Sing, What You Can’t Say: “The Lavender Song” (The 1st Gay Anthem)

Regardless of its kind, music follows us through our entire day and affects us in many different ways. According to science, the human brain is entirely ”musical”. Music can change the structure of our brain – induce or intensify our emotions. Why we like or dislike a certain song can now be scientifically explained. Music is being used in therapy to help people who struggle with speech development. It has been proven that music helps people sing words they cannot pronounce. This is because music is sort of a ”detour” or an alternative road to avoid the ”traffic jam” in the human brain. But, when we put our respective science aside, we can all see and recognize the social, political and cultural importance of music: as it did help and is still helping us to sing what we can’t say. 

Groups of people and entire communities all around the world gather around music, not only to enjoy it, but to express themselves, their identities and shared values. The LGBTQ+ community is no exception. Many songs are LGBTQ+ anthems. Some became anthems intentionally but many did not. The first gay anthem was “The Lavander Song” (“Das lila Lied”), a German cabaret song from 1920. The lyrics were written by Kurt Schwabach, while the music was done by Mischa Spoilansky, a Russian-British composer who was first signed by his pseudonym, Arno Billing. 

Kurt Schwabach was a well known songwriter who dedicated “The Lavander Song” to Magnus Hirschfeld, a German sexologist and a co-founder of the first homosexual movement. Schwabach’s ”purple song”  had great success after being published as sheet music by Carl Schultz Publishing House, which also issued Die Freundschaft (Frendship, German magazine for gay men). The lavender or purple color, as a different ”option”, symbolized the entire gay movement until it was replaced with the color pink after WWII. 

The Weimar Republic (1918-1933) and its parliamentary democracy provided some improvements for gays and lesbians, especially in Berlin. (A little reminder: the Weimar era is the era of many ”firsts” in German and even world history when it comes to themes of homosexuality.) However, at the fall of the Weimar Republic, Kurt Schwabach was banned from work due to ”racial” reasons, was persecuted and his family murdered during the Nazi era. Later in life, he suffered from chronic subdepressive conditions and committed suicide. Luckily, his works, especially “The Lavender Song”, continued to live and take different forms by different artists around the world – even today.

What made “The Lavender Song” an anthem is, of course, the subject matter but also the circumstances which brought this song to be recognized as such. Music is so much more than just notes on a page. Themes like acceptance, perseverance, resilience, pride, unity and even the entire concept of human hope can be expressed through music. Music, mysterious as it is, can change the way people think and feel – and sometimes, it can really be a detour in our struggles to express our basic needs; to sing, when we can’t speak and to be heard, when no one is listening.

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