Queer Arrangements is a new study of Billy Strayhorn that examines his music and career at the intersection of jazz and Black queer history that will be coming out October 3rd, 2023…

The legacy of Black queer composer, arranger and pianist Billy Strayhorn (1915–1967) hovers at the edge of canonical jazz narratives. Queer Arrangements explores the ways in which Strayhorn’s identity as an openly gay Black jazz musician shaped his career, including the creative roles he could assume and the dynamics between himself and his collaborators, most famously Duke Ellington, but also iconic singers such as Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald. This new portrait of Strayhorn combines critical, historically-situated close readings of selected recordings, scores and performances with biography and cultural theory to pursue alternative interpretive jazz possibilities, Black queer historical routes and sounds. By looking at jazz history through the instrument(s) of Strayhorn’s queer arrangements, this book sheds new light on his music and on jazz collaboration at midcentury.

Author Lisa Barg received her B.A. in Arts from Antioch College (1987), and her M.A. (1994) and Ph.D. (2001) in Music History from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She is currently serving as the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Professor Barg is the Co-editor-In-Chief of Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture.

Professor Barg’s research centers issues of gender, race, and sexuality in 20th-century music. She has published articles on race and modernist opera, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Melba Liston and Paul Robeson. She received the Kurt Weill Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in Music Theater for her article “Black Voices/White Sounds: Race and Representation in Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints and Three Acts,” and her article “Queer Encounters in the Music of Billy Strayhorn” was awarded the Philip Brett Award for exceptional musicological work in the field of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender/transsexual studies. As a member of the Melba Liston Research Collective, Professor Barg served as a guest co-editor for a special issue of the Black Music Research Journal devoted to the career and legacy of Melba Liston. Professor Barg is currently the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, Associate Professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Pittsburgh Public Theater has announced the 2023/2024 season! The season opens September 19th with the world premiere of Highmark Presents Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For. “Ever Up and Onward” is widely known to be the composer, arranger, lyricist and jazz pianist’s motto. The complete season reveal will be held at PPT’s annual gala on April 13th at the Heinz History Center.

Highmark Presents Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For opens the 2023/2024 season at Pittsburgh Public Theater and runs September 19th to October 8th. This lush new project is the latest passion project of a Pittsburgh favorite Rob Zellers with Kent Gash, who is also directing, and musical direction from internationally renowned jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker. They tell the extraordinary story of jazz songwriter Billy Strayhorn, known for songs including “Lush Life” and “Take the ‘A’ Train,” who faced hatred and heartbreak as a Black queer man even while playing alongside greats including Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. Something to Live For will feature a live jazz band on stage at the O’Reilly Theater, and is produced in association with Swee Pea, LLC.

“We are so excited to bring this Pittsburgh legend to life on the stage,” says Marya Sea Kaminski, Artistic Director of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, “and see Strayhorn’s motto as the perfect way to define the work of our upcoming season.”

The Acting Company’s Louanna O. Carlin & John MacDonald Reading Series will continue March 6th at 7 PM at the Mainstage Theatre in New York City with a reading of Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For.

Produced by special arrangement with Steven Tabakin/Swee Pea LLC, the evening will feature the talents of Charl Brown (Motown the Musical), Tony nominee Sidney DuPont (Paradise Square), Cory Jeacoma (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), J.D. Mollison (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Keziah John-Paul (The Book of Mormon), Allan K. Washington (SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical), and Tatiana Wechsler (Mr. Saturday Night).

Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For features the music and lyrics of the late jazz Billy Strayhorn; a book by Robert Zellers (The Chief) and Kent Gash (Troilus and Cressida), who also directs; and musical direction by Matthew Whitaker (Emotions & Underground!). 

The musical charts the life of openly gay jazz innovator and activist Strayhorn and his collaborations with Duke Ellington, including “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Lush Life.” 

Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting’s Merri Sugarman. Ellie Handel serves as stage manager and Olivia Fletcher as assistant stage manager.