Parson James brings his 'conflicted pop gospel' to Pride

Out gay musical artist Parson James, now based in Brooklyn, New York, has a story. And that story begins in conservative, rural South Carolina. He calls his music “conflicted pop gospel,” and one you know his past it just clicks.

Born Ashton Parson in a town called Cheraw, Parson James faced more than his fair share of struggles. His teen mother was thrown out of her house when her pregnancy was discovered, because the father of the child was an African American basketball player. But James’ mother prevailed through adversity, raising her son with the help of his paternal great-grandmother, while working three jobs.

For a while James’ father was around, but in the end she had to kick him out for drug abuse and stealing from her. “My dad was out of the picture after that,” James said. “When my dad left, he was in a very bad place.” One of his few vivid memories of his father was having to call the police on the man. “I knew how to call 911 when my dad was in the house and pretend I was speaking to my grandmother so he wouldn’t know I was calling for help.”

James knew he was gay from an early age, but also knew better than to come out too early. “I grew up in rural South Carolina–a very difficult place to be out. My town was about 5,000 people,” he explained, “super religious, super rooted in its Baptist belief: anything that’s kind of different than the way they were raised was kind of banished!”

Latent homophobia wasn’t the only societal ill James had to face. “Racism was a problem as well—and my family was interracial, so acceptance was hard to come by on both sides.”

While church was the source of many of his troubles, its music was a fascination and a comfort. “I have been singing as long as I can remember,” James said. “I never shut up. My first glimpses of music were in church, gospel and Baptist hymns. Church was an amazing place musically: some of the voices you hear there are ridiculously good.”

It’s little surprise though that, “Growing up, I didn’t connect with the message, but the passion and energy gave me a glimpse of what I wanted to do,” he explained. “At 10 I started to do talent shows, chorus and choirs. By 15 I was convinced I should be the next American idol. I tried multiple times and never made the first audition.”

Eventually, James said, “I got to a place where I was going nuts, and I knew that, even at a young age, I had to get out of there. So I moved to New York when I was 17. I got here, and there were so many people here… Quickly I came out of the closet: I went to my first gay bar and started seeing gay and lesbian relationships. I met the first trans person I had ever known. I spent a few years here learning about myself as a person, since I spent so much time in the closet growing up.”

Working up the nerve to tell his mother that he was gay wasn’t easy, despite him knowing she would accept him. “My mom was really great,” James said. “She would never judge me, she’s been super supportive.”

When he first came out to her, he asked if she had guessed. She told him that she’d never questioned his sexuality, but that at some level she might have known. “Maybe I did,” she told him, “but when you’ve had the experience of being judged by your own parents, that's a feeling that you would never want to put on anyone else.”

How did he work up the courage to leave home and run off to New York in pursuit of music? “I was a bit delusional about my career,” James said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘This is just going to happen!’ Moving to New York at 17 was just the thing I was supposed to do. I signed up for a college I’d never heard of, but I never went to class. I went to open mikes and made relationships: I got connected to others, and eventually music industry.”

“I just kept myself completely busy and never looked up,” he explained. “When I did look up I had fallen into the hands of a really good manager. I found I needed to be more honest with my music, and once I did, labels got more interested and it allowed me to deliver my own personal message.”

James’ debut single from his EP The Temple reflects on this. The community had turned its back on his mother: “She was shut out by everyone. So on ‘Sinner Like You’ I’m asking, ‘What are we going to do?’ and recognizing the hypocrisy of the people in the community. The lady who drove me to school had a drug addiction. The preacher was caught sleeping with his wife’s sister. And somehow my being gay trumps that?”

James’ music received a huge boost, ironically, from American Idol. In its final season, Keith Urban suggested to contestant Trent Harmon that he should perform “Waiting Game”, also on The Temple, on the shows finale. “Starbucks had been playing the full EP,” James explained, “and [Urban] heard it there and talked about it on the show!” This rocketed the song to iTunes’ Top 10 that week, and James hasn’t looked back.

This year, James is playing Pride festivals in Nashville, New Jersey and New York, and he said, “I’ve never been to Nashville, so I’m excited to see some Southern queens. In South Carolina there wasn’t even a bar or club within three hours, so it’ll be a new experience. I’m excited!”




Photos by Koury Angelo

Photo courtesy of Jose Cuervo

2023 Reserva de la Familia Limited Edition Terceerunquinto

On January 10, 2023, Reserva de la Familia, Jose Cuervo’s ultra-premium collection of artisanal small-batch tequilas and Mexico’s crown jewel, announced its 2023 collector’s box, designed by artists Rolando Flores and Gabriel Cázares of the Mexico-based Tercerunquinto Collective. The piece of custom art, titled “Structuring a Landscape”, features a geometric abstraction of the landscape of Tequila, Mexico and will adorn the 2023 limited-release collector’s box of Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo.

Since 1995, Jose Cuervo has worked with internationally recognized artists with roots in Mexico to design the box artwork for Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo. Each box is an authentic collector’s item, with a limited quantity produced annually before a new artist is chosen. Previous artists include Gonzalo Lebrija, Pedro Friedeberg, Carlos Aguirre, Ricardo Pinto and many more. Every artist is selected by a team of art curators including 11th generation Cuervo family member and CEO of Jose Cuervo, Juan Domingo Beckmann, Executive Director of El Museo del Barrio in New York City, Patrick Charpenel and founder of Zona Maco, Mexico’s number one art fair, Zélika García.

Keep reading Show less
Photo courtesy of Velvet Ibiza

Velvet Ibiza

Every year, Ibiza is home to Europe’s very epic queer woman’s party, Velvet Ibiza, which is celebrating its 7th anniversary and promises to be next level. Velvet Ibiza is an all-inclusive 5-day and 5-night party and includes transportation from the airport, a bungalow, 3 meals, and activities and parties day and night, and drinks until around 10:30 pm.

This year, international crowds of LGBTQ+ women will be attending Velvet Ibiza on May 2 - 7 to celebrate life, belonging, and freedom. Event organizers have rented an entire resort in order to build a community vibe and allow queer women to connect so there’s no reason to go anywhere unless of course, you want to go shopping, head to the beach, or explore the island.

Keep reading Show less

Financial Planning for the LGBTQ+ community

The new year has arrived. For many people, that means making resolutions and thinking of ways they can do better in the coming year and beyond. Money management and financial planning are often very popular resolutions and goals, but most financial advice tends to be aimed at heterosexual couples who want to grow their family and raise children.

But, what if your life goals are different? What if you don’t receive the same protection under the current laws as hetero couples?
What if you don’t want to have kids?

Keep reading Show less