Lee Lewis’ Soulful Gems Explore the Complexities of Gay Black Love

Lee Lewis isn’t your typical pop newcomer. With a background steeped in classical training, Lewis, who hails from Los Angeles, brings a unique richness to his voice in his debut EP Something Burning, weaving soulful textures into perfectly crafted pop gems. But there’s an even deeper meaning in his catchy tunes; this album is a poignant exploration of heartbreak, self-discovery and the complexities of navigating love as a Black queer man.  

“A multitude of experiences and some traumas that needed to be expressed” is what inspired the album, a collection of songs written over the years, Lewis reveals to EBONY. “I was using music to get my passion for singing back and to express my experiences more positively. I essentially used it as therapy.”  

Touching on universal themes of heartbreak, abuse, yearning and the recklessness of surface-level connections, the stories Lewis tells are relevant to many but also delve into the relationship experiences as a queer man, from dating closeted men and navigating a competitive dating pool to being seen loving a man in a world that still does not make it safe to. “I want to tell my stories because I haven’t been able to…and I feel full and complete by being able to finally do it.”  

Here, the Ladera Heights native shares his classical to contemporary journey and reveals how the music from his homestead helped shape the artist he is today.  

EBONY: At what age and event did you realize you would be a singer?  

Lee Lewis: This question makes me feel old! I realized way back when I was around 13 years old; I’m 29 now. Back then, singing was the only thing I was good at. I originally started with a love for singing jazz standards. Nat King Cole was a god to me back then. But when I switched over to classical voice, that’s when I knew singing was my actual “calling” as they say. I won a competition called the Spotlight Awards at the end of high school, something I’d been working toward. Being on a stage of that size, with the history of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and as a Black kid singing classical voice, that’s when I knew for sure. It was an electric feeling that I carried with me into future musical endeavors.  

How did your childhood growing up in Ladera Heights influence your music and sound?  

I had the luxury and blessing of growing up in a predominantly Black community. The culture, including the music that accompanies this community, was around me constantly. My grandpa would come by often and share his love of Billy Eckstine’s Blue Moon. My parents had Sade, Luther, Maxwell and so many others playing in the house. My aunt would request DJ Quik, Boys II Men and Bell Biv DeVoe. And the kids in the neighborhood celebrated Odd Future, ‘jerkin’ music and other West Coast staples. Growing up in Ladera Heights, between my family and the community, was like a constant enrichment in our culture. I’d run off to school and do my classical voice and opera and then come home to the music that my people created.   

On your album, you explore the intricacies of dating in the LGBTQ community. How has the experience been for you personally? 

Listen, I love my journey, and I love the community and culture that I’m a part of, but it definitely ain’t easy. There are some nuances that are specific and a bit more frequent to our community that can be difficult. The closeted men, the prejudice and racism that Black queer people face from the gay community; the unreasonable standards of beauty, exoticism, etc. There are many issues that come around for us, but speaking for Black queer people, we are resilient, strong, innovative, inclusive and beautiful. So, regardless of the many challenges that we face, our subculture within the gay community is something truly special. I often think of the show Noah’s Arc or some of my friend groups as a representation of the beauty of our community. It’s a blessing in disguise at times, these challenges, pains and struggles, but we make beauty out of it. If you want proof, look at what Black queer people have done for music, equality and culture as a whole and so much more.   

Can you share one harrowing dating story you touch upon in your music?  

Man, I have a lot of answers to this one! I won’t jump into a specific story, but I think the frequent occurrences of dating or being involved with men in the closet is something I sang about a lot on this project. It’s exhausting and tiring, and you end up feeling used time and time again, but it offered me hard lessons that I’ve certainly learned from once and for all. The days of making songs about those topics have ended for me.  

How does your music help you define your personal freedom as a gay Black man?  

My music is truly my freest self. Not only is it honest in the stories and experiences that I’m telling, but also in my voice and my singing. It’s the combo of my musical influences, history, family, singing, traumas, joys and stories presenting themselves together in the music. It’s the most unified and free that I ever felt.   

Queer art is being threatened. How do you push forward, knowing many people do not want you to express yourself?  

Black people, and even more specifically Black queer people, live a life of constant fight. Queerness has always been attacked by society and even within the Black community. Honestly, existing, being liberated and celebrating yourself as a queer person is pushing forward and fighting against anti-queerness. For myself, I have the blessing of queer liberation through music. It’s my best method of fighting anti-queerness so that keeps me going. I’m sure that’s the case for many other artists as well.  

Who are some of the queer music artists that you admire?  

Wow so many! I love Luther Vandross, who is one of the best voices of all time. Serpentwithfeet. Kaytranda. Janelle Monáe—love the way she incorporates sci-fi and afrofuturism in her queer stories. Mykki Blanco. Honey Dijon. Victoria Monét. We’re present in so many genres, and the influence and impact, both now and from the past, is profound. I hope to join that someday!  

Something Burning is available on Amazon. 

Updated: June 17, 2024 — 12:02 pm