The Fan Who Knew Too Much: The Secret Closets of American Culture by Anthony Heilbut, Soft Skull Press, 354 pages
Despite his professed atheism, author Anthony Heilbut found refuge in the redemptive message of African American gospel music. In his impeccably researched collection of essays The Fan Who Knew Too Much: The Secret Closets of American Culture, Heilbut writes “I love gospel music without believing a word of it.” Before Cher and Lady Gaga, there were the original divas: Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, and Marion Williams. Sporting colorful robes and sky-high bouffants, their domain wasn’t the concert hall or the disco but the church. The role of these women — and the gay men who loved them — in American music and culture constitutes the bulk of Heilbut’s book, which makes the fascinating argument that early-20th-century American black churches, particularly of the Pentecostal persuasion, were not just places of worship; they also served as safe havens for gay men and women who contended with economic struggle and racial discrimination, along with the stigma of homosexuality.
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