Happy birthday, Jermaine Stewart, born September 7th, 1957, who was one of the first gay artists to break out of the clubs and crossover into mainstream just as the music video was being born and kids were clamoring "I want my MTV!"
Jermaine was an out and proud inspiration to gay kids at home in front of their parents' TV sets in the '80s, and to jaded gay grownups in front of theirs as well.
He always made you smile and want to get up and push the furniture out of the way and dance.
Jermaine began his performing career as a teenager in Chicago, touring with the Chi-Lites and The Staple Singers and appearing on the "American Bandstand" and "Soul Train" TV shows, which were prototypes for all-music broadcasters.
He would go straight from school in the afternoon to the "Soul Train" studios in Chicago where the show was shown locally in black-and-white — who knew that the show would become a nationwide hit within a few years?
By the early '80s he had worked with Shalamar, Millie Jackson, Tavares, the Temptations, and Culture Club as a background vocalist and dancer.
With the help of Culture Club member Mikey Craig, he landed his first solo recording contract with Clive Davis of Arista Records (10 Records in the UK) in 1984.
His first single, "The Word Is Out," was produced by Peter Collins and was supported by a video shot in Paris.
The song reached number 41 in the US R&B and Billboard charts, and was followed by an album of the same name in 1985.
Although "The Word Is Out" did much to enhance Stewart's reputation, it did not prove to be the commercial success Arista had expected.
But things changed with his second album, "Frantic Romantic," which included the song that would be Stewart's biggest hit, "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off." It became an international success, reaching the Billboard Top 5 and number 5 in the UK charts.
Jermaine's third album, "Say It Again," was probably his most successful internationally. He was big in the US and Britain, but he was stupendously popular in Europe and Asia.
He was a veritable superstar in Germany , where "Don't Talk Dirty To Me" was one of the biggest selling records of 1988, making the top 5.
While other mainstream pop stars went for a mainstream look, St. Jermaine went for eye-popping glitz-and-match attire and a glamour-diva image which Asians and Europeans loved.
This was when his career peaked and began a slow but steady decline as '80s radio-friendly pop tunes fell out of favor. In the early '90s he recorded an album entitled "Set Me Free." The album marked a return to the dance funk style of his pre-fame days. The title track was released as a single in the U.S., but sold poorly. The album was never released ….
Meanwhile, his health was beginning to decline. He did however start recording a new album in 1996, but never finished it. St. Jermaine Stewart died of complications of AIDS on March 17, 1997, at the age of 39.
Ironically, his biggest hit "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off," with its safe sex message, was one of the first mainstream pop responses to the AIDS crisis.
We honor Jermaine Stewart for his courage and for his talent and for his audacity at being an in-your-face '80s gay style icon. Besides, not even Diana Ross had this many costume changes in a four-minute music video: