Rainbow Railroad will hold its fourth annual fundraising event, "When I Am Free"featuring renowned lesbian jazz singer, composer and pianist Patricia Barberon Wed., Oct. 26, at Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 6:30-9:30 p.m.
This event kicks off Rainbow Railroad's fourth annual Chicago 5 Lives fundraising campaign. Rainbow Railroad is looking to raise $50,000 this year to help at least five LGBTQI+ people who are facing persecution worldwide find a safe place to live through this campaign. Over the past three years, the Chicago 5 Lives campaign has raised more than $150,000.
Since its founding in 2006 as a volunteer-run organization, the global non-profit Rainbow Railroad has helped more than 5,000 LGBTQI+ people who are facing persecution relocate due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or sex characteristics.
Barber told Windy City Times she decided to headline this event because "my marriage to Martha means the world to me. We had to wait a long time and fight politically for the right to marry. This right is not merely symbolic; it includes the ability to own community property, inheritance, healthcare visitation and power of attorney, and much more. There is an ultra-conservative faction in the American political scene that wants to take away our right to marry. I will fight that, and fight for a woman's right to choose, voting rights and civil rights. Rainbow Railroad puts their money to good use in protecting gay and trans people who are under imminent threat around the world."
Accompanying Barber at this event will be Larry Kohut (acoustic bass), Jon Deitemyer (drums) and Neal Alger (acoustic guitar).
"These are the best musicians on their instruments anywhere," said Barber. "They know me and my music well as we have recorded together and played the world together."
Barber said she became a jazz musician because it is a "family legacy" for her since her father was also a jazz musician and her mother, who loved Billie Holiday, was a "great singer with a huge voice who sounded like Mahalia Jackson." She added that her father taught her the piano at age five and would play the saxophone around the house while she was growing up and let her "feel the music by putting my hand inside the bell."
Among Barber's musical inspirations are singers Elis Regina and Shirley Horn; pianists Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans; and composers Rodgers and Hart as well as Cole Porter, adding that she loves the entire American Songbook.
Barber has also developed a love of classical music and is now "hooked on opera and many of the classical composers of song. This informs my composition as well as the composers of the American Songbook. For classical song, Faure is a favorite, but I also find inspiration from Samuel Barber, Chausson and Ravel."
When asked which of her many recordings people should listen to if they are just now diving into her work, Barber said that is a difficult question to answer because it is "like asking a mother to name her favorite child." She added that her fans have their favorite albumsCafe Blue, Modern Cool, Mythologies, The Cole Porter Mix, Higher and Clique.
Barber said she is excited that her songs are "filtering into the jazz canon" and classical singers are asking for her to write piano accompaniment for their songs.
Barber, who has mostly performed at the Green Mill and will be playing at Winter's Jazz Club this coming fall and spring, is looking forward to bringing her talents to Jazz Showcase for this upcoming Rainbow Railroad fundraising event.
Rainbow Railroad Board of Directors Vice-Chair Bruce Koff said the board chose Jazz Showcase because "it is a Chicago institution" and has the "right space and atmosphere for this event. You feel immersed in the city's great jazz history, and that giant inimitable Charlie Parker at the front of the room says, 'This is going to be something special.'"
Koff previously worked for 42 years in the mental health and social services field helping Chicago's LGBTQI+ community. Koff told this publication that just before he retired, he heard about Rainbow Railroad while assisting a young gay Russian emigre living in Chicago.
"I was deeply impressed with the organization's capacity to help LGBTQI+ people fleeing extreme persecution all over the world. I began as their Chicago area 'ambassador' and in 2019 joined Rainbow Railroad's board of directors," said Koff. "My commitment to the organization has grown because the organization is so successful and working in so many ways to save LGBTQI+ lives."
When asked why Rainbow Railroad approached Barber to headline this fundraising event, Koff said each year they feature Chicago-based musicians and since this year's theme was jazz "inviting a great interpreter like Patricia who knows how to fuse its freedom and authenticity with spectacular results to perform made perfect sense. Those same themes reflect the work of Rainbow Railroad as we strive to give others the freedom to live and love authentically. We couldn't be more thrilled and grateful that she agreed."
This is Barber's first foray into direct activism using her talents to raise money for an LGBTQI+ organization. She called herself "a very active Democrat" who has "been out for a very long time. I was out before it was cool … when my boss could have easily decided to fire me."
Barber said that being a well-known out gay composer and musician is "an important form of activism" and wishes every actor and musician who is LGBTQI+ would come out to reduce the stigma, especially now when the queer and trans community is under attack in all corners of the world.
"As someone who lived through the AIDS era, the epidemic of anti-LGBTQI+ persecution is remarkably reminiscent," said Koff. "In both, those affected are stigmatized, abandoned and filled with fear. Because their lives are deeply devalued, they can rely on neither families nor governments to save them. So, like then, it is up to us now to do the work. When we support Rainbow Railroad, we are doing the work, and when I see the dedication of our staff, the commitment of our donors and the gratitude of those we serve, I feel strength and hope."
"As an organization, Rainbow Railroad is united by our mission to help LGBTQI+ people internationally attain safety," said Rainbow Railroad Development and Communications Director Dane Bland. "One of the ways to further our impact is with our valued partners in the U.S. and around the world. The funds raised from our generous donors help to support our six streams of initiatives including emergency resettlement, direct support of LGBTQI+ partner organizations and direct financial assistance. Thank you to our Chicago area supporters and to Patricia Barber, our headline talent for the evening, for their ongoing support of Rainbow Railroad and our mission. We look forward to continuing our partnership for years to come."
To make a donation to the Chicago 5 Lives Campaign, visit donate.rainbowrailroad.org/give/409035/#!/donation/checkout.
See eventbrite.ca/e/when-i-am-free-a-benefit-concert-for-rainbow-railroad-tickets-404788231497 to purchase $100 general or $150 VIP admission tickets.
For more information, visit rainbowrailroad.org/take-action.