Carl Bean, the US gospel artist and minister best known for singing a rendition of gay pride anthem ‘I Was Born This Way’, has died at the age of 77.
The news was confirmed by representatives from Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a denomination founded by Bean that primarily welcomed Black LGBTQ+ worshippers.
The church said in their statement that Bean had “made transition into eternal life” on September 7, following a lengthy period of illness.
“Archbishop Bean worked tirelessly for the liberation of the underserved and for LGBTQ people of faith,” the statement read, “and in doing so, helped many around the world find their way back to spirituality and religion.
“Our hearts go out to all as we mourn the loss of this trailblazing leader and legend in the worlds of activism, advocacy, AIDS, community outreach, faith, liberation theology and so much more will live on for several lifetimes.”
Born in Baltimore in 1944, Bean left for New York City at the age of 16 to escape a difficult home life – where he claimed he was sexually abused by his uncle as a child, and rejected by his family for being gay.
Pursuing a gospel singing career, Bean moved again to Los Angeles and formed the band Carl Bean and the Universal Love, catching the attention of Motown Records.
In 1977, for Motown, Bean released a rendition of ‘I Was Born This Way’ – a song written by Chris Spierer and Bunny Jones and first performed by Valentino.
With its strong themes of LGBTQ pride (“I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay/I was born this way“), Bean’s version – considered the definitive recording – remains popular, and has been remixed many times since its release.
Notably, the song served as a foundation for Lady Gaga‘s hit ‘Born This Way’, the title track from her 2011 album. Over the following decade, Gaga regularly cited Bean’s influence on ‘Born This Way’.
In May of this year, Gaga paid tribute to Bean on the album’s tenth anniversary, writing that the song and album were directly inspired by Bean.
“Thank you for decades of relentless love, bravery, and a reason to sing,” she wrote. “So we can all feel joy, because we deserve joy. Because we deserve the right to inspire tolerance, acceptance, and freedom for all.”
Thank you for decades of relentless love, bravery, and a reason to sing. So we can all feel joy, because we deserve joy. Because we deserve the right to inspire tolerance, acceptance, and freedom for all.
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) May 24, 2021
Bean was ordained as a minister in 1982, and founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church the same year, explicitly welcoming queer, Black parishioners.
An activist, he founded the Minority AIDS Project in Los Angeles in 1985, providing accessible healthcare for low-income Black and Latino HIV+ people.
In their statement, Unity Fellowship said details of a memorial service for Bean will follow, and honoured the minister with his mantra: “GOD IS LOVE AND LOVE IS FOR EVERYONE!”