, as were Garrett and the studio musicians who collaborated on the album. Despite this, when Garrett and a friend of Howard were attempting to get their new record label off the ground, Garrett had no problem suggesting that they make a record for the mostly untapped gay market.

Although the record was released with little fanfare, it saw underground play and acclaim in more concentrated queer centers in New York and LA. It was reportedly acclaimed by Liberace as his favorite LP of the time and was personally praised by Frank Sinatra. Shirley MacLaine reportedly once used the record as a litmus test to find out which of her party guests were “squares”.

Those who listened to the record (and were open to such material) were mesmerized by the clear, effortless tone while putting old standards into a new, intriguing context. love songs meet me in st louis‘ “The Boy Next Door” found itself with an unfamiliar and modern flair, all without a hint of remorse directly from the artist.

The cast was reportedly kept anonymous to keep secrets and were to be announced once the record reached commercial success. Unfortunately, further commercial success was never seen, and the budding label behind it closed its doors. Howard passed away in 1993, decades before Doyle and Garrett finally recognized him as the brilliant voice behind this piece of queer music history.

Hear Gene Howard’s “Most Unusual Vocals” on the beloved jazz standard “The Boy Next Door”:

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