W atching SoulChilde BlueSun perform is like witnessing a one-man cabaret. Typically shirtless, with glitter sprinkled over his chiseled physique and a feather boa wrapped>"/>
Watching SoulChilde BlueSun perform is like witnessing a one-man cabaret. Typically shirtless, with glitter sprinkled over his chiseled physique and a feather boa wrapped around his neck, his presence is so dominant that it often overpowers everyone else onstage. Even when he's singing backup.
The 36-year-old divo spends much of his time accompanying other artists like Cristina Orbe, Big World Breaks, and Toni Hill, often at Nectar in Fremont. When he does take the lead, his soft, sensual vocals are akin to those of male neo-soul singers like Rahsaan Paterson and Kenny Lattimore -- somewhere between romantic and spiritual, dirty and divine.
A boisterous presence and flamboyant appearance weren't always part of his character. "I was raised in the church, sang in the choir, but I always hid in the back," says BlueSun. "I was shy and afraid to step out." Somewhere around high school, he decided to start writing songs and become more visible. That was step one in his awakening.
Like many figures in Seattle's urban-music scene, he got his start at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Theater in the early '90s. His initial influences were more on the hip-hop and poetry side, but as he grew into his own voice, contemporary soul music called him over. Stylistically, he's what you'd get if you threw the panache of Grace Jones, Prince, Sly Stone, Cole Porter, and Josephine Baker into a music blender and hit purée.
Earlier this decade, he performed with a group called Forgotten Soul, which he describes as a mixture of neo-soul and folk-rock with dashes of hip-hop thrown in. Around the same time, he got involved in a LGBT writing circle/poetry collective called Bent: A Writing Institute. Forcing himself to write introspectively in that community had a profound effect.
"That kind of broke me open, and I decided to really be me," he says. "I decided to take off my shirt, put on my feather boa, and not be afraid to do something different."
That was step two. Despite encountering doses of homophobia in Seattle's hip-hop scene early on, which initially kept him from performing regularly, BlueSun's "coming out" was one of the best things he's done, personally and artistically. His music pushes boundaries unlike any other black male performer in the city, and he recognizes the significance of that.
"You're not seeing black gay men who are out in soul music," he says. "There aren't any. We have Rufus Wainwright and Elton John. That's it. We haven't really had anyone since Sylvester...or RuPaul who was out there like that. We had Prince, but he's a Jehovah's Witness now and has gone back into his closet. So for me, some of what I do is showing that someone who was raised on hip-hopâ€"Run-DMC, Public Enemy, and all of thatâ€"can express himself and be out."
In addition to the socially charged funk, soul, and angelic glam rock that BlueSun records as his alter ego okanomodé and with his band THE CAROUSEL (they'll perform at Hidmo in September), he's also excited about a new project called the New Seattle Brass Ensemble. It's an 11-person brass orchestra with BlueSun as the lone vocalist and conductorâ€"proof that he's not staying complacent, but testing the boundaries of where soul music can go. But being a part of a more serious ensemble shouldn't change his style of dress too much.
"I definitely have to have my boas," he says. "Some fur somewhereâ€"I'm trying not to get hit up by the PETA people if I can avoid it. Some fitted polyester pants from the '70s. As far as fashion goes, I take a little bit from my uncles, some of which were pimps, and some things from the church ladies."â€"Jonathan Cunnigham