Blackberri was born in 1945 in Buffalo, New York, and named Charles Timothy Ashmore. From early on, he was comfortable with and even proud of his queerness, despite being taunted by his stepfather and school bullies.

From early on as well, it was clear Blackberri was born to make music. He picked up the harmonica at age nine, and soon was playing just about any song that came out of the radio. His love for music was temporarily derailed in 1965 when Blackberri was drafted into the US Navy. Life took another turn for the worse when a shipmate turned Blackberri in for being gay, and he was discharged.

Undeterred, Blackberri won a music scholarship to University of Arizona – but ultimately returned the scholarship and left after being told the school “didn’t teach his kind of music”. Soon thereafter, Blackberri was living in a Tucson feminist community when a friend named Hummingbird told ‘Charles’ he should call himself Blackberrie because he was ‘black and sweet’. The name stuck, although Blackberri later dropped the ‘e’ at the end to make his new name even more feminine.

In 1974, Blackberri moved to San Francisco, and his music career finally took off. In 1975, he shared the stage with Steven Grossman at KQED’s Two Song Makers concert, in which they became the first two openly gay musicians to perform on public television in San Francisco. In 1981, Blackberri released his first solo LP, Finally, to much praise and popularity. His song “When Will the Ignorance End” was chosen as the theme for the first National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference in 1979. His song “Beautiful Black Man” became the centerpiece of Isaac Julian’s 1989 movie Looking for Langston. Blackberri’s music was also featured in several Marlon Riggs’ films including Tongues Untied and Black Is Black Ain’t. 

Blackberri has also devoted extensive time and energy to HIV work, serving as a counselor for HIV patients and their families, and later as a prevention educator. In addition, Blackberri is a practicing Lucumí priest. He has visited Cuba 13 times, and performs readings, marriages, and spiritual work of all kinds.

On the evening of his OUTWORDS interview, Blackberri invited us to meet him at Lena’s Soul Food in Oakland. We bought fried chicken, collard greens, and mac ‘n cheese, went back to his storefront apartment, stuffed ourselves silly – and then recorded Blackberri’s scintillating story. Towards the end of our time together, we asked Blackberri, “What’s your hope for the future?” “I don’t do hope,” he shot back. “I do prayer.” Those words have stuck with us ever since.
Blackberri: [00:00:00] So it's real easy to see, because I know all the junk stuff.
Mason Funk: Right. Okay. Do me a favor and just start off by telling us your name and spell it out for us.
Blackberri: My name, Jose Mannes. No, my name is Blackberri. I spell my name B-l-a-c-k-b-e-r-r-i. Not to be mistaken for the telephone.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] You probably know this, but if you try to do research on you, on the internet, they just cannot believe that you're not curious about a Blackberry.
Blackberri: No. At one time, you could type my name in there and you could find lots of stuff. And now the phone eats up so much, if you find anything, it'll probably be on the sixth or seventh page.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Right.
Blackberri: And I think if I wanted more visibility, I have to pay the money.
Mason Funk: Right. Tell me, if you wouldn't mind, to do one thing, I just wanna [inaudible] this mic.
Blackberri: Okay.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk]
Blackberri: It's not that I'm talking too loud, because I speak very softly.
Natalie Tsui: [00:01:30] No, you're good, it's just this thing is pointing away as much as possible.
Blackberri: Oh, you're picking up.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Blackberri: [crosstalk].
Mason Funk: -as much as possible. You want me to get out there and move it around?
Natalie Tsui: Maybe, let me see. So do you see what I'm doing?
Mason Funk: Yup. Is it out right now?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, you wanna-
Mason Funk: Get closer?
Natalie Tsui: [00:02:00] Yeah. Go, go, go, go, go. Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay?
Natalie Tsui: Back, back, back, back, back.
Mason Funk: Still? Okay, now we're gonna make sure this is pointing. [inaudible] [crosstalk]
Blackberri: You know, I thought about getting really heavy drapes and putting them up there,
Blackberri: [00:02:30] but my orishas I don't think would be really happy about that.
Mason Funk: Okay. So also do me a favor and tell me what your date of birth is and where you're born.
Blackberri: Okay. My date of birth is May 31st, 1945. I was born in Buffalo, New York.
Blackberri: [00:03:00] My name before I was Blackberri was Charles Timothy Ashmore, and I changed it in '71.
Blackberri: I became Blackberri.
Mason Funk: Why did you choose the name Blackberri?
Blackberri: Well, I was living in Tucson, Arizona in a community that called itself a feminist community because most of the people in there were practicing feminists,
Blackberri: [00:03:30] and it was in a part of town where, a neighborhood, where we all kind of lived close to each other. We shared things in the community. We shared everything. And at one point, we chose names that didn't refer to us as a gender, and I was actually given the name Blackberri
Blackberri: [00:04:00] by this lesbian woman named Hummingbird, and she gave me the name Blackberri because I was dark and sweet. And it stuck.
Mason Funk: And the i was just for a little flair?
Blackberri: Yeah. It was IE and I dropped the E because I wanted it to look a little more feminine.
Blackberri: [00:04:30] And I think it does.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's a little dance step.
Blackberri: Yeah, yeah. And I also have another name. Since I got initiated in [inaudible] tradition, I have a priest name, and my priest name is [inaudible] and I have an [inaudible] name
Blackberri: [00:05:00] because I have [inaudible]. [inaudible]. [inaudible] Means "king of the [inaudible]" or the shells, which we do divination with carries, and [inaudible] means "With character" and [foreign language] means "all the orishas are with you."
Blackberri: [00:05:30] And I almost have all the orishas. So it's kind of interesting.
Mason Funk: What does that mean, you have almost all the orishas?
Blackberri: Well, I don't have almost all of them because there are like hundreds of them if you go to Africa, but the major orishas are, I have almost all of them. There's a few.
Mason Funk: [00:06:00] But for those of us who don't even know-
Blackberri: Orishas are Yoruba gods or the [inaudible] gods that came from Cuba, or they're still in Cuba, but they actually came from Africa, and they reside in New World Yoruba because they're not in Africa. There's a whole system of things,
Blackberri: [00:06:30] and offerings that people do in Africa that can't be done here. We don't have elephants here, we have rats. There are certain things or offerings in Africa that are not offerings here. So they had to do a whole new power to match
Blackberri: [00:07:00] what was left behind in Africa, including herbs that we use in the western world that they don't use in Africa because they're not African plants and vice versa. There are plants, but now things can be shipped, so you can get plants, African plants and stuff.
Mason Funk: [00:07:30] Well, we'll get back to that. But I wanted to get a sense of what kind of family you were born into. Big, small?
Blackberri: I was born into a small family. I was an only child. My mother was an only child for a number of years until her father remarried and then she had a stepbrother and a stepsister.
Blackberri: [00:08:00] And my grandfather was an only child. He had a she was older or younger, I don't remember, but she died as a child. So I'm thinking it might have been a younger sister. It's been so long because my great-grandmother told me when I was a child.
Mason Funk: [00:08:30] So you grew up in a small family, like just you-
Blackberri: Me and my mom.
Mason Funk: And your mom.
Blackberri: Well, it was an extended family for a while. After my mom got married, she moved to Detroit, and she lived there for a little over a year.
Blackberri: [00:09:00] My father had post-traumatic stress and was really acting out a lot, and so she became frightened and left. And he was taken into hospital because it had gotten real, real severe. So when she went back, she went back to her father,
Blackberri: [00:09:30] and she lived with her father and the new wife and her stepbrother and her stepsister and me. We lived on Williams Street in Buffalo, where I was born, I was born in Children's Hospital.
