When Diana King came out last June, the 42-year-old singer and songwriter decided to make the big announcement on (where else?) Facebook. “Yes I am a lesbian,” she wrote. “I answer now, not because it’s anyone’s business, but because it feels right with my soul, and I believe by not answering or hiding it all these years somehow makes it appear as if I am ashamed of it, or that I believe it is wrong I am a private person.”
Since then, the dancehall powerhouse, known for her songs “Shy Guy” and “L-L-Lies” – and the first Jamaican artist to come out publicly – has been honored with the Vanguard Award at the Out Music Awards, an acknowledgement that was especially meaningful to the Spanish Town-born King since Jamaica ranks among the most LGBT intolerant countries in the world.
As she gets ready to take the stage for her first Dinah Shore Weekend (April 7 at the Hilton Pool Party), she talks exclusively to us about what it’s really like being out in R&B and how her sexual awakening helped confront some very serious health challenges. We also get the scoop on whether we can expect to see more of King in the State, and ask the big question – whether she’s on (or off) the dating market.
AfterEllen.com: When you came out last year, you said you did it because it “it feels rights with my soul.” What made you decide to talk about your personal life in public after so many years?
Diana King: It was just the right time. It was my moment of courage and need to be 100 percent authentic. I am an introvert and a very private person, but over the years I’ve used social media to become more “outgoing.”
AE: Why Facebook?
DK: Facebook felt fitting and personal because I speak to my fans daily.
AE: I’m sure your fans are very excited about your upcoming performance at Dinah. How are you preparing for the high-energy show?
DK: There’s not much rehearsing. I’ve just been trying to make sure the show is tight, that I don’t leave out the songs that are known – and that it’s entertaining.
AE: I know this is your first time performing. But have you ever attended the event?
DK: This is my first time to Dinah and I’m very excited to be there and to see all the artists performing.
AE: You have a really solid international following – you even had a number one in Japan and have worked with many artists across genres. Why do you think your music has such widespread appeal?
DK: I think it’s because my songs have a great feel, good vibe and they are inclusive, so they attract anyone from anywhere and they do not discriminate.
AE: What are some of your own musical influences?
DK: My musical tastes ran the gamut from Bob Marley to Fleetwood Mac to Anita Baker to RUN-DMC. And I love disco!
AE: Disco definitely gets a bad rap, and unjustifiably so, if you ask me. Who else are you listening to these days?
DK: The same – everything. I make sure I keep up-to-date and know what’s popular in all genres. But I don’t allow what I hear to influence my own style.
AE: You came into the spotlight after working with none other than the Notorious B.I.G., rap royalty. What’s it like being out in the hip-hop world?
DK: The B.I.G. song was a coincidence of sorts. I was actually already signed by Sony Music and was working on my first album when we I met Puff Daddy at a studio. That’s how it came about. But I am more around the Reggae world. I am the first out Jamaican artist, which I only realized after I came out. There’s still a lot of homophobia, especially being Jamaican. Jamaica is at the top of the list of most homophobic countries. But the reaction was mostly positive, surprisingly. I believe my being out and also one of the most successful artists in their history can only make it better. It may force my people to think.
Diana with Will Smith, 1995
AE: Will you be playing any new music at Dinah?
DK: Maybe. I’ll know more when I’m onstage when I feel the audience vibe.
AE: You released AgirLnaMeKing independently one year ago on your ThinkLikeaGirl label. What were the advantages of having that kind of creative control?
DK: When you have learned the business, sometimes it’s the only way to be. It had been a dream ever since I realized that I wouldn’t own my older music, even though I wrote them and had recouped many times over. I enjoyed my time with the labels I have been with and loved working with other producers, etc. But now I can just be myself totally without any judgment or pressure. Being independent makes me into who I have always wanted to be: an artist who pleases herself, who is not thinking about the charts or having that burden of making back or owing that money that was loaned to you. I am now an artist who feels creative peace and freedom. It’s more challenging, much more to handle doing both business and pleasure, but it’s fulfilling and now I own my intellectual properties 100 percent.
AE: What are you most proud of about that album?
DK: I did the whole album myself. It is my most “proud of” album mainly because of that fact and also how it came to be. I was very depressed about some bad news about my health and I could not walk for a long time, and so I decided to learn how to use Pro-Tools and started writing and playing. I still don’t know how I did it because I do not play any instrument, but I did it. I don’t even know what keys the songs are in and I feel no shame. It’s one of those things you just accept without questions because there are no answers. I just went with my flow. I know the album it not very “musical” from a real trained and experienced musician’s perspective. My band members and friends teased me and kept saying, “You should add this add that,” but I believe it would have lost the essence of what it was for me, so I left everything as I created it – raw, perfectly imperfect. Nothing was fixed. I love that about it.
AE: Some people may not know that when you were diagnosed with MS and that it threatened to end your career. How did making music help you work through the pain and help you walk again?
DK: Music was and still is my therapy. To date, I have not taken any prescription drugs. It’s still amazing to me, but I guess it’s what I have always thought – music heals and music cures. Even when I feel a symptom or two, it’s like magic. The moment I go on stage or start singing in the studio, when music hits me, I feel no pain. Literally.
AE: What are you working on next?
DK: I do not make plans like most would expect, but I intend to release new music soon. I wrote so many songs “in therapy;” I need to release more than the 13 on my last album. I’ve also yet to do a U.S. tour, believe it or not, so I’d love to do more shows here. Most of my shows have been overseas. I’ve got work to do in making that happen.
AE: I’m sure your American fans will be thrilled to hear that. And plenty of women attending Dinah this year may also want to know – are you single?
DK: I will leave that one a mystery.