R & B powerhouse Frenchie Davis is real in every sense of the word. She never uses auto tune, and she never holds back when asked a question. In advance of her performance at FIVE, we caught up with her to discuss her coming out, activism and music.
VV: St. Louis has a soft spot for you because you first came out to our own Kevin C. Johnson of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. What kind of impact did coming out publicly have on your life and career?
FD: Well. The whole coming out to Kevin C. thing wasn’t planned. And quite frankly, I don’t think that Kevin had the best of intentions when he “outed” me in his publication. His line of questioning forced me into a corner where I had to choose to either allow myself to be bullied into giving an ambiguous answer or tell the truth about who I am. So in the moment I chose truth. And while I am glad that I did, I have an eternal side eye with Mr. Johnson’s name on it.
VV: A few years ago you were mocked for being bisexual during an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Did Joyner or anyone with his program ever contact you and try to make it right?
FD: No. They have not. Sadly, we have a long ways to go when it comes to combatting homophobia in the African American community as well as combatting bi-phobic attitudes all around.
VV: Have you received any interesting responses from you work with the It Gets Better Campaign?
FD: I think the most interesting responses are the beautifully written letters I receive from young people who are in the middle of their coming out process. They always remind me of why it is so important for those of us in the public eye to be true to our authentic selves. The journey to self-acceptance can be a long and tedious one, so I take tremendous pride in knowing that my being out and proud and comfortable in my skin may in some small way help make that journey easier for a young person.
VV: It appears live theatre is in your blood, but you’re also great on camera. Between Broadway and television, does one or the other feel more natural to you?
FD: I love being on stage. I share a uniquely different experience with listeners when I perform live. From the moment that I first realized I could sing, I knew I wanted to be a stage performer and be on Broadway. I mean, I love TV and film as well, but nothing compares to the stage and the discipline it gives you as a performer. You can’t call “Cut!” There are no do-overs. No auto tune. It’s real. And I love that.
VV: You’ve been involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, making a music video as well as speaking out. One noteworthy quote was in response to the verdict in the shooting of unarmed high school student Jordan Davis, killed because his music was loud. When there was a mistrial, you said, “As an LGBT woman of color, I am having an extremely difficult time grasping WHY Matthew Shepard’s life is so much more valuable than Trayvon’s or Jordan’s! Help me understand, y’all! Help me understand.”
Have you received any blowback for speaking your mind?
FD: There is always blowback for speaking one’s mind. But it’s the price you pay for being truthful. And yes I have called the LGBT community out several times for their silence. “Civil Rights” encompasses FAR MORE than the fight for marriage equality so when I hear my white, gay brothers and sisters use terms like “Civil Rights Movement” and make reference to the Loving v Virginia case in their arguments for marriage equality, I take issue with their silence when the civil rights of young Blacks are so severely violated. And if we are fighting for Civil Rights, we have to fight for them across the board. As a black LGBT woman, I’ve no doubt in my mind that what happened to Matthew Shepard wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t gay and I am equally sure that what happened to Trayvon, Jordan, Mike, Kimani, Kendrec, Timothy Russell, Amadou, Renisha, and countless others wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t black. And if my speaking truthfully about that bothers some people, that’s just too damned bad.
VV: St. Louis has a dynamic activist scene. Several young leaders were invited to the Oval Office recently, and creative expressions from the hands up poses to the sidewalk chalk outlines born here have spread around the world. Do you have anything to say about the work going on in this city, or anything to say to those involved?
FD: To all of the young people in this movement, I say we should keep protesting and start taking it to the next level by getting organized and crystal clear on what the goals are. Yes. The overall goal is to combat systematic oppression but we have to start thinking of ways to do that. Whether it’s demanding that certain laws be changed or demanding that police wear body cameras or better yet, have cameras on their firearms like some members of the military do. Whatever it is, we have to keep fighting against inequality while simultaneously remaining focused on finding and creating solutions.
VV: What do you have in store for your performance at FIVE?
FD: Some good SANGIN’!
VV: I have a theory that it’s impossible to hear When Love Takes Over and not dance. Has that been your experience?
FD: Oh God, yes!!!! It’s impossible to not dance. That’s the magic of good music.
Catch up more with Frenchie at FIVE: The Vital VOICE and St. Louis Effort for AIDS Anniversary Event, on Saturday, Jan. 24. Frenchie will be doing a 45-minute performance, and closing out the night in style. To get your tickets for FIVE, click here. V
WRITTEN BY CHRIS ANDOE