Blackberri: [00:10:00] And things got a little tense there, and so she moved from there to Baltimore. I think I was about seven, I think. Second grade. With her mother, and her mother remarried and so we lived with her husband, which was my mothers stepfather and my step-grandfather, that's where he lived in.
Blackberri: [00:10:30] We lived there for maybe about two years, and then an apartment opened up in the building where we were staying and we moved upstairs, so we were still close to them. We had our own space. And I lived with her even though we moved around for a number of years. She remarried when I was maybe 14 or 15.
Mason Funk: [00:11:00] Did you get along with your new stepdad?
Blackberri: Oh god, no. He was, I don't know about that guy. He spied on me a lot. He would sneak into the house and see things that I didn't know he was seeing
Blackberri: [00:11:30] and then report them back to my mother. My mother didn't like him carrying tales, so she didn't want to hear it, but she knew what was going on. She said she knew because girls never called the house, it was always boys who called the house, so she knew that I was into boys.
Mason Funk: [00:12:00] So that was pretty much evident to you and to other people from early on. Being into boys.
Blackberri: Yeah, yeah. Me, anyway. Trying to wait until these cars go by before I respond.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's actually not too bad. Am I correct about that, with the mic? This mic is really, really directional, so I think it doesn't hear anything from over there.
Blackberri: Oh, good.
Mason Funk: It's not like a ... whatever you call it. It's not picking up stuff from that way.
Blackberri: [00:12:30] Yeah. My eyes are burning because of allergies.
Mason Funk: Ah. Do you need anything to have with you?
Blackberri: There's really nothing I can do.
Mason Funk: Okay. So you were ... You just knew, essentially, from an early age, "This is what I feel, this is who I'm attracted to, this is who I am"?
Blackberri: Yeah, I knew from really, when I was really little.
Blackberri: [00:13:00] I remember my first experience was ... Because we lived on Williams Street. My mother would send me, there was a store downstairs, and the guy in the store was supposed to keep an eye on me but she would set me in a chair out there. I was about four, maybe. Four going on five.
Blackberri: [00:13:30] There was some little boy who lived up the street. There were some houses that were being slated for demolition. They became spots where winos would go and drink and leave the bottles around. I don't even know if they were winos, but they were liquor bottles there anyway, and
Blackberri: [00:14:00] I had sex with him for the first time in one of those abandoned places. And that was my first experience, and I liked it. So by the time I had started school, I started meeting other boys. And even my neighbors. I was hanging around with my neighbors,
Blackberri: [00:14:30] and that's in every neighborhood I ever lived, I always had boys that I hung out with, or that I had sex with or rolled with.
Mason Funk: So was that ...
Blackberri: It was in Baltimore.
Mason Funk: In Baltimore, yeah. Was that from the point of view of your mom and your stepdad, where your stepdad was spying on you, your mom didn't like it, but how was that?
Blackberri: [00:15:00] By that time I was in junior high school and well into puberty.
Mason Funk: Did you feel any sense inwardly like "Oh, I shouldn't be doing this" or-
Blackberri: Oh no, never. Never, never, ever, ever.
Mason Funk: No impulse to hide it.
Blackberri: [00:15:30] Oh no. Well, hide it, maybe. But then again, you know, I don't know. When you do stuff like that, there's always rumors. So every neighborhood I lived in,
Blackberri: [00:16:00] there were rumors, and my stepfather was even responsible for some of those rumors. One of my friends who lived up the street from me was gonna kick my stepfather's ass because he had said some stuff to his family about him, and he was not happy, and that's when my mom told
Blackberri: [00:16:30] my stepfather to stay out of my and the people that I hang out with business, because he was gonna get hurt. And I actually had physical fights with him about stuff he was ... He was really hard to get along with.
Mason Funk: Did he and your mom stay married?
Blackberri: No. She actually separated from him.
Mason Funk: [00:17:00] Yeah, he sounds like he wasn't a good guy.
Blackberri: No, he wasn't.
Mason Funk: So I read somewhere ... Well, let me ask you this. At what point did music start to be part of your life?
Blackberri: From as far back as I can remember. I always liked singing, and I liked music. My mom said when I was little,
Blackberri: [00:17:30] I would stand in front of the radio like a conductor and lead the orchestras.
Mason Funk: And how about playing instruments and even writing songs?
Blackberri: My first instrument that I started playing was a harmonica. And my step-grandfather taught me that when I was nine, I think. Yeah, about nine or 10.
Blackberri: [00:18:00] He gave me a little song that he did.It was b for blow and d for draw and the numbers, and after I learned that song, I developed an ear, and I could play just about anything that I heard on harmonica. Then I learned that harmonicas had different keys, that some things I couldn't play because I didn't have the right key. So then,
Blackberri: [00:18:30] I started buying harmonicas in different keys, so I was playing songs that I could play, find the key and then I would play with them. And so I was pretty good at playing harmonica when I was younger. And of course I sang, too.
Mason Funk: Do you remember any of the first songs you sang? Like the songs you would sing either for people or for yourself?
Blackberri: [00:19:00] You know, because I was a little entertainer when I was little anyway, my mom would always, when we had company ... There was Billy Eckstine, because I used to mimic his voice as well as a child could do it, I suppose. "I Apologize."
Blackberri: [00:19:30] And Walman Row, I don't remember what the Walman Row song was, but I did one of his songs. And then after I got older, I was doing all the pop stuff. Even go to the store and buy the magazines with all the lyrics to the songs. In the summertime, kids in the neighborhood would sit on the front steps and we'd sing pop songs to each other.
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] Now, in this time, say middle school, high school, were there any kids around here who would tease you or bully you or threaten you? How did you kind of navigate the bigger world as a little queer boy, queer teenager?
Blackberri: [00:20:30] I was a big boy, so people didn't mess with me very much, except when I was in elementary school. I was really a little sissy in elementary school. It was really easy to upset me or to ... I didn't receive bullying as much as I ... I guess getting robbed is maybe a form of bullying. There were these boys
Blackberri: [00:21:00] who would kind of rob me if I happened to be in their path every day when I went to school, but there were days that I avoided them, I went a different way and I wouldn't find them or they wouldn't find me. But other than that, most of the boys that, they all wanted to have sex with me. That was the big thing,
Blackberri: [00:21:30] and even when I was in junior high school and high school, there were boys who ... You would never suspect, and they weren't into boys in general, they were into me. So I had some kind of exclusive partners
Blackberri: [00:22:00] who I must say were quite popular with the girls, but also liked me.
Mason Funk: Sounds good. Now, did I read somewhere that you went in the navy?
Blackberri: Oh yes. I did. I got drafted. It was during the time when there was the big draft going on.
Blackberri: [00:22:30] So I actually wanted to go into the military. I was gonna go in the air force because that's where all my friends were going. Then I saw the bell bottoms and the navy boys and the nice round butts and the nice baskets, I was like "Oh my lord, that's where I need to go." So I joined the navy. And it was a good thing, too. Oh my god, it was so ... so wonderful.
Mason Funk: [00:23:00] Where'd you go? What'd you do?
Blackberri: Well, I went to Puerto Rico, and that's about the only place that I went to outside of the United States. We were on the east coast most of the time. My ship was in dry dock for different reasons, which meant I spent a lot of the time on shore.
