How did you end up in Atlanta?
I came to help my cousin who was having a baby. The baby came a little early and I went out to an open mic and qualified for the huge Open Mic thing that they have and went back the next week and won $1000. I decided to use the money to relocate.
How long ago was that?Ten years ago. 1996, right before the Olympics that were here. I wasnt planning on staying, but Atlanta has such a great music community. I was hanging out more with India Arie, John Mayer friend Josh Joplin.
In 1999, you went on the Lilith Faire...Lilith Faire was doing a talent search. They whittled us down, out of about 800 entries, to about 20 of us. They needed two acts. We all got to do one song. I was walking out of the venue.. And they called my name. I was so excited I just dropped all my stuff and ran to the stage. Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland was the other winner. It was pretty exciting for both of us. And because Lilith Faire was so new and had been so popular, we thought it was the big break that we had been waiting for.
And was it?Yes and no. It would have been if I had wanted to go in that direction. There were some folks around me who wanted me to succeed and they wanted me to succeed in a certain way. At a lot of the meetings that happened right after Lilith Faire with labels, my sexuality definitely came up. Could I just be maybe bisexual? Could I just maybe wait five years? The whole thing was they couldnt figure out how to sell. It was going to hard enough to sell a black woman who just does folk rock music, who doesnt do R&B and that sort of stuff.
I had come out to my very large family and really emphasized that I need to be honest. I figured if I crawled back into the closet, it would send the wrong message to my family, mainly the kids in my family.
I was in debt from school. The prospect of money was really there. But, the thing that really clinched it was a bill that was being surreptitiously passed in Congress that said a record label could own your copyrights in perpetuity, which means once you sign with them, anything you write while youre under contract becomes a work for hire. It was later repealed.
Where did you get your support from then?It was pretty tough, because I had some pretty powerful people representing me and I fired everybody. When I stepped back, I lost that kind of support. I lost my peer group as well. That just happens, its the nature of the business. Coming out against the record industry and declaring that youre gay are probably not the best career moves.
It took me a little while to regroup. I decided to put out a CD that would not be commercially viable, to make a statement. I wanted to speak through my music and focus on being an artist. Radio Doria was the result of that. I released on Presidential election day 2000. I was so glad I put it out there.
I was feeling like an endangered species at the time: as an artist, as a black woman, as lesbian, as a poor person, all those things.
Because Im on the road 10 months out of the year, my personal experiences with racism, and classism and sexism and all those things are very real and very personal. And because Im an artist, thats where my experiences are expressed.
So, I had to keep explaining over and over, Im not angry, Im just frustrated. This is my life. This is a document of Doria Roberts.
It took a little time to get back my fan base and any business support that I had. It took a year and then September 11th happened and nothing mattered to anybody for a long time.
And then you started Queer Stock...Queer Stock started in Philadelphia in 1995. It wasnt actually started by me, it was a group called Grassroots Queers. I was a performer at the first Queer Stock. It was the first time I performed as an out artist. It had such a profound effect on me, I said, Hey, I want to help you with the next one. And they said there wasnt going to be a next one.
So I asked if I could do one. I just started organizing and I had the next one in October 96, and Ive had the next ones over the last 10 years.
In the beginning it was a gathering of artists. Back in 96, there wasnt Queer as Folk, there wasnt Logo. Queer was not part our vernacular. At first it was just to get queer artists together in one room where they could meet. To get activists to take a break, where they could just take a night and enjoy some music.