He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household in New York’s lower east side, the fourth generation to live there. He was discovered by a talent agent while singing at his brother’s Bar Mitzvah and he has been entertaining the world ever since. On Sunday, Oct. 9, Sir Ari Gold headlines Atlanta’s Pride festival. We caught up with Gold and spoke with him about his faith, his family and his amazing career.
Shannon Hames: I read your bio and found it fascinating that you grew up as a 4th generation Orthodox Jewish kid from the lower east side. What was that like?
Sir Ari Gold: I don’t consider myself Orthodox anymore but my childhood experience was also unique. Not that being an Orthodox Jew is very unique in New York but I was in show business from a very early age, about 6 years old. I had these two very divergent paths going on at the same time.
Yes, I saw the video clip on your website of you singing that cute medley when you were just a little fella. It was adorable!
(Laughs) You’ve got to be proud of those kinds of things, you know?
Did your family know that you were gay or did you have a coming out experience with them?
I definitely had a coming out experience. It was one that I made as dramatic as I possibly could. Not in a bad way but I sat my parents and brothers down and read to them an 18 page, college ruled, hand-written letter of which I gave each of them their own copy.
Apparently, you had a lot to get off your chest.
I had a lot to get off my chest. I went through all of these different issues including the issue of religion and Judaism and homosexuality and the dynamics within my family. I had written a really angry letter at first, and then changed it to write it from a more loving place. I did hold my family accountable for the homophobia that I had felt that I had grown up with. It forced me to be in the closet with a sense of shame and pain and fear that my true self may come out and I would be shunned.
What was their response to your manifesto?
Their response was incredible. We were all crying at the end of the letter. Everybody in the family had their own reaction as far as certain realizations about the world and who they are and who they used to be. It has been a journey where sometimes it seems like one step forward, two steps back. But now I have an incredibly close relationship with my entire family and they really couldn’t be more supportive.
I’m so glad that ended well for you.
I think about how tough that was for me and even still is for me because at times, it’s hard to let go of those old wounds. I think about what it might be like to do that and not have a family that would be loving and supportive. That, unfortunately, is all too common.
That’s really why I do what I do with my music and my work. I feel like there are still not enough voices speaking for us. My coming out letter and my music, to me, feel like the same thing. It should be cathartic and healing for both gay people and straight people. Hate and prejudice affects us all and when we try to combat that, it heals us all.
You have done work with organizations that battle religious homophobia, such as Soulforce.
They are right up my alley because I understand the conflict and the pain that comes from growing up both gay and religious and feeling like those two things are in conflict with each other.
Your latest album is titled “Between the Spirit and the Flesh.” Was it purposeful to have these religious undertones?
It’s not disassociated from what we’ve been talking about. It’s about finding that balance between matters of the flesh and matters of the spirit. It’s about the balance between the dark and the light and the contrasts between those things. They are either songs about the flesh or songs about the spirit. Somewhere in there lies the balance that we all seek.
You have a new single, right?
Yes! My new single is called “Sparkle” and it features Sarah Dash from the original La Belles and she is just amazing.
I saw that video and the two of you together are… wow. Okay, I have a burning question: Do you make people call you “Sir”?
(Laughs) It doesn’t really matter what they call me. I did get knighted last year by the Imperial Court of New York, which is one of the oldest LGBT rights organizations. They knighted me so I decided to honor and embrace the title. It meant more to me to be knighted by a drag queen than it would have meant to be knighted by the Queen of England herself.
What are passionate about right now?
LGBT rights and human rights! I’ve always been passionate about it because we still have a long ways to go. It was a huge triumph to have marriage equality pass in New York and I’m continuing to get my music and my message out there. You can’t be passionate about LGBT rights without also being passionate about issues with race and issues of sexism and issues about class. All of those things come into play.
I’m also so excited about coming to Atlanta. You all are a hugely music-loving city so I am so excited to be coming to your Pride celebration. I’m really passionate about that.
Top photo: Sir Ari Gold was discovered singing at a bar mitzvah and has been knighted by one of the oldest LGBT groups. He headlines the Atlanta Pride stage on Sunday right before the Starlight Cabaret. (Publicity photo)