Blackberri: [00:23:30] But there were a lot of sailors in the base, and so there were places that one could go on the base and there were hotels in town where one could go and ... So, I had relationships with sailors and civilians.
Blackberri: [00:24:00] Officers, I don't know what you'd call officers who were in officer training school. There was this one guy who actually got arrested for hanging out with me. Twice. He was in officer training school.
Mason Funk: Did you ever worry that you were gonna get caught, thrown out?
Blackberri: [00:24:30] Oh yeah, all the time, and actually I did get caught and thrown out. Well, not really caught. I was more or less turned in by somebody who used to say "Oh, he's ..." Here's the thing. He wasn't a bad looking man and he could have had it,
Blackberri: [00:25:00] just the way he approached me was not ... He didn't come proper. He would always try to out me in a way. Like "Oh, you wanna suck my dick? You can suck my dick. Oh, you want me to fuck you? I'll fuck you." And he could have done it, but he was always doing it with 100 people around, bringing all the attention on me.
Blackberri: [00:25:30] So I avoided him. And I avoided anybody who kind of wanted to bring attention to me around that, but I still made lots of hookups. That still happened.
Mason Funk: So even after you got caught and turned in, did you get kicked out?
Blackberri: [00:26:00] Well, I got kind of kicked out. I got saved from having a dishonorable discharge. I got a general under honorable conditions, and that happened because my captain liked me a lot. I used to hang out with his daughter and her boyfriend who was my boyfriend,
Blackberri: [00:26:30] which she didn't know, they didn't know. In fact, I actually went, he would actually drop her off, then he and I would go and shack up somewhere. He was ex-Marine. He was a civilian, but he [inaudible] service. And I did actually meet a marine officer when I was in Fort Lauderdale,
Blackberri: [00:27:00] and I didn't know,He was a medical student, but I didn't know he was also an officer. He came on my ship in uniform. It totally blew my mind because I met him in civilian clothes, and he gave me a really beautiful diamond ring which I lost, or either someone pulled it off of my finger and kept it, it's hard to say.
Blackberri: [00:27:30] We were playing in the water and somebody grabbed me and I was trying to wiggle out and the ring had come off my finger, and so we thought it was in the water and we were looking for it, but we never found it. And now that I think back, the person actually could have came off in their hands and they just kept it.
Mason Funk: [00:28:00] Right, right. So along the way, I was watching an interview you gave where someone said something along the lines of someone asked you what advice would you give to someone who wants to become an artist and you said "Get out of dodge."
Blackberri: Yes.
Mason Funk: So I wonder if you could tell me about that. Basically, what's the advice you give to people who want to become artists?
Blackberri: [00:28:30] Depends on what kind of artist they want to be. I tell musicians, especially African-American musicians, they need to leave the country. Because once you leave the country and you're in another environment or another country,
Blackberri: [00:29:00] you see that people see you very differently there than people in the United States see you. You get a whole different sense of yourself. Even though I was playing music, sometimes the audiences were sizable and sometimes they weren't.
Blackberri: [00:29:30] And there was always this thing somewhere in my head that I'm probably not good enough, that's why people don't appreciate me. Then when I left, I wasn't begging people for work, people were coming to me and wanting me to work with them. Instead of telling me how much they were gonna give me, they would ask me how much I wanted. Which is ...
Blackberri: [00:30:00] Puts you in a very different ballpark. So I realized that traveling was definitely the way to go, and I was fortunate. I met lots of interesting people, people would turn me onto other people.
Blackberri: [00:30:30] I went to Wales when I was in London. That's part of ... I took a couple of sabbaticals because I was working on a film and I had some space where I could just chill. Because I was actually with the project for a year with the [inaudible], that was the company I was working with, and I was going to Wales, but I stopped in a small town called Shrewsbury
Blackberri: [00:31:00] and I went to an open mic and there was this Welsh singer there, his name was Tuk. And he heard me and he liked me, so he asked me what was I doing? I told him I was gonna go to Wales and he says "Well, where you going?" I said "I haven't decided yet. I know I wanna go to the north and I wanna go to the south." He goes "Well, the south, people are very assimilated in the south, but the north,
Blackberri: [00:31:30] people are much more radical." He says "In fact," he gave me the name of this town, he says "You go to this town, go to this pub and tell them Tuk sent you." And I went to that town and I went to that pub and I told them Tuk sent me and that just opened a whole community. Everybody says "Oh, he knows Tuk!"
Blackberri: [00:32:00] And I had places to stay, people fed me, they treated me like royalty. I did a lot of house concerts. People were broke, I'm not gonna say poor because poor is more of a state of mind, but they were unemployed because they closed the mines. It was in a shale town where they did the shale mining, so they didn't have a lot of money.
Blackberri: [00:32:30] I had money because I was doing concerts, and I had money, and I wanted to buy food, but they wouldn't let me. So I ate a lot of potato leek soup, drank a lot of homemade wine, and smoked homegrown weed. So that was like the circuit, the community.
Blackberri: [00:33:00] And actually, the folks, they wanted me to stay when I was ready to leave, they go "Oh, no, no,! You should stay, live with us!" So it was ...
Mason Funk: What do you attribute that to, that a black musician in the states is gonna be looked at either with suspicion or with disregard or some combination thereof, and then can go overseas
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] and practically have the red carpet rolled out for 'em? What accounts for that difference in your being?
Blackberri: Culture. People in many countries like and appreciate culture, which is not appreciated in this country. Sports is the big thing that drives more industries in this country than culture or entertainment.
Blackberri: [00:34:00] And people liked my cultural background and I did music from my cultural background, even though it was original.Thats everywhere I go except here.
Mason Funk: This may seem either obvious or not or completely wrongheaded, but is it just that here,
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] there's this kind of barrier that white culture can't quite get over, which is a sense of we-
Blackberri: In reality, when you think about it, there's really no white culture. It's all appropriated from the other different cultures. Once they appropriate it, then it's white culture, but until then,
Blackberri: [00:35:00] you know, rock and roll was black music until Elvis Presley started doing it. It's always been that way with all the musical trends. It's black music until a white person does it, then it becomes white people music.
Mason Funk: But I was wondering if it was something also more to do with the history, the slave era.
Mason Funk: [00:35:30] A sense of alienation that in America, is really hard to overcome because there's this tension that hasn't really been addressed or overcome, but if you go to a European country for example, there's not that same shadow hanging over the relationships.
Blackberri: Well, if you go to a European country, you have to remember that the Europeans colonized Africa. Usually the treatment of the people
Blackberri: [00:36:00] that they colonized is pretty much the way we get treated here in this country, but for some reason, being an American, because African-American music is very different than any other kind of music in the world, and part of that has to do with them taking the drums from us.
Blackberri: [00:36:30] And so our music developed very differently, whereas in all the other Caribbean countries, everyone was able to keep their drums, so a lot of traditions, even in New Orleans, they were allowed to keep their drums. Here, they had to smuggle drumming. A lot of times,
Blackberri: [00:37:00] those things that they mashed grain in would double as a drum if they could get it far enough away from the plantation where they couldn't, because drum sounds really travel. But there wasn't ... They broke the back of the religion because the religion, the drums, they play a crucial role in communication with God.
Blackberri: [00:37:30] So other kinds of things happened with hand claps and foot stomps, and they found other ways to be percussive, and they never lost their call and response. That's always been a part of it, it's always been an African thing, and it's been a part of the American music heritage, is the call and response. But the music developed very differently in this country, and
Blackberri: [00:38:00] so you got this type of music that ... And it's a hybrid. It's got banjos and fiddles and all those things came from other white cultures who had those ... Well, the banjo is actually an African instrument, but the violin, the fiddle was something that the Scots, the Irish, used those kinds of instruments.
