First published in Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine, 2008
A folksinger who called herself a "big loud Jewish butch lesbian" at a time when even "homosexual" was whispered, Maxine Feldman was refused bookings in Boston coffeehouses in 1963 for "bringing around the wrong crowd." She found a different path, opening for comedy act Harrison and Tyler. And just one month before the Stonewall riots in 1969, Maxine penned the first out lesbian song, "Angry Atthis," as a reaction to the treatment of queers. Three years later, Robin Tyler produced Maxine's song with tape left over from one of the duo's recording sessions. Self-released as a single, Maxine would quip that "20th Century Fox never knew that they actually produced the first lesbian record."
Maxine came from a liberal family. It was only natural that she would get involved with civil rights work, including voter registration and feminist issues. She attended Emerson College in Boston, but was kicked out for being lesbian.
Never content to play only gay spaces, she would perform "any place that would have her." She loved being a bridge, helping others to gain confidence and find the resources they needed. She wrote "Amazon" in 1976, the lesbian anthem that opens the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival every year. (It's included on her one album, Closet Sale, released in 1979.) Through the 1980s, she ran the Oasis Coffeehouse in Boston, a venue that featured women performers, and often appeared at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival where her booming "Welcome Women!" and funny quips as emcee were well-loved.
By the end of that decade, though, health problems caused her to stop performing. Distressed about finances and unable to get adequate health care, she reached a low point in the 1990s, but got back on her feet with the help of friends. I had the great pleasure to visit with her around that time, sharing food and laughing about the old times.
In later years, Maxine explored gender identity. Comfortable with either gender pronoun, s/he confided to friends that s/he was too old for surgery and comfortable in her/his body. S/he passed away in Albuquerque of natural causes on August 17, and is survived by her/his partner Helen Thornton. All of us who are gay, lesbian, bi or transsexual stand on his/her strong shoulders. We miss you, Maxine.
Copyright © 2008 Sing Out Corporation, Gale Group