Jay-Marie and Friends are ‘Here, Queer & Staying’


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

Conservatory senior Sarah Snider DJs as part of Lambda for Lambda, a fundraiser held at the ’Sco for Lambda Legal, a legal advocacy organization for LGBTQ people. The event was part of Queerfest, an annual series organized by the Multicultural Resource Center that celebrates Oberlin’s queer community.

Julia Peterson, Arts & Culture Editor

Jay-Marie and Friends, who performed Sunday night at the Cat in the Cream, delivered a show that celebrated Black and queer identities. Musicians Jay-Marie Hill, Britt Baker, Suyá Nascimento and surprise guest Wriply Bennett showcased powerful protest anthems with unambiguous, unapologetic lyrics like “Here, Queer & Staying” and “Keep it marchin, marchin, placin, Raging, gracing / As we stagin liberation.” The performance represents part of a long tradition of Black art and activism going hand in hand, from Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to a proliferation of works by contemporary artist-activists.

Hill, a “Black y Boricua genderQueer artist,” musician and activist described how the music they write and perform allows them to express numerous issues and moments that matter to them in a unique way.

“My music affirms that the things I care most about are all connected,” Hill wrote in an email to the Review. “Queerness, social justice, Blackness, liberation, gender, creating new worlds, acknowledging the daily pain of having your heart open to the world’s cruelty. Some might say these don’t all fit in the same box, but they fit in my music. And my ability to share that keeps me alive when all is lost.”

Hill’s music is both personal and political. All the songs they performed Sunday night were written with traumatic or life-altering incidents in mind.

“[I wrote] ‘#Bullet’ after the June 2015 Charleston Massacre, ‘Past Time’ after the 16th trans woman was killed in 2015 & in honor of Lamia Beard & trans woman [sic] killed earlier [in] the [y]ear, and ‘Get Ready’ after the election of Donald Trump,” Hill wrote in an email to the Review. “I find that these incidents had me at my most raw. These songs feel exactly like a summary of how I feel about the issues in my everyday life as an artist-activist.”

Sunday’s performance was part of Queerfest, a week-long series of events celebrating the LGBTQ community in Oberlin and beyond. Hill and their fellow artists also led a workshop on Monday afternoon that focused on joy, artistic creation and affirming marginalized identities. For Elliot Director, the LGBTQ Student Life coordinator at the Multicultural Resource Center, bringing Jay- Marie and Friends to campus was a critical opportunity to highlight a variety of queer narratives and experiences within the week.

“We wanted to be really intentional about cultivating multiple spaces of joy inside of Queerfest,” Director wrote in an email to the Review. “We also wanted to ensure that [queer and trans people of color] were celebrated as part of these proceedings.”

Kristen Reynolds, MRC Africana Student Life coordinator, also reflected on the importance of celebrating queer identity through art and music.

“Art, I think, offers creators the opportunity to expand the boundaries of what we think is possible while also tapping into how we feel about the world as it currently exists,” Reynolds wrote. “[The performers] all made affirmations about their queer identities while also making space for us to grieve and say the names of Black women who have been lost to anti-trans violence and police brutality. When we celebrate identity through art, we create space for vulnerability.”

For Hill, their music poses a challenge to a world that systematically marginalizes Black and queer people.

“Black people are masters of failure, of deviance,” Hill wrote. “We have ‘failed’ the litmus test of what it means to be humyn [sic] time and time again. Queer people have historically also been marked as deviant. So for me to be doubly marked as Black [and] queer … is to be a master of failure at what the world calls valuable and useful under white cis hetero patriarchal capitalism.”

Their lyrics are a clear expression of this intention: “You’ve pushed us out and kept us down / You can’t get away with this much / longer.”

“All art created out of [marginalized] identities will improve the world, since people must be their most humyn selves in the creation process,” Hill added. “Failing, getting up, healing and trying again are what set us apart as humyn. Music is an embodiment of this life cycle in real time. To me, queerness and music … walk in step with each other to create new worlds that actually work for everyone.”

The show attracted interest from a wide variety of groups and organizations on campus, many of which — including the MRC, the Oberlin College Black Musicians Guild, Lambda Union and the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies department — officially sponsored it. However, this did not translate to high turnout, with most seats in the Cat in the Cream going unfilled.

“It was a powerful experience for all those that attended, and I wish it could have been shared with more people,” Reynolds said. “I appreciate that every person on stage was given an opportunity to share their personal music, but I also really enjoyed how well they worked together.”

For Hill, this intimacy was a contributing factor to the event’s positive environment rather than a disappointment.

“The performance at the Cat [in the Cream] felt like home,” they wrote. “Like I was in my living room sharing the most authentic and free parts of myself. And being joined by Black, queer comrades whom I love and make a point to see the full humynity of precisely because we live in a world that doesn’t value deviant Black and brown bodies felt safe and purposeful.”