Blackberri: [00:38:30] And guitar. Yeah, and just kind of became a melting pot. Our music bleeds over into each other. I mean, when I was coming up, to this day I still like country music. A lot of folks are like "Oh, you like country music?" I think it's cool.
Blackberri: [00:39:00] I remember Ray Charles did a country music album. You find very few black folks doing country music these days.
Mason Funk: So fast forwarding a little bit, and we're kind of jumping all over the place, but that's okay. You wrote a song, I don't know exactly when, but a song that helped kind of put you on the map was a song called "Eat the Rich."
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] And I wonder if you can tell us about that song. Maybe even just impromptu sing a little bit of the chorus or something. Give us a sense of what that song was about.
Blackberri: The song was basically about overthrowing ruling class. It's really a song about revolution, but it's kind of tongue in cheek, and it also has kind of sexual overtones.
Blackberri: [00:40:00] I sing about sex a lot, and one interview asked me did I like singing songs about sex more than [inaudible]. And I like them both, really. But yeah, for me, there was like a perfect marriage.
Blackberri: [00:40:30] The song was inspired by, I saw a little poster on a refrigerator that said "eat the rich." And the first line that came, when I thought about the song, the first line came, I said "icebox" instead of refrigerator, because
Blackberri: [00:41:00] this problem is an old problem. So the saying "icebox" gave the song some age. And I said (singing) When your icebox is [inaudible], eat the rich. Show your stomach you care, eat the rich. Oh, the rich have so much power, Lord, I think its a shame.
Blackberri: [00:41:30] They swear theyre not the problem but we know whos to blame. Im tired of being manipulized, which is one of those words I made up, black people make up words all the time. (singing) Im tired of being manipulized by those stupid guys, eat the rich. Yum, yum.. (singing) It became a blues shuffle. So kind of foot stomping.
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] I like the idea that there was a little bit of a sexual undertone to that.
Blackberri: Oh yeah, because I say one of the lines I use is "not now, I'm in the middle of a Rothschild" when I'm eating and there's an interruption, but I don't get the interruption out, I'll pretend like there's an interruption and I'll say it.
Blackberri: [00:42:30] But it was also a commercial too at one point. There was this candy bar called Rothschild candy bar, "uncommonly rich." I don't use the uncommonly rich, but I just say "Not now, I'm in the middle of a Rothschild." And Oysters Rockefeller or people refer to pig's balls as mountain oysters.
Blackberri: [00:43:00] So yeah, it's kind of how ... [inaudible]. And then there's a part where I do lip smacking instead of scatting, I use a percussive chewing to ... Rhythmically with the music.
Blackberri: [00:43:30] How I enter that is, it was from a spare rib, but I remembered my mom used to talk about rumps, and how they were tender, so then I swapped out the ribs and put the rump in there. "That's a mighty tender lookin' rump you got there", obviously,
Blackberri: [00:44:00] "you better watch out." And it's eating. So mixed up those two things.
Mason Funk: It gives me the impression that maybe from an early age, you never saw sex as something to be taken too seriously. You saw sex as something to be enjoyed. Maybe not 100 percent of the time, all the time, but you had a sex obsession.
Blackberri: [00:44:30] Oh, sex was definitely to be enjoyed 100 percent, yeah, that was definitely 100 percent of the time. I was probably ... I was a very sexual person and I'm not gonna lie, I had a lot of sex when I was growing up, with a lot of people.
Mason Funk: [00:45:00] For a guy who spent so many years just repressing, repressing, repressing, it's such a ... just a shift, it's such a different perspective, different experience.
Blackberri: Yeah. Part of the liberation thing for me was my mother actually caught me when I was 14, and it wasn't even with my boyfriend even though after that, she knew.
Blackberri: [00:45:30] She had known even before then, but she caught me with a schoolmate and she didn't quite catch us, but it was enough. We were in my bedroom and there was no door to this bedroom
Blackberri: [00:46:00] and her bedroom was down the hall. But my bedroom was close to the bathroom, so she came upstairs to go to the bathroom and this boy who came to see me wanted to have sex and I was going "No, they're home, we shouldn't do it," but he was very persuasive.So he did it, and she came up the steps when we were at the point of no return, so to speak,
Blackberri: [00:46:30] and by the time she got to the door, we had ... I couldn't get my pants up and he couldn't get his pants up so we grabbed pillows, and there was cum on the bed so I had to take the Sunday paper and throw it over the cum, so the bed was all messed up and this newspaper was spread out and we're sitting on the floor with the pillows in our laps.
Blackberri: [00:47:00] She walks in and looks at both of us and we're like ... She knew. I was like "Oh man, this is really, really bad." So I kind of avoided her as much as I could for a while but then she didn't say anything, so I thought "well, I know something's going on.
Blackberri: [00:47:30] I know it's coming but I just don't know when." And one day, we were coming from my grandmother's house. We were on the street, we were waiting for a taxi or maybe we were walking. I don't quite remember, but for some reason, I knew that the conversation, where the conversation was gonna go, and she said
Blackberri: [00:48:00] "You wouldn't be having problems, are you?" And I said, "No, I'm not having any problems." And she said "Well, if it ever feels like it's a problem, let me know." And I said "I will. But right now, it's not a problem." And she says "Okay." And from that day on, that was my liberation notice.
Blackberri: [00:48:30] And I became more flamboyant and more out and just totally unafraid, because the person I didn't want to find out already knew, so I felt like I didn't have anything to hide.
Mason Funk: Just out of curiosity, later on in life with your mom, did you have conversations?
Blackberri: [00:49:00] Oh good lord, we had a lot of conversations. She became close with some of my boyfriends, some she really liked, and some people I was hanging out with, she didn't appreciate.She would tell me, "I don't think he's the right match for you."
Blackberri: [00:49:30] She also, when she saw me perform for the first time in DC, she brought one of her friends from her job and her friend's husband, and they came to my concert, and she saw for the first time how my relationship to my audience was and she was so impressed, and she said she was just so proud and her friends were like ...
Blackberri: [00:50:00] They were great, and the woman's husband said, "Well, don't be surprised if they never invite you to the White House to sing." But yeah, she saw how people treated me and my rapport with the audience and she was just so impressed. She was so impressed and she said she was so proud of me. She said
Blackberri: [00:50:30] "I didn't understand before. Then, when I saw how they related to you and everything," she said everything became clear.
Mason Funk: So in terms of the ... Sorry, I'm going over my notes here. I know that in 1975, I pulled this from notes somewhere, there was this KQED gay music concert, and allegedly, it was the first-
Blackberri: [00:51:00] It was. Not even allegedly, it was the very first time that gay music was ever on public television in San Francisco. Very first time. And when I was in Tucson, I worked in a record store for a bit.This album came in called Caravan Tonight. It was by Steven Grossman who was a gay singer-songwriter,
Blackberri: [00:51:30] bless his heart he's crossed over. But he was on Mercury at the time. The demo came in and my boss gave it to me. He goes "Oh, you'd really appreciate it," and I did. And when I moved to the Bay Area and I was living in the Haight, I found out that Steven was living in the Haight also,
Blackberri: [00:52:00] so I made an effort to reach out and meet him, and I did, and we became friends. We liked each other's music. I played for him, he played for me, and we swapped a lot of stories. And then this Canadian guy who's name was Steven ... oh god, what's Steven's last name? He was also a Steven.
