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MUSIC Mykal Kilgore: Out singer on NAACP award nod, $2 wine and Billy Porter
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-02-19

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Mykal Kilgore definitely marches to the beat of his drum.

The singer certainly possesses talent ( as witnessed by his current NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding New Artist, which pits him against Ari Lennox, Mahalia, Lucky Daye and a little-known man named Lil Nas X ), but also airs his opinion about a variety of topics.

His debut album is entitled A Man Born Black. Windy City Times recently spoke with Kilgore on the phone.

Windy City Times: So how does it feel to be an NAACP Image Award nominee?

Mykal Kilgore: It still hasn't sunk in yet. I think once I start my award-show diet, it'll sink in. It'll be a whole lot of hoping, dreaming, water and salads—and more praying and hoping. [Interviewer laughs.]

As for my attire, I don't have anything picked out yet.

WCT: So how did you find out?

MK: [Funnily] enough, I was in therapy when the nominations were announced. My phone kept going off and my therapist let me answer it; it was my manager, who said "Congratulations!" My therapist said I could talk more but I said, "I'm in session." For the rest of the session, I was smiling like a Cheshire cat.

I'm really honored to be in what I call the 2020 freshman class of [these] awards.

WCT: Why is the album titled A Man Born Black?

MK: The title is about what you conceive about me from a distance. Across the room, across the street what you see is a man born Black. If you want to know more, you have to come closer and be more interested in who I am. It's just me, and I want you to come closer to know more about me.

WCT: By the way, where did you have "$2 Trader Joe wine?" [Note: These are lyrics in one of the songs on the album.]

MK: It's what we called two-buck chuck back in my day; now, it's may be $2.99. It was the go-to wine for sangria or almost anything else. I'm ready for Trader Joe's to cut that check and give me a phone call. [Interviewer laughs.] They need to roll that price back and give us that two-buck chuck we're missing.

WCT: That's okay—I don't want to go back to that.

MK: You can, you can! I believe in you. [Interviewer laughs.]

WCT: I believe in me, too; that's why I'm not going back to it. But let's move on to the song "For Zimmerman." What's the message of that song?

MK: I'm from Orlando, and that's close to Sanford, where Trayvon Martin was murdered. When that happened, it was extremely impactful to me; it was heartbreaking and it felt like it happened in my backyard.

I kept trying to write a song about Trayvon Martin, but I couldn't write anything—and I thought there was another way around it. Truly, my feeling was anger about what happened to him. So I wrote the song about George Zimmerman and the George Zimmermans of the world—people who don't see humans, but the stereotypes instead. Trayvon was just a boy in the rain who wore a hoodie.

WCT: And there's a take on the national anthem in the song as well, right?

MK: Yes, there is. That's the bridge, and that's the one that's about all of us. Do we act when we hear the screams of people who need us—or do we just shake our heads and say, "I'm so glad it's not me?" But what do we do next time?

WCT: Switching gears a bit, you have a connection to Billy Porter.

MK: Yes. He is my mentor; in my phone, I have him as "Billy Porter, personal hero, musical icon and everything wizard."

WCT: I remember him from the 2000 movie The Broken Hearts Club. He's not an overnight success.

MK: Right. I remember hearing him in the Broadway musical Grease. I remembering staying up too late and saying, "Who is this man with the orange hair [singing "Beauty School Dropout"]?" Later, he released the album At the Corner of Broadway and Soul, and it was, like, all the things I [happened to be] was wrapped up in his singing. From that moment on, I wanted to be him.

One day I went to an audition for a show called Five Guys Named Moe, and he was directing it. I sang, and he started laughing and cursed me out, saying "You should ALWAYS sing like that, you [bleep-bleep-bleep]. Mykal, you need to move to New York." He was the push that started my career; a month later, I was on Broadway, in Hair. I owe him a great deal. We still talk quite often.

WCT: People think the entertainment industry is very liberal and welcoming, especially for LGBTQ individuals. Have you found that to be the case?

MK: I found that it's open when it serves itself. There are places where it makes sense to put a gay face or a Black face to meet quota, at times.

I want to go where love is—I don't want to be tolerated, but appreciated. In this industry, there's the attitude of "We're going to tolerate it because it's bankable." That's why the Image Award nomination means so much; it's about my community celebrating my community. I'm doing music for the world, but it's through being Black, gay and American as well as my experiences that color all of that.

But this business is a business first. The bottom dollar is what it often boils down to, so I put stock in myself now. Protect your joy, at all costs. As much as I love what I do, this business doesn't have a heart, mind or soul. I hope that, one day, this industry will truly reflect the world we live in.

I sometimes struggle with the success I have. I hope to have a really long career, but I think about those before me who wanted to live out loud, and the industry wouldn't allow them to.

WCT: I do want to end this on a more upbeat note. If you could collaborate with any three people, living or dead, who would they be?

MK: That's really, really good. I think the first person who comes to mind is fellow nominee Lucky Daye. I think he's so spectacular and unique. [Note: At this point, the phone connection suddenly ended.]

WCT: [After being reconnected] So, you were telling me how you wanted to collaborate with Justin Bieber on "Yummy, Part 2."

MK: You absolutely did not hear that! [Interviewer laughs.] But, going back to what I was saying, I do think Lucky Daye has a great brain.

Another singer I'd like to work with is [gospel singer] Tamala Mann. She has a Stradivarius of a voice; she's just perfect.

My wild card is Kacey Musgraves. She's a writer par excellence and her presentation is spectacular. I love her singing and storytelling—and I'm a firm believer in the reclamation of Black people singing country. There were people like Charley Pride, and I'd love to do a tribute to him.

Kilgore's website is MykalKilgore.com . The 51st NAACP Image Awards will air Saturday, Feb. 22, on BET Networks.


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