I am always delighted to find a song with gay references from before Stonewall, but this one was even more of a treat as it was from the 1950’s. That’s rare indeed, and I thank my friend John Trudell for pointing me to it. And better yet, it has a Youtube video.
The group was called the Three Flames, and they were quite successful, even having their own radio and TV shows in the 1940’s. They scored a top ten hit in 1947 with “Open the Door, Richard,” and performed at the Bon Soir club in Greenwich Village for several years. If the name of that club sounds familiar to you trivia bugs, that’s where Barbra Streisand first performed, in 1960. It was an elegant venue where gay and straight clientele mixed, hosted by popular gay entertainer Jimmie Daniels, who gained fame during the Harlem Renaissance.
But I’ve gotten side-tracked, back to the Three Flames. The group was led by Tiger Haynes, who was also known as an actor. He was in the Broadway variety show “New Faces of 1956” and was the original actor to portray the Tin Man in the Broadway version of “The Wiz,” in 1975, the role taken over by Nipsey Russell in the 1978 film.
The 1957 album where I started my research is at the top of this post, but here are the back jacket notes.
And….ta ta….the song that inspired this post, “I’m In Love With You.” It was written by Don Raye and Gene DePaul (both in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame), and it’s the surprise ending that delights.
So, yes, this was a lyrically-gay song in 1957, and even more amazing, it was on an LP on a major label, Mercury.
Finally, yeah, I’ve got something from the juicy gossip department, I found this description in a column by Warren Allen Smith:
“Musical accompaniment at the Bon Soir usually was by the Three Flames, an all-black bass (Avril Pollard), piano (Roy Testamark), and guitar featuring Tiger Haynes. Cruisers who were three-deep at the bar focused on Tiger’s tight pants as the big St Croix-born musician sat on a high stool, his trousers purposely failing to hide the merchandise. His pearly teeth and his consummate musicianship gained him much notoriety. “No, Mary,” explained someone ingenuously at the all-male bar one night, “ ‘Big 10 Harmony’ refers to the size of his LP album.” The gossip was that, when in New Faces of 1956 with drag queen T. C. Jones, Tiger had a white wife and, alas, was not bisexual.”