Blackberri: [00:52:30] It's somewhere around, I'll find it. But anyway, he was a Canadian radio guy, I guess you could say. And he came actually looking for Steven, because he wanted to produce his show, but then he saw me at a coffee house and he came... Steven O'Neill, that's what his name was.
Blackberri: [00:53:00] And he said "How would you like to do a show with Steven Grossman?" And he said, "I have a connection with KQED and I'm gonna put a proposal to them to do this show." So we did this show called Two Songmakers, in which Steven got the first part of the show. I kind of didn't get as large of a set,
Blackberri: [00:53:30] because the show started ending and they were going out on me. I've seen cuts of Steven's songs, but I haven't seen any cuts of mine, so I know it's in the archives somewhere, but I would like to see it.
Mason Funk: Were you aware ... I mean, you probably were aware of it, but that you were kind of making history at that moment.
Mason Funk: [00:54:00] Even in San Francisco, no one before had gone on public television, two gay men singing about being gay.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] singing about their girlfriends.
Blackberri: Right, exactly.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Do you remember being impressed or struck or excited or-
Blackberri: I don't know. I was impressed because it was public TV
Blackberri: [00:54:30] and it reached a lot of people. It's kind of the way, tongues untied. You know, people would see on the street and they would go "Oh, I saw you on that show." And so in terms of putting my name out there, that was a really good thing, I felt.
Blackberri: [00:55:00] And I was already kind of playing college campuses in the Bay Area, but with that on my resume, it really helped me to move further in other places. Put me in other places.
Mason Funk: I read somewhere-
Blackberri: But I've also done some other firsts. I did the first music commercial for
Blackberri: [00:55:30] a study at the health department, San Francisco health department, and did a song called A Study Song. It was for a black man's study and it was a hit. I mean, people saw it in other places and other health services, and I was getting these emails and stuff from people saying "Wow, we saw your commercial,
Blackberri: [00:56:00] it was really, really good. So that was the first time the health department had ever done that. And my boss, bless her heart, realized that that was one of my strengths. When she built the team, she brought me in on the team because I had really good people skills, working in the community, but until that program got up and going, there were other things
Blackberri: [00:56:30] that people were doing that I didn't have skills in, and most of them were computer related. I didn't have those particular skills. So it made it look like I wasn't doing anything and they were doing all the work, so she told me one day, she said "Take my guitar to the park and write a song about the ..." And I did and it was like, it was really good.
Blackberri: [00:57:00] And then they used the lyrics from Beautiful Black Man as an ad that was all plastered on all the buses and the marquees on the bus stop.
Mason Funk: So what was that song? Beautiful Black Man?
Blackberri: That's from Looking for Langston.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay. So tell us about Looking for Langston. What that project was and the song you wrote for it.
Blackberri: I didn't write Beautiful Black Man for Looking for Langston, I wrote blues for Langston,
Blackberri: [00:57:30] for Looking for Langston. Beautiful Black Man was already a song before. In fact, Isaac wrote the film around the song. The song came from an encounter that I had in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I went to do a series of shows there, but it was really kind of interesting, because when they found out I was black,
Blackberri: [00:58:00] they found excuses for the show not to happen.The people who brought me up, they were so confused, they said, "The only thing we can figure out is they won't do it because you're black." And I was so glad that they said that because whenever I say, "It doesn't happen because I'm black," it's like "Oh, you're being paranoid,"
Blackberri: [00:58:30] or it's not really that way, so it felt so good to hear them say it, because that's really the way, that's what it was! Really! If I had said it, people would have, maybe some people would have found a way to say "No, that's not it." But when they told me that, but anyway.
Blackberri: [00:59:00] Here I am, I'm still in Milwaukee, I go out one evening, I go to this bar, and Milwaukee has a small black community, gay, anyway. I didn't see that many black men in the bar. But I'm in the bar one night, and I'm trying to hit on folks, and people kind of ignore me. Then this really beautiful black guy walks into the bar, and I see him, I go, "Wow, he's really fucking hot."
Blackberri: [00:59:30] So I go and we're talking, and then I invite him to come home with me. And so we're leaving the club, and he said "I don't see what you see in me." And ... So I use that line in the song to kind of culminate all the ...
Blackberri: [01:00:00] But I mean, I saw him try to pick up on people too and people were giving him the same shade that they were giving me, you know?
Mason Funk: Can you sing a little of that song for us? Just impromptu?
Blackberri: [01:00:30] I'm trying to think of what part of the song it was in. Well, one of the lines is ... about being discriminated in the bars, it says "Beautiful black man, you're just like me." And I said "Beautiful black man, did they ask for ID? Did they want two pictures or did they want three? I know it's hard
Blackberri: [01:01:00] but sometimes we must walk away, shake our heads, and discuss. You're such a beautiful black man, but somehow, you've been made to feel that your beauty's not real. You're such a beautiful black man, but you walk with your head bent and low, don't do that anymore." And the line where he says ... and I said, (singing) Beautiful black man, Im glad you looked my way.
Blackberri: [01:01:30] Lets go home together, what more can I say. You say you dont see what I see in you. I see the beauty I wish that you knew. Youre such a beautiful black man, but, somehow, youve been made to feel that your beautys not real. And that's where I use that, "I don't see what you see in me." And that's the climax of the song,
Blackberri: [01:02:00] which all the verses lead up to that one phrase, "I see the beauty I wish that you knew."
Mason Funk: It seems like that could be, that's so, perhaps, descriptive of a whole thing where black men in general, obviously I'm speaking as somebody who doesn't know personally, but there's so many things that are thrown out
Mason Funk: [01:02:30] and so much shade that the sense of being a beautiful black man just gets obliterated.
Blackberri: Yeah. Black people have always been negroes, always been considered ugly. So there's a lot of internalized stuff around how we look, how we are, our hair, our lips.
Blackberri: [01:03:00] It's just ... Some people buy into it and like I said, that internalized self hatred has driven the AIDS epidemic. People didn't feel they were important enough to take care of themselves.
Blackberri: [01:03:30] If you love yourself, you're gonna look out for yourself, you're gonna take care of yourself. Numbers wouldn't be that high. There's something going on there that ...
Mason Funk: Well, you know, our culture puts so many black men in jail. It's basically the same thing as saying " We don't need you out here."
Blackberri: [01:04:00] Yeah, you're worthless. That's all black lives matter." Again.
Mason Funk: So that was a good segue because I know we want to talk about your work in minority AIDS. You told us some great stories a bit ago, but when did it hit you, "I guess to a certain extent, I have to set my music aside. I've got something else I need to do." What caused that?
Blackberri: [01:04:30] What caused that was seeing lots and lots of people succumb to the disease or the virus, it's not really, it's just a virus, it's not a disease. But to see people succumb to the virus a lot. It was outside of my circle when it first happened,
Blackberri: [01:05:00] and people, some of them I knew, but I wasn't really close to, were dying or had died. And then it came into my circle, and it touched people that I knew closely who had gotten infected and also were dying or had died, and it was really crazy.
Blackberri: [01:05:30] It was really crazy, and there was so much hurt and pain from the loss in the community. And there was a way to prevent it. When we found out there was a way to prevent it, that's when I made the decision
Blackberri: [01:06:00] that I didn't want to see anybody go through what I've already seen, my brothers who had gone through this. If there's any way that I can save people from that experience, that's what I want to do, so then I just put the music aside and I went into HIV work. I started working at San Francisco General on the AIDS ward, I worked with people who were actually dying.
