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Legacy Walk inducts singers Mercury and Sylvester
by Matt Simonette
2020-10-13

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Musicians Freddie Mercury and Sylvester became the latest inductees onto the Legacy Walk, the Northalsted landmark functioning as an open-air museum paying tribute to notable members of the LGBTQ community.

Thanks to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the connected activities took place primarily online, with only Legacy Project Executive Director Victor Salvo in Lake View with a few supporters for their plaques' unveiling. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Artistic Liaison Jonathan "Jojo" Alsberry emceed the presentation.

At the opening of the program, Salvo explained the importance of the Legacy Project for young LGBTQ community members: "It's really important that young people know that people like them made important contributions to history."

Alsberry was joined online by biographers of Mercury and Sylvester, as well as principal personnel from a musical about Sylvester's life, all focusing the discussion on to what extent being gay did or did not have an impact on the musicians respective careers.

London-based Music writer Lesley-Ann Jones, who traveled at length with Queen, lamented that Mercury was never comfortable with the idea of saying he was gay in public, even as Queen's music was largely about "liberation from oppression."

She recalled Mercury once telling her that he was envious of her and others in their social circle, explaining that they were free to be themselves, but he was trapped in the persona of a rock star, always having to embody that image when he was in public. He went so far as refer to that persona as "monster."

"I wanted to show the world that being Freddie Mercury was not all that it was cracked up to be," Jones said of her writings on Queen.

San Francisco-based writer Joshua Gamson, who wrote a biography about Sylvester, contrasted his subject with Mercury, noting that Sylvester never made any secret of his being non-binary. Nevertheless, Gamson added, Sylvester didn't set out to be a trailblazer. Rather, he was committed to expressing his most authentic self.

Gamson said that it was imperative to capture that aspect of Sylvester in his biography of the singer: "That, besides his music, is his legacy." For Sylvester, Gamson later noted, "Freedom had to do with a distaste for, and distrust of, things that people saw as 'normal.'... Freedom was about a radical self-love."

New York City-based Writer/performer Anthony Wayne and director/producer Kendrell Bowman presented a clip from their 2014 collaboration Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical.

"It was very cool to see [Mercury and Sylvester] were ferocious in their own way, regardless of what they'd gone through in their personal lives," said Wayne.

The Oct. 11 presentation also featured a clip from a performance by the Queen tribute band Killer Queen.

"If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, Queen's legacy will endure forever," said Salvo.


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