Hot Licks: De’Borah Garner
The soul-rockin’ gospel girl is looking good and living her dreams.
“Music is music. Whatever you want to sing should be sung,” says geeky songbird De’Borah Garner. During her Season 3 run on “The Voice,” Garner charmed many a queer gal with her plastic specs, powerful vocals and her pledge to stay true to herself.
The Chicago native released a debut single last March. “Coming Out Looking Good” tells of her experiences with anti-gay church groups and her rebirth as an openly lesbian artist. The song’s title is derived from a sermon written by her father; it became a chant that Garner would use to keep going when religious homophobia was about to axe her singing career. “‘Coming Out Looking Good’ means regardless of my situation, I’m going to succeed,” Garner says. She laughs a bit when she describes her unique song, which bows to no rules or strict musical format. “It’s more [like] I’m just talking to you—I’m letting you know what has happened, and then what’s happening right now. I needed the world to realize that, yeah, I’m not trying to blend in into this industry, no way, no how.”
Raised by two music-loving pastors, Garner and her many siblings spent so much time singing on gospel ground that sometimes they were sleeping and waking up in church. But as Garner slowly adopted a masculine look, church groups began to reject her based on her appearance. They would hear about her phenomenal talent and hire her for engagements, but would turn her away the moment she showed her beautiful butchy self in the flesh. “The looks. The way people would look at me,” she says. People would look at her as if she were “repulsive.” After slews of canceled gigs, Garner stopped singing; she didn’t even like leaving her house. “I felt like I was tainting the Earth. Like, my talents didn’t matter because of what I look like or my sexual preference.”
Then, Garner gave her last shot at singing to “The Voice”—whose blind auditions prioritize skill above appearance—and took the audience by storm. The rest is lesbian history. Nowadays, Garner keeps her head up. “There’s nothing you can say to ever get me down the way you got me before. I would be a fool to even let your words linger.” She refuses to let others define her: “I can never live through other people’s words. I create my words and I speak into the atmosphere so that…as long as God is blessing me, nothing, no one can ever discourage me again.”
Garner’s single is rich with her infectious positivity. She calls her music “soulful rock,” meaning: “I’m singing from within, but I’m always rockin’ out. I can’t help but rock out in any song I sing, whether it’s hip-hop, R&B, pop, rock, alternative, gospel.” The self-described “misfit” wants to encourage the colorfulness of everyone else in the world. She says that young misfits need to try to out-live their difficult circumstances, to become greater than their own problems. As a black gay woman, she doesn’t think much of mainstream social acceptance. “Women, we had to fight just to vote. Slavery had to be abolished. Now, I’m a lesbian. I’m three walking contradictions. So, I refuse to look for approval at this point! I’m gonna make [my own] approval.”
Garner views her celesbianism as a way to support those who feel alone. Still, in between all the anti-bullying conferences, gigs and interviews, she’s humble about her influential power. “I’m just another notch on this great community. And not saying that in a bad way, like I haven’t accomplished anything, but more so I’m happy to be another helping hand, another junction in this road.”
Garner’s got a clear future goal; she’s had her eye on the Grammys since she was seven. The gilded gramophone is a must-have. “I don’t care if it’s just one. I have to hit that stage at least once in my life.” But before the Grammys, she’s going to tease fans with another single—a feel good song with an edge. Then, she’ll send out her full album. “When my album comes out, you’re gonna hear classical music, you’re gonna hear acoustic jazz. I’ll sing in other languages...I’m gonna utilize every tool that I’ve learned from childhood to now, and then the things that I’m continuing to learn.”
Garner says that she’s always thirsty for more, whether its music, academics or life wisdom. “I’m an actual geek, it’s not just the way I dress. I’m academically profound, seriously.” She adds that she treated “The Voice” like band camp, learning the acoustic guitar plus some secular songs that she had never heard prior her need to sing them. When asked about her drive, she says, “I definitely don’t want to be forgotten.” Don’t worry, Garner, you won’t be. (MusicTrappa)