Blackberri: [01:06:30] I worked with the Shanti Project. I became a death and dying counselor. It was good work. It was hard work. I worked with a lot of families who lost their loved ones. I worked with people who had no families who were dying.
Blackberri: [01:07:00] I worked with family members around accepting their children's sexuality and actually the ideas that... there's this one guy who, he was really troubled. He wanted to run, that's basically what he wanted to do.
Blackberri: [01:07:30] And the family was trying to get me to talk to him to stop him, but I couldn't stop him, and I didn't want to. I wanted that to be his decision. And whenever he came and he asked me something, I reflected right back to him. He goes, "I want to go, do you think I should go?" And I said " What do you think? Do you think you should go?"
Blackberri: [01:08:00] And it turned out that he did end up staying, he stayed through the whole process. He actually liked me at the end of the process. He was really glad that he stayed. Then when the family got back to [inaudible], the family sent me a card thanking me, then thanked me for working with the dead.
Blackberri: [01:08:30] And I had a lot of those things happen. And I saw friends come and go. I saw this one guy who I met downtown, he didn't even live in San Francisco at the time. He was in the closet. He was young,
Blackberri: [01:09:00] young guy, in the closet. Alcohol, that was the thing that made him brave enough to even have sex with another person. I met him, he came to my house one time, he brought a bag of, it had two gallons of liquor and he said "We're gonna party!" And I go "No, you're gonna party, I'm not gonna drink all that stuff." I didn't drink, party in those days anyway.
Blackberri: [01:09:30] He drank a little bit too much for me, and I kind of had to cut him loose, but when I saw him dying in the hospital, HIV and AIDS, it kind of made sense that he was infected, because he was mostly intoxicated when he was having sexual encounters.
Blackberri: [01:10:00] So he didn't make clear decisions around his sexual practice. But it was just weird seeing him like that, going. And really, it was a really interesting thing because he was cognitive,
Blackberri: [01:10:30] he was talking. They took his breathing stuff out and he was breathing on his own. They did it because they said it was cost effective. It's like they could have kept him alive, and that in and of itself was really, really heavy.
Blackberri: [01:11:00] And the other thing that his brother, he wanted to have a Coca-Cola, and his brother and sister, because it said "Nothing by mouth." His brother says "We can't give you anything to drink." And of course I couldn't say anything, I'm thinking "He's dying. What does it matter? Let him have a sip of Coke." It's ridiculous.
Blackberri: [01:11:30] Nurses said the same thing, but again... and I actually had to counsel the nurse because it really messed her up. Having to pull the life supports on him like that. So then, I left the hospital,
Blackberri: [01:12:00] and I really didn't know how injured I was 'til I started healing. And then I decided watching people die is a little bit too heavy for me. Why don't I get them before they get to that place? So then I went into prevention. I started doing the education of how to not get this disease.
Mason Funk: [01:12:30] That's the work you did in the [inaudible]?
Blackberri: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: So you were telling us that when you came in there, you met some resistance from people who wanted to do things differently than how you saw. For example, around feeding people.
Mason Funk: So can you tell us some of those stories about what it was like, what you brought, what you saw, how you approached this work and how that sometimes clashed with ...
Blackberri: [01:13:00] Well, I worked around white people and there's always gonna be ... Living in this country, there's always gonna be some racial overtones around ... I remember one of the ... She was a harm reduction doctor.
Blackberri: [01:13:30] Said that I was the voice of the agency, that I spoke for the people who were afraid to speak. And I did, I was never afraid to say what I feel, and a lot of people were afraid because it's their job. Actually, I had a boss who was much younger than me, and he was put in that position because of privilege, of course. He was white.
Blackberri: [01:14:00] I went to him for a raise, and he told me that he couldn't give me a raise because I had the worst disciplinary record of anybody there in the agency, that was because I spoke up a bunch. I said "Well, why don't you fire my ass?" And that's exactly what I said. "If I've got the worst record, why don't you fire my ass?" And he said "We can't do that because you're our best worker."
Blackberri: [01:14:30] And I'm thinking, "How can I be the best and the worst?" That made no sense to me. Of course, I didn't get the raise. What happened was a headhunter came and had heard about me and offered to pay me more money to work for her than the agency that I was working for. So of course I left.
Blackberri: [01:15:00] I had this thing about the black men needed very special treatment, because they just didn't feel that they were important or that anyone really cared about them.
Blackberri: [01:15:30] I had devised a plan to make people feel special, make them feel important. Sometimes I even did it on my own dollar. I would take folks out to lunch somewhere and pay for everybody's lunch in the group. But the agency allotted me money to get lunches for the men.
Blackberri: [01:16:00] This one place, the place I used to order the sandwiches, which I got at a really good deal. An Arab guyworked there, he liked me a lot, really could understand the work that I was doing and gave me a good price for everything. So it wasn't like we were paying full price for all the food because the guy cut us a lot of slack.
Blackberri: [01:16:30] But other people who were doing workshops in the agency were upset because they couldn't get an allotment to feed their people. And that was, it caused some real tension.
Mason Funk: You mentioned you gave ... I guess you could say you gave the whole package.
Mason Funk: [01:17:00] And you might worry about people with HIV or people who might get HIV, you helped them with food but you also helped them with meditations, visualizations-
Mason Funk: Affirmations. You really, it sounds like you-
Blackberri: I took the whole program and I had a goal in mind. My goal in mind was to help these brothers see their self worth,
Blackberri: [01:17:30] and that they were worth something and that they were important and they were worth saving. That somebody did love them, even if they didn't love themselves. They just got special treatment. They felt special. And they were there every week,
Blackberri: [01:18:00] wondering what they were gonna get, what was their ... What they were gonna get that week. Sometimes they got films, sometimes they got workshops. Sometimes they got a field trip to someplace.
Mason Funk: And were you ever able to see a significant change in-
Blackberri: [01:18:30] I've seen several men who have come up to me since I have left. I'm not even in the agency anymore, they said, "You really helped me a lot. I found housing, I've got a job. I'm practicing safer sex ver since you gave us that talk about safer sex and how to use condoms.
Blackberri: [01:19:00] How to make them more enjoyable." But the people finding jobs and housing, that was ... It was really a good thing. And one guy actually invited me to some event that he was hosting. He was a host at this event. Told me to come and have some food on him.
Mason Funk: [01:19:30] Let me take a minute here. How are we doing for time on that card?
Natalie Tsui: Good.
Mason Funk: Yeah? Okay. It seems like it should be almost full, though?.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, it's probably getting there, so why don't I-
Mason Funk: Okay. We're gonna swap cards. [inaudible]. We're almost kind of [inaudible] fewer topics and get into more depth than try to touch every single thing. Otherwise we'd be here all night.
Blackberri: [01:20:00] Well, even though I knew Marlon for a long time, I guess we got closer when we worked on his film stuff. He was bouncing lots of ideas off of me and asking me what do I think,
Blackberri: [01:20:30] if he could use my voice for such and such. At one point, he wanted me to sing "America". He had had this choir sing it, and he didn't think it was quite what he wanted, so he asked me to do a rendition of it. I did one, and he said, "Could you make it closer to Ray Charles's?"
