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Rocking the ClosetHow Little Richard, Johnnie Ray, Liberace, and Johnny Mathis Queered Pop Music$
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Vincent L. Stephens

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042805

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042805.001.0001

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A Freak Deferred

A Freak Deferred

Johnnie Ray Navigates Innovation and Convention

(p.51) Chapter Two A Freak Deferred
Rocking the Closet

Vincent L. Stephens

University of Illinois Press

This chapter argues that the deaf, bisexual, and racially progressive white crooner Johnnie Ray was successful in the early 1950s because his “freak” persona endeared him to audiences fascinated by his queer masculinity. Ray was one of the first white singers to incorporate black R&B phrasing into his style. Rather than capitalizing on this and transitioning successfully into rock and roll, he retreated by recording blander pop material and consciously “self-domesticating” his image. Though tabloids coyly spread rumors regarding his sexuality and focused on his arrests for public sex and disorderly conduct, these did not deter his audiences. Instead, his struggle with his sexuality, inability to modernize his sound, and retreat toward blandness stifled the unique qualities that made him interesting initially.

Keywords:   Johnnie Ray, deaf, crooner, R&B, rock and roll, freak, self-domesticating, queer masculinity, tabloids

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