Queer Singer Mykal Kilgore Talks New Tour, New Single, and New Move to Atlanta
Singer and “artivist" Mykal Kilgore says, in many ways, he feels like he is starting over. Having achieved success on Broadway (Motown The Musical, The Book of Mormon, HAIR!) and television (The Wiz Live!, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert), Kilgore made history in 2021 when he became the first openly queer singer to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Now, Kilgore is laser-focused on his budding recording career and “The Man In The Barbershop Tour,” which kicks off in Atlanta on February 3 at Vinyl.
It feels appropriate that he would begin his 13-city east coast tour in Atlanta now that he’s a new resident. Kilgore’s sit down with The Reckoning was his first matter of business and official welcome to the South after getting settled into his new Atlanta address. Without hesitation, he made it clear why he chose to make Atlanta home.
“I wanted to be around Black queer folks because the art is for us,” he said. “I want to test out the work and I want people to be able to say, this is what we want, or this is what we need, because sometimes the music may not be exactly what you think you want, but I want to give us the music, the art, the craft, the work that we as a community need.”
Just as he did in the song and visual for “The Man In The Barbershop,” Kilgore’s latest single and follow-up to “Let Me Go,” the Grammy-nominated single from his “A Man Born Black” album, is based on real events.“Barbershop” is a beautiful display of unrequited love in one of the most challenging spaces for Black queer men. The reaction from fans, many of whom, with their own experiences of being Black and queer while navigating the hetero-normative space of the Black barbershop, felt seen and represented in Kilgore’s work.
“I didn't realize that [Man In The] Barbershop was going to hit the way that it did,” Kilgore says. “I knew that I wanted to tell that story and I knew I was willing to take that risk, but it was so fulfilling to see Black queer folks say, ‘Oh, I felt that same thing. I've had the same experience.’ I'm so glad that I finally have a song that speaks to that.”
Twenty years ago, Kilgore’s success as an openly queer Black man in the music industry, specifically the R&B genre, would have been unimaginable. Today, he is allowed the opportunity to occupy each space he enters as his full authentic self without the fear of his career imploding. And after engaging Kilgore in conversation, one quickly learns that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You cannot have the art without having me,” he says. “And I think there's some kind of activism in that. It's easy to take someone's good parts and leave the stuff you don't want to take. But with me, if you want me, you have to take the Blackness, the queerness, you have to take it all with me. And you have to be able to wrestle with it if you need to wrestle or accept it, but you can't have the art without me,” Kilgore says, adding this core belief as the inspiration for his “artivist” title. “My art is my activism.”
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