Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 26) Singing Out of His Tree

Previously on 80 Gays : 53) Dame Carol Ann Duffy (b.1955) is the UK’s Poet Laureate, a title reminding us of the practice in Ancient Greece of awarding laurel wreaths to winners of song contests, as written about by 54) Theocritus of Syracuse (c.300 BC-c.260 BC), and the modern-day versions of such contests makes stars out of singers like 55) Clay Aiken (b.1978).

55) Clay Aiken was baptised Clayton Holmes Grissom. Clayton and Holmes are the names of his two grandmothers’ families. Aiken is his mother’s family name. Clay’s parents, Vernon Grissom and his second wife Nancy Faye Aiken, separated in the 1990s. When he was 19 Clay decided to legally change his surname from Grissom to Aiken.

One feature I noticed was the dominance of North Carolina in Clay’s ancestry. This is by no means unique. Other research shows dominance of other states in other people’s ancestries. Usually, however, there is a variety of geographical backgrounds in American ancestries, including some of those I’ve featured previously on this blog.

Below is a comparison. I’ve selected another famous “American Idol” contestant, Adam Lambert, whose paternal ancestry I have researched. The bottom row of each chart gives the singer’s name. Above that are rows representing the previous five generations. Each ancestor is given a colour to indicate a state of origin. The more colours, the more states appear in the ancestry. Ancestors I haven’t yet researched are blank. 
The first thing to notice is blue in Clay Aiken’s ancestry table. This represents North Carolina. Adam Lambert’s ancestry, even if less research has been done, shows more variation, though the blue representing North Carolina appears in his chart also.

Clay Aiken’s immediate ancestry reveals his musical heritage. His autobiography “Learning to Sing” relates his great-grandfather and great-great-uncle were talented musicians who were recorded by Duke University as part of a folk culture project. Another musical connection appears in one of Clay’s distance cousins Lynn Breedlove (b.1965). Lynn, also Lynnee, was founder and lead singer of the queer punk band Tribe 8.

The Breedloves and the Grissoms reveal a dark chapter found in many American ancestries, the American Civil War. Both families fought for the Confederates.

In 1861 the Confederates formed an infantry regiment that was later nicknamed the Granville Targeteers because it was largely composed of men from Granville County, North Carolina. Along with other families in Clay’s ancestry the Breedloves and Grissoms had lived in Granville County for several generations. There’s no indication that any of Clay’s direct ancestors enlisted with the Confederates although his ancestors’ brother and cousins did. No less than five Breedlove brothers, nephews of Clay’s ancestor Shelton Breedlove, enlisted in the army or navy.

Also serving in the Granville Targeteers was Alexander Grissom, the brother of Clay’s great-great-grandfather. Alexander rose to the rank of 1st Corporal in 1862 and was killed on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Through another Granville County family, the Bennetts, it looks probable that one of Clay’s ancestral uncles was Richard Bennett, Governor of Virginia 1652-5. Governor Bennett was an ancestor of Robert E. Lee.

Yet another Granville County family caught my attention because they are my ancestors as well, the Spiveys. Clay descends from Littleton Spivey (c.1700-1761). My connection comes in the 17th century when Clay’s Spivey ancestors migrated to America from Nottinghamshire. That’s where my Spivey ancestors came from and I’ve been digging in the county archives to find out if we’re related.

Among Clay’s other colonial ancestors are several families who were involved in one of the earliest colonial rebellions, Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. Its causes and effects are complex and too lengthy to go into here, but ultimately it led to the growth of the persecution of Native Americans, the American slave trade, white supremacy in US politics, and the American Dream. A brief description of the rebellion is given in this video.
Among Clay’s ancestors known to have been involved in the rebellion are George Proctor, a Tidewater aristocrat who supported the rebellion, and William Rowland, one of the rebels.

That’s just a snapshot of Clay Aiken’s ancestry. Let’s jump forward to look at Clay’s rise to fame.

Having been a singer and musician in public from childhood Clay got the chance to record a demo album thanks to a birthday present from his mother. After the first series of “American Idol” proved to be a success Clay was persuaded to audition for the second series in 2002. He surprised the judges with his talent and the rest, as they say, is history. Even though he lost to Ruben Studdard in the final Clay was a popular contestant. Along with many other contestants he recorded “American Idol Season 2: All-time Classic American Love Songs”. A solo album followed.

The “American Idol” album was recorded in the Larrabee West recording studio in West Hollywood. Larrabee West wasn’t built or designed as a recording studio. It was built in 1922 as a bank. But it’s what happened after it was a recording studio which takes us further on our “80 Gays” journey. In 2007 the Larrabee West studio was turned into a gay nightclub and restaurant called Eleven. Its co-owner was 56) Richard Grossi.

Next time : We go clubbing and pull a few strings in order to continue on a musical journey via the Gay Games.

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