Artist activists and straight allies Derrick Procell ( singer and music producer ) and Grammy-winner Terry Abrahamson ( song writer ) met each in the one of the most unlikely places, the jingle business. This occurred years ago during Chicago's reign as America's jingle capital.
"I was introduced to Derrick since it was suggested to me that he had the perfect voice for a song I was working on for Snap on Tools. He recorded it and we stayed in touch after that," said Abrahamson. "I had this business where I was making party videos for people and we collaborated on some songs for those parties. About three years ago, we started writing real music together."
"My experience with Terry as an artist activist started when he asked me to sing his Randy Newman meets Ray Charles song 'Lakefront Liberals.' About three years ago we wrote our very first song together, called "I Will Be Your Leather," which isn't what the title sounds like. It's about protection and being there for someone that you love," said Procell. "That began one of the most fruitful and creative periods of my career. When Terry gives me lyrics I am struck by where these lyrics are going to take me musically and we've never hit a sour note in our entire time collaborating with each other. Usually what my first instincts tell me to do with his lyrics are right on the money."
Their recent collaboration, "50 Shades of Gay," came to fruition when Abrahamson heard about, of course, 50 Shades of Grey. Abrahamson explained that this was a great opportunity to do a celebratory song that is inclusionary and addresses the rainbow umbrella, so to speak. Procell noted that the song is a cross between Elton John and the Village People.
"For whatever reason the song fills a void/vacuum. In a whimsical inclusionary way it celebrates the LGBTQ world. I feel that there is a lot of potential with this song," said Abrahamson. "We're old rockers. We're not dance club guys so this song has more of a rock-n-roll feel to it with a driving beat and we did this so it can be played in bars, the radio and at LGBTQ events. We look at this song as a marriage of rock and the rainbow."
"I knew the song had to have an immediate accessibility. More than anything else we wanted this song to be a celebration," said Procell. "Someone asked us why we put in allusions to Stonewall and we told them that it's a part of the history and it's not good to walk around with rose colored glasses on and say that it's been all fun and games. I think the fact that we do acknowledge the more difficult time that the LGBTQ community had and still has with some still having to live in the shadows has made the celebration that much sweeter."
After Procell recorded "50 Shades of Gay," Abrahamson decided to create a video showcasing people from two distinct placesNorth Halsted Street in Chicago during Pride Week and the Pride Parade and in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The video ( which Abrahamson shot with his iPhone 5 during the summer of 2014 ) featured 157 people from all walks of life. It was edited by Jerry Donahue at Metro Space Media in Glenview, Illinois.
"What was interesting is if you look at the video most of the younger people and people of color where the people I found on North Halsted Street and the older people/couples were in Provincetown," said Abrahamson. "It all blends together really well and everyone who participated was excited to be a part of the video. They love the song and would like it to be played on a larger scale."
Psychologists are using the video as a self-esteem enhancement tool in therapy sessions with LGBTQ patients.
Procell noted that the song has had tremendously positive feedback from the likes of Chef Art Smith and Neil Patrick Harris.
"We're very excited with the direction it's gone and the reception it's gotten since it's been released," said Abrahamson.
As for their hopes and dreams for the song, they noted that they would like to see an all-star cast of LGBTQ and allied artists perform the song a la the "We Are the World" recording session. Procell explained that he is proud of his version of the song, however, since he isn't a household name an all-star cast of artists would help spread the word about the song in a way that his version wouldn't. Abrahamson said that he would also like the Village People to perform the song.
"This song is all about freedom of expression and we think there is a tremendous opportunity for the song to be used at any celebratory event that promotes diversity," said Abrahamson.
Prior to collaborating with Procell, Abrahamson had already amassed a number of LGBTQ-focused songs, including tunes such as "The Heart of Me," "Jailbird Rock," "He's Gay, He's Proud and He's Four," and "Rise and Shine" from his 2011 musical How to Bust a Bully, which played in school assemblies across Illinois.
Procell noted that since he's teamed up with Abrahamson, they've worked on songs covering a wide swath of political causes including "Joshua" which was produced shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre.
"Terry and I were talking and I could see how deeply he was affected by it so I suggested to him that he should channel those thoughts into writing some lyrics and surprisingly he didn't write anything about the actual incident or even violence or gun control," said Procell. "He ended up writing about the divisiveness that we are suffering from which of course was evident in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook. I turned those lyrics into a song with gospel, rock, pop and everything else but the kitchen sink in it and I think that's one of our best songs."
Other songs in their activist repertoire include "The Night of the Fourth of July," addressing post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans; "That's What Hands Are For," which addresses domestic violence; "Bein' a Woman," a female empowerment song, and "The Arms of Mother Nature," about saving the forests.
"I grew up in a political household and have always been very political myself especially about social causes," said Abrahamson. "I've always used my talent to make people aware of issues I thought needed to be addressed. These songs have given us the opportunity to bring social issues to the forefront in order to make a dent in the collective community consciousness."
Since Abrahamson lives in Uptown in Chicago and Procell lives in Deerfield, Illinois, they've devised a system whereby Abrahamson sends Procell the song lyrics and Procell composes and records the songs in his home studio, Hear & Now Music ( www.hearandnowmusic.com ).
The duo is currently working on a kids musical called "Broccoli Boulevard" where all the vegetables come to life. They are also working on a show that's a cross between a musical and a musical revue called Bris: The Musical, about the world of circumcision.
"There will be a new cause that we find out about and get inspired to create new music," said Abrahamson. "We are the beneficiaries of living in a very troubled world and as problems arise we are inspired to address them through our music."
Abrahamson's message to the world is "keep rocking and celebrating." He also said to try and dance every day. Procell noted that it's a great time to be alive.
To view the video, visit www.youtube.com/watch. They are in the process of creating a joint website to showcase their collaborative efforts. For more information on Procell and Abrahamson's work and joint website, visit www.derrickanamerican.com and www.inthebellyoftheblues.com .