This post is a departure from what I usually write and was inspired by a section from Terrance Dean's new memoir "Hiding In Hip-Hop". I finished the book a few days ago in preparation for my upcoming interview and I could not shake this story. Thanks for the advanced copy Makeda.
One could argue that Kenny Greene(pictured center) died years before he took his last breath on October 1, 2001 at age 32. As the lead singer of the 90's R&B group INTRO, Kenny wooed female fans with his sultry voice and stunning good looks. He penned many of the group's signature songs like "Come Inside" and "Let Me Be The One" as well as created number one singles for a then unknown Mary J. Blige as well as Tevin Campbell, Will Smith, and Jason Weaver. He shared the 1994 ASCAP award for songwriter of the year with Dave "Jam" Hall and superstar producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
But what fans didn't know was that Kenny Greene was bisexual and dying from AIDS. The closet that Kenny Greene was forced to live in in the early 90's and the secrecy and shame surrounding his sexuality and debilitating health would prove to be as detrimental if not worse than the disease itself.
I was a pre-teen at the height of INTRO's success and couldn't recall much about the group, so I searched the internet for as much information as I could find. The infamous interview from Greene's death bed to Sister 2 Sister Magazine editor Jamie Foster Brown and an op-ed by friend and Girlfriends actress Jill Marie Jones provided the most insight.
The events leading up to his tragic death and the silence from the music industry and the black community following his death was shameful. I'd like to believe the black community and the music industry has made progress, but have we?
I recommend that you read the short interview here before you proceed.
Jill Marie Sums It All Up:
Still Thinking About The Relevance of Kenny Greene's Life & Death-An Excerpt
In July of 2001, Kenny Greene came out as a man who had been living a life as a bisexual. It was important for him to do so because he had been irresponsible and the pressure to be a straight man in the alpha-male world of being a black man and a R&B singer was enormous. He didn’t want to allow the pressures and hate that goes on toward gay and bisexual men in the R&B world to go on in secret. It was important to him to make sure that people understood that what they see isn’t necessarily who the artist is.
I'm not excusing Kenny's actions, but it must have been excruciating. Let us remember that this was the early 90's, pre-Ellen, pre-Will and Grace, before Greg Louganis came out, before Melissa Etheridge was a household name, before the countless gay-themed movies, Queer as Folk , and Rupert Everett and George Michael came out (officially).
And in the black context it was before Dwight Ewell's gay militant in Chasing Amy or Michael Boatman's Carter on Spin City . Why do I say that? Well think of other prominent black gay actors or characters in the media. There aren't any. And Ewell and Boatman aren’t even gay.
The black population is overwhelmingly Puritanical, due almost entirely to the Big Brother like presence (and importance) of the church in our history and culture. Black people are frighteningly homophobic mostly because black masculinity in this country has historically been linked to his ability to procreate. The more women a black man got pregnant the more valuable he was to the master and the economy of this country. Sexuality and virility in black men is intrinsically linked to economics. But more interestingly, our Puritanical pariah-like faith is a direct response to our oppressors who said one thing in the name of God and did the exact opposite. For black people, it wasn’t about lip service but real spirituality and faith. And while that is changing, the mindset prevails.
Kenny Greene was in a high profile position where he was making very erotic and sensual music and if the public knew it could have been about a man, it would have sent shockwaves through the black community...in a way that we may not be ready to deal with. This is inexcusable. In my mind, a population still persecuted should not persecute another, but I’m smart enough to know it is not that simple. The bottom line is Kenny Greene’s music was damn good and no one in our community could have dealt with the ramifications of intense sexual and emotional bonds between men. And since he was bisexual, the not knowing would have made it worse. We like our demons and hatred clear-cut in America. Context is just too much for our minds. He’d have been run out of the industry.
Read the entire article here