Blackberri: [01:21:00] and I said, "Without it being Ray Charles' rendition?" And he said yeah. And so I did a rendition that was kind of close to it. And he ... [inaudible]. Then he also used me as, I call it talking head, but I was a singing head in No Regrets. Linda Tillery was
Blackberri: [01:21:30] the female singing head, and I was the male singing head. Used both of us, because we had the spiritual and black music background, that spiritual background, which he used a lot in his presentation.
Mason Funk: What do you think his importance was? What did he bring artistically?
Mason Funk: [01:22:00] What did he bring forth in his films that was unique? Marlon Riggs?
Blackberri: Truth. An artistic eye. An intellectual to convey
Blackberri: [01:22:30] what he understood to people who might not understand.
Mason Funk: And what were those things that he understood that others might not understand?
Blackberri: He understood what it's like to be discriminated against. What it's like to be ostracized or to feel alone.
Blackberri: [01:23:00] What it's like for self-acceptance, what it's like to be proud. What it's like to have a lot of bullshit put out about you that's not real. What it's like to be stereotyped. What it's like to be liberated.
Blackberri: [01:23:30] What it's like to be a black gay man or a black same gender loving man.
Mason Funk: Why do you make that distinction? I'm curious.
Blackberri: Well, because every time I think about gay, it's kind of a ... It's one of those words that white people have co-opted.
Blackberri: [01:24:00] And whenever you say gay, the first thing that comes to most people's mind are white men. People never think about black men being gay and my friend Cleo Manago coined the term "same gender loving",
Blackberri: [01:24:30] which is a term that a black person has used to describe their sexual preference or their sexual orientation and not the word our culture uses. And so ...
Mason Funk: And it can be used by both men and women.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] Without having to sort of fudge around or whatever. It's interesting, I appreciate that. That was a little light bulb for me.
Blackberri: Yeah, yeah. Because I mean it's true. Every time people say gay, they think about white men.
Mason Funk: In West Hollywood.
Blackberri: Everywhere. West Hollywood.
Mason Funk: It does bring to mind a certain image.
Mason Funk: [01:25:30] Let's jump sort of backwards, sideways, whatever, and talk about this really important project, Walls to Roses.
Blackberri: Walls to Roses, Songs of Changing [crosstalk].
Mason Funk: Just one sec. I couldn't tell, he was shifting a little bit. Okay, Walls to Roses.
Blackberri: Walls to Roses. I think that was organized by Willy Sarjow. It was,
Blackberri: [01:26:00] that's not even a thought. I'm saying I think, but it was, it's his baby. He reached out to people across the country who were doing non-sexist music. I don't know how he heard about me, but he did,
Blackberri: [01:26:30] and I was called to be a part of the project. I was the only black person in the Walls to Roses collective. So they gave me two songs, as opposed to only doing a token song, or the token black person. And my two contributions,
Blackberri: [01:27:00] they were good. If I could do them over again, I would, but they can't be, and so they are what they are. I'm definitely not ashamed of 'em. I'm definitely proud of them. It's just, its like that with all my work, though, it's always how I hear it, always feel like I can do better.
Blackberri: [01:27:30] But it became a [inaudible] album. It got some national attention. I always got good reviews if anybody ever mentioned me, any of my pieces.
Blackberri: [01:28:00] So I was really happy with that. It was a good project. I met some interesting musicians, some other gay men who did music, in fact. Charlie ... Not Charlie King, Charlie ...
Blackberri: [01:28:30] Wow, I'm having a brain fart. He just crossed recently too. Anyway, Charlie did a concert in Milwaukee before I did,
Blackberri: [01:29:00] and that's when they told the producers that "Oh, bring us anything, we'll take all your gay acts." And so they brought me up there, and they found out I was black, and it never happened for me the way it happened for Charlie. But anyway.
Mason Funk: [01:29:30] You mentioned a little while ago that speaking of being a pro-feminist-
Blackberri: Well, I also wanted to mention that Walls to Roses was inducted into the Smithsonian. So it's not part of the Smithsonian music collection.
Mason Funk: Which is super cool.
Mason Funk: It was a pro-feminist project, that's what the theme was, and you mentioned that
Mason Funk: [01:30:00] one thing you've intentionally done is to align yourself with women and with their perspectives and their stories and their struggles, and that's oftentimes ended you up as being the only guy in groups of women.That reminds me of something else I read that you said, where you really talked about all of us kind of having to be in it together. Not a bunch of different camps fighting for their individual issues.
Mason Funk: Can you talk about that in a kind of a, give us a message about the need for what some people these days are calling intersectionality? Which you've been practicing it.
Blackberri: Always the women say that they consider me an honorary lesbian. And I have a lot of women friends
Blackberri: [01:31:00] who I really love and who really support me and give me juice and energy and stuff. I'm really grateful for that. And I grew up, when I was coming up, there wasn't a separation.
Blackberri: [01:31:30] Boys and girls hung out together, the girls who were lesbians hung out with the boys who were queer, and that's all we had. We had each other.There was a table at my high school where we all sat, so everybody knew that that table was the queer table. Which was good,
Blackberri: [01:32:00] because it brought attention ... Anybody who was looking would know where we were. So if they wanted to pull us out somewhere to the side, they already knew our story wasn't ... I remember my friend Charles said one time this girl came up to him and said,
Blackberri: [01:32:30] "Hey boy, are you gay?" And he said "Yes." And he said, "She was so plucked, she couldn't do anything. Now, if I had said no, she would have said Oh yes you are, I know blah blah blah, and start going in on him. Because he said "yes", she was speechless. There was nothing else she could say.
Blackberri: [01:33:00] So it was that frankness, that openness that just kept a lot of conversations minimal. Anything real that needed to be said, got said, and the bullshit was pushed to the side because it wasn't needed. And as far as building alliances,
Blackberri: [01:33:30] I've always been pro-alliance from day one. The song that I did, the song called [inaudible] and that was the song that went to Walls to Roses. It was during the time that [inaudible] was happening and ERA was happening and Anita Bryant.
Blackberri: [01:34:00] All those things were happening all at the same time. I wanted a way to pull all of those things together to show that it was really one struggle and not a bunch of different things. One of the verses in the song, "A loss for one of the minorities is a loss for everyone." And I've always felt that way.
Blackberri: [01:34:30] And my career, if you look over, I have just tons of posters and stuff that I've done through the years. You would see I've been in every community. Every community. You'll see stuff that I'd done when I worked with Asians, when I worked with Native Americans, when I worked with Latinos,
Blackberri: [01:35:00] I worked with African-Americans, I worked with white folks. I've been in all those camps and I've been accepted in those camps. And I think it's important that we all get into those camps. You have to reach out and do it.
Blackberri: [01:35:30] You have to be able to listen. You have to be able to accept leadership from other people, especially women. That's the only way that this work is gonna get done,
Blackberri: [01:36:00] and we as men, we don't have to shoulder the whole thing. People think that women are weak and women are a lot stronger than many people give them credit for.
Blackberri: [01:36:30] Until we build alliances, we're not gonna go anywhere. We have to do it as ... When all the fingers close, then you have a fist. But as long as you have one finger standing up, you're not gonna ever be able to move that fist. The coordination is they're all together. So we have to do this together.
Mason Funk: [01:37:00] It's interesting. You've been carrying that message through so many different eras now. Good times and bad. You've been carrying that message.
Mason Funk: But it's probably never been more relevant than now.
Blackberri: It's always been relevant. It's always been relevant. It just seems like it's more relevant now, but to me, it's always been relevant.
Blackberri: [01:37:30] I can't ever think of a time when it was never more relevant than it is. It's always been that way for me.
