Cabaret-style performer to explore pre-WWII queer music in 'Lavender Blues'


February 23, 2018

Author, performer and LGBT activist Sarah Kilborne will explore music ahead of its time almost a century ago in a Wednesday, March 7, performance of “The Lavender Blues: A Showcase of Queer Music Before World War II.”

The performance, part of SUNY Oswego's Performing Arts Series, will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Sheldon Hall ballroom.

Kilborne's show highlights songs that speak about sexual and gender fluidity, what it was like to be gay, issues of masculinity, femininity, same-sex love, cross-dressing, freedom from prejudice and more.

"Sarah's show is an eye-opener whether you are straight or LGBTQA -- it's a glimpse into a world and music you don't know," author Neil Gaiman wrote. "It is as entertaining as it is educational, and funny."

Identifying herself as someone “outside of the box” as a child, Kilborne wanted to be a singer, an actor, a painter, a writer and an architect. She felt different with all of these interests, which made her uncomfortable, and for years caused her to turn to a creative activity -- writing -- that could be done in private.

Kilborne has written fiction and non-fiction books for both children and adults, including “Peach and Blue” and “American Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of William Skinner, A Man Who Turned Disaster Into Destiny.” Her written work has explored stories about history and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues and has expanded to her singing performances as well.

“She’s extremely dynamic,” said Miranda Traudt, SUNY Oswego's arts presentation director. “She’s a great fit, because it’s not just an arts performance. Really what she’s doing is telling a story about history, about what it is to be human and it goes into issues of sexuality and it crosses so many different disciplines.”

'New perspective'

Kilborne performs songs from legends such as singers Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Gladys Bentley and male impersonator Annie Hindle. The songs in "The Lavender Blues" are mostly by women, who address themes such as what it’s like to be non-binary.

“I hope and I think students and individuals will get a new perspective to what life was like back then,” Traudt said. “I think there’s a lot of similarities to be drawn to what life is like today.”

In support of LGBT rights, Kilborne also founded the Kiss for Equality campaign to raise awareness about the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality. The campaign has garnered more than 50,000 followers, with members from more than 40 countries.

Traudt said Kilborne is someone who is going to attract a variety of students -- as well as other audience members from the campus and community -- and integrate well with different courses. “Sarah would be of interest to students studying history, gender, women’s studies, music, activism -- all of these things,” she said.

Prior to the performance, Kilborne is expected to speak with students in a gender and women’s studies class.

Tickets for "Lavender Blues" are $20 ($5 for students with a valid SUNY Oswego ID). Tickets are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at or by calling 315-312-2141.

Parking is included in the price of a ticket, and is available in the employee and commuter lots adjacent to and across Washington Boulevard from Sheldon Hall. Patrons needing assistance should call 315-312-2141 in advance of the concert.  

For more information on these or other performing and fine arts events at SUNY Oswego, visit

'Lavender Blues' -- As Sarah Kilborne performs, she explains the meaning of the songs, including one from Annie Hindle, who was the first popular male impersonator. Her show, "The Lavender Blues: A Showcase of Queer Music Before World War II," will take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, in SUNY Oswego's Sheldon Hall ballroom.