Singer/Songwriter Shannon Curtis Turns “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Into “I Do”

In her new single, “Brightest Light in the Room,” singer/songwriter Shannon Curtis tells the story of two women who refused to let little things like life-threatening illness, discrimination, and federal law stand in the way of their commitment and love for one another. She may not have had personal experiences with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or the battle for marriage equality, but when Curtis was approached by a fan (who with her partner of 10 years had served in the US Army) with the request for a special song to commemorate their engagement, she jumped at the chance. Seeing the opportunity as a way to celebrate the universality of love while showing her support for gays and lesbians, Curtis felt honored to have been a part of their story and is grateful for an experience that she now feels has given her a better understanding of the battles faced by the LGBT community.

We wanted to learn more about why the Los Angeles based musician took on this songwriting project and what she took away from the process. Here, Curtis fills us in on the history behind the song, the impact she hopes it makes, and her enhanced position as an ally to the LGBT community.

CherryGRRL (CG): To get right into what brought you to this conversation with a lesbian website, let’s talk about your new single “Brightest Light In The Room.” Tell us the story behind the song and why you were inspired to write it…

Shannon Curtis (SC): Last summer a fan from St. Louis emailed asking if I’d write a song for her to use in proposing marriage to her girlfriend of 10 years. I had met the two of them on tour a few months prior, and they told me then about how they had recently retired from the US Army, and that they had listened to my music during their deployments to Iraq — they said the music helped them get to sleep at night. I was so blown away by that and felt really humbled to have been a tiny help to them in their service to our country. And then to be invited into one of the most significant moments of their personal lives by writing a song for their engagement — that was really cool. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.

CG: In writing this song what was your number 1 objective? What did you want listeners to take away from your words?

SC: Well, in this case, I started out writing the song with an audience of one person in mind: Terra, the woman the song was for, from the perspective of her soon-to-be fiancée, Jess. It’s an unusual approach for me in songwriting, since typically I write songs from my own experience and from my own perspective; so it was a really interesting thing to try to get inside someone else’s head to write a love song for their special someone. It helped that I had several emails from Jess answering a bunch of questions I had asked about their life together and their relationship. My goal in writing the song was to write something that would both accurately and beautifully represent Jess’s feelings about Terra, and that would stand the test of time as an emblem of their love for each other.

But when the song was finished, I realized that although it was born of their story, its message and emotion were totally universal. Who of us hasn’t been in a room full of people and only been able to focus on one person because they shone brighter than anyone else there? And who of us doesn’t long for a love to help light the way when things get difficult? These were the central elements of Jess and Terra’s story, but I knew after writing the song that it could have been written about a million other couples as well.

CG: Before receiving that request from the veterans what was your stance on DADT and gay marriage in this country?

SC: My positions on DADT and gay marriage are the same now as they were prior to the song. I’ve held the belief for quite a while that gay people should have the right to marry. I think the DADT policy is politics at its silliest. And it’s discrimination, plain and simple. I’m glad it’s on its way out. However — I have to say — writing this song for Jess and Terra gave me the opportunity to feel the struggle for marriage equality in a deeper way than I had before. It’s funny how when you put yourself inside someone else’s shoes for a minute, your empathy grows, and you feel more invested in their experience. (Continued on next page)

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