Mason Funk: How do you think you came across or realized that? How did you glean or get that clarity when so many people don't?
Blackberri: [01:38:00] Well, part of it was I realized that being same gender loving, coming out, there were a lot of stereotypes about same gender loving men, that being effeminate was weak and being masculine was strong. Being effeminate meant that you didn't have
Blackberri: [01:38:30] power over your own ... You didn't have your own space. Men never, ever invade another man's space. They'll invade women's space. They'll invade faggot space. But they never invade their own spaces with one another. And the thing that really brought that clarity to me is when I was coming up,
Blackberri: [01:39:00] how I'd be in school sometimes and somebody would grab my ass. Men don't grab other men's asses, but I was a faggot, so it was alright to grab my ass because I was like a girl. So girls didn't have no space and no power, and neither do faggots because faggots are like girls.
Blackberri: [01:39:30] I saw those kind of things and they just resonated with me. How I was more like women in terms of what I could do for myself or what I wasn't allowed to do.
Mason Funk: [01:40:00] I have a few questions I ask at the end of every interview. Just some basic questions. One is: someone came to you and said to you "I'm thinking about coming out." Whatever that might mean to that person. From your own experience and the wisdom you've gained over the years,
Mason Funk: [01:40:30] what small morsels of guidance would you give that person?
Blackberri: Well, I'd have to know a lot more about their situation, because I realize, because coming up, I realize that everybody can't come out the same way or what increments to do it in.
Blackberri: [01:41:00] And the big thing is before anybody can come out, you have to accept yourself for you who are. Nothing drives a person back in the closet quicker than them not being sure about who they are.
Blackberri: [01:41:30] And shame. It scares them back into ... Shame should never be a part of that. What's the word? I lose words these days. Equation. Shame should never be a part of that equation.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] So the person has to really, really, really be truly okay with him or herself in order to [crosstalk].
Blackberri: Yeah. Totally, totally. The summer, my magic summer when I fell in love with my first love who I was with for eight years, seems like all my relationships have been eight years, never gotten beyond that.
Blackberri: [01:42:30] I'll have to figure that out in the universe what that's all about. But I remember when we felt love for each other, it was like we didn't care what anybody else said or what anybody else felt. We just felt what we had for each other was really special and we were gonna cherish that
Blackberri: [01:43:00] and we were gonna share it with whoever wanted to share it and if they didn't want to share it, tough. Tough. I remember ... I don't know what was going on, because I had this, it wasn't really a quarrel, it was ... I don't know, I said something to Lee,
Blackberri: [01:43:30] his name was Lee. I said ... We were together one time and I said something about "Oh, you don't really love me." I don't know why I said it, but he said "I do love you." He said, "I'll tell my mother that I love you." When he said that, I was like "Whoa, that's a big thing." That's a big step. And he did.
Blackberri: [01:44:00] Surprisingly, she was alright with it too. I mean, because she had heard too, because it was around the neighborhood. We were holding hands, we were always cuddling, we were always like Siamese twins, we were stuck up under each other all the time.
Blackberri: [01:44:30] And sometimes she would say, "What's he want for Christmas? What's he want for his birthday? He doesn't talk to me. He talks to you. What's he want?" One time she said, "I'm really glad when he goes home with you, because then I know he's not out in the street getting in trouble. You're saving his life."
Blackberri: [01:45:00] So it was those kind of things that just ... And I had that persuasion. Even when I moved away from the neighborhood, if I came into the neighborhood and he was around and I wanted him to come with me, he would go. He would.At one point, he had even gotten a girlfriend, and she couldn't stand me. I was fine with her,
Blackberri: [01:45:30] she was not a threat to me. He loved me, he loved her. We were different people from each other. He said sex with me is not like sex with her. It's different. But he loved me a little bit more than he loved her because he knew me longer.
Blackberri: [01:46:00] We bonded in those early days. We spent so much time together. We just felt each other.
Mason Funk: In the midst of this new era that we find ourselves in, what keeps you hopeful for the future?
Blackberri: [01:46:30] I don't do hope. I don't do, I had to stop doing hope, and wishing. I do prayer. It's much more powerful than hope. Hope is putting some idea that you may get it, praying is "I want this and this is what I'll have."
Blackberri: [01:47:00] Because prayer's much stronger than hope, it's much stronger than a wish. So if I want some guy, I say I pray that this will happen. I don't hope that this will happen, I pray that it will happen. And then I put __ __ [Yoruba] is an energy
Blackberri: [01:47:30] that brings things into fruition. I put __ at the end of it and it makes it manifest.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's different than any other answer I've gotten. [crosstalk]. I love it. It reminds me, I went for probably a dozen years to a church in Los Angeles,
Mason Funk: [01:48:00] very multi-cultural, multi-everything, I thought I was in Noah's ark. We had two of everything.We would do this processional song. It was __. (singing) And I never really knew what __ stood for.
Blackberri: __ has a lot of meanings. It has a lot of meanings. The simple thing people say is, "May it be so or so be it."
Blackberri: [01:48:30] But __ is also an essence. It's a little more than "so be it."
Mason Funk: [inaudible]
Mason Funk: Got more power.
Blackberri: It's got much more power. __ is, it takes it and it's the energy that takes everything and makes it real.
Mason Funk: Why does it matter to you, for example, when you accepted my invitation to sit down,
Mason Funk: [01:49:00] why did you accept my invitation? Why is it worthwhile to you to field these questions and give me answers?
Blackberri: Because I've done it for other people. I feel ... I've been robbed in the past. Someone
Blackberri: [01:49:30] I trusted in my house with all of my personal things and especially my history as an out performer, stole my music and interviews and even some really personal things that
Blackberri: [01:50:00] I don't care about personally if they end up on the internet, but people that I'm with ... Some of them aren't in the same places I am. Well, I know, this one boy, Miguel, he wouldn't care. It was totally Miguel's idea to even do the tape that he and I did. But there's another boy on there who ...
Blackberri: [01:50:30] If it got out for him, he'd be really hurt. And he has family here. And he's not ... He's just not. But he liked me. When we met in Cuba, it was an immediate thing.
Mason Funk: [01:51:00] Then the last question I have is: this project, OUTWORDS, is really an attempt to gather your story with dozens and hundreds of other stories in a kind of, as I say, a place to keep all of our stories together. That's my sense of OUTWORDS. From your perspective, what is the importance of a project like that? Like OUTWORDS?
Blackberri: [01:51:30] I think it's important because it's information. It's oral history. I come from a tradition that does oral. That's what Africans do, we do oral history. San Francisco Historical Society has something. [inaudible]
Blackberri: [01:52:00] has something. There's another organization ... And I can't think of who they are right now, but they have something. Spectrum Queer Media, a group I've been working with, they have something.
Blackberri: [01:52:30] So I figured if I can get this out to many different places, if it gets crushed in someplace, there'll be another copy somewhere else. And people don't always travel in the same circles. So they may travel in that circle and run into or they'll be traveling in a different circle and run into it, so the chances of them
Blackberri: [01:53:00] coming into it while they're maneuvering through whatever, the possibilities are greater if there are more pieces out there for them to run into. So that's why.
Mason Funk: Great. Great. That's fantastic. We should probably stop right there.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] record room tone, you probably been through this [crosstalk].
Blackberri: No problem.
Natalie Tsui: [01:53:30] Recording room tone. And we're good.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: May 09, 2017
Location: Home of Blackberri, Oakland, CA