1943 – 2014
Singer, songwriter and musician Gwen Avery passed away last week at a Santa Rosa hospital after complications from gall bladder surgery. She was best known for her beautiful and groundbreaking song “Sugar Mama,” featured on the 1977 Olivia Records’ collection Lesbian Concentrate.
She was quoted in a San Francisco Gate 2002 interview as saying that “the same issues of race and classism that confounded the early feminist and gay rights movements also infected the women’s music scene. I’ve always felt like a warrior or soldier. I’ve learned to deal with separation, isolation in the crowd, rejection in the abandonment.”
In an obituary published by Soul Tracks this week, fellow musician Linda Tillery shared, “Gwen Avery was an authentic blues and gospel singer. She was raised in a juke joint, where from an early age, she heard first hand, the sounds of black troubadours weaving tales of love, passion, frustration and pleas to God – any god, for release from Jim Crow, segregation and the horrible legacy of racism in America.”
“Lesbian yes, Black woman yes, real deal soulful singer, yes. Yet I wonder how many people really understood her gift? You would have had to listen to Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Mahalia to recognize the ‘time stamp’ that marked her unique style. She became the Sugar Mama of Women’s Music, no longer a prisoner of love denied, but a champion of love out in the open – raw and unashamed. That was her gift to us all.”
This Friday, February 7, at 5:30 PM, public jazz station KCSM will air the documentary “Sugar Mama: Sweet Soul Music and a Conversation with Gwen Avery.” It will run on 91.1 FM and will stream at www.kcsm.org.
December 7, 1940 – February 3, 2014
Surrounded by family and loved ones, Bay Times columnist and treasured community leader Stu Smith passed away at 10:05 PM Monday night. He was diagnosed last month with metastatic cancer. We will miss him tremendously, and plan to celebrate his life and work in a future issue.
Stu was board chair emeritus of Shanti Project, board chair of The Paratransit Coordinating Council, a member of the Castro Country Club Advisory Board and the LGBT Senior Task Force, and producer and host of the public access TV program “The Drag Show.” KQED honored Stu as a 2013 LGBT Hero.
He worked in the restaurant business for several years before launching his own non-profit, Tin Pan Alley Productions, which produced many fundraisers for Shanti and other organizations.
Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, Stu began to volunteer for numerous AIDS Service Organizations, beginning with Shanti. He also served on the board of the Richmond Ermet AIDS Foundation. One need only glance at the many tributes to him now on social media to see what a major, healing impact he had on the lives of countless others, and particularly those living with HIV.
We will miss his warm hugs, considerate guidance, loyal support, and beautiful, strong and comforting voice.
He is survived by his husband, Dave Earl, who wrote: “Stu is up in Heaven, cheering for us all. With even more gusto than ever before. Rest in peace my polar bear. I loved you from the moment I first met you. You were my better half, mentor, comedian and husband. Kisses now and always.”