POR: Charles King March 08, 2009
At the start of a concert, Charles King flashes his toothy grin to the packed bar and the song starts with sound rising in his belly, it builds in the lungs, moves up his throat and bursts from his lips like a burp that tastes like rock ’n’ roll.
“Ha ha, I’ve been waiting a long time for this, baby,” he starts.
King’s eyes scan the crowd from behind dark sunglasses. The rest of the show is a lively mixture of disco, rock, soul covers and some originals.
Every voice is unique and so is King.
For being such an outgoing person, when he talks about being a gay, black man in Grand Junction, he lowers his voice and leans in. He’s not ashamed of who he is, “I’m many things,” he says, but he’s acutely aware that Grand Junction is a predominately white, conservative, small town.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “I say I get noticed for being black first in this town than being
gay. It’s like ‘oh that’s an eccentric black man, who is that,’ you know? I get black stuff all the time. I know there are black folks here, but I know there’s not many.”
He is quite up front about the racism and homophobia he’s experienced living here, but instead of running from it, he said he chooses to confront it with grace and patience.
“You stand out here, so you can spread out elsewhere,” he said.
The 28-year-old singer, actor and bartender moved to Grand Junction from New York City three years ago. He signed a year-long acting contract with the now-defunct Cabaret Dinner Theater.
King left the Cabaret long before the business sulked away with its tail between its legs.
For a while, King had a position as an adjunct professor at Mesa State College. Even when that ended, he decided to stick with Grand Junction.
“What I like about Charles is that he doesn’t let sh—get him down,” said Benjamin Dial, one of King’s roommates.
The biggest reason King has stayed in Grand Junction is to be with his five roommates. He calls them his makeshift family.
“I think if I was by myself it would be much harder,” King said. “But I have those guys.”
He described them as black, white, straight, gay, 40-years-old and nerdy — “we are living examples of diversity in this town,” King said.
“I moved to Boulder this summer and there was something missing,” said King’s roommate, Tyler Smith. “I realized it was my pseudo family ... Charles is the flamboyant one, the one who’s driven. If it wasn’t for our group, none of us would be successful.”
King’s real family life was rough, to say the least.
King grew up in Danieldale, Texas, near Dallas. As a child, he lived with his grandmother, Godmother, a teacher, in homeless shelters and in battered women’s shelters with his mother, whom King said was “bad into drugs.” His only brother is in jail.
For the most part, King said his grandmother and Godmother raised him.
“I didn’t have one home, I was always back and forth.”
The situation was intensified by the fact that his grandmother attended a Pentecostal church and his Godmother was Episcopalian.
“I have the heart of the Episcopal church and the charisma of the Pentecostal,” King said.
“That’s what makes up my world of music.”
His tough childhood is often the topic of the songs he writes. He grew up listening to and singing Gospel music and singing what he calls “Jesus rock ’em” music and “episco-disco.” He was a choral director at church.
Some of his other musical influences are Luther Vandross, Mahalia Jackson, The Roots, Otis Redding and Steven Tyler.
“Love gospel because I love the way it makes you feel,” King said. “Love rock music because of the angst in it. And it was naughty and edgy and hard. It wasn’t perfect. Rock is grit and I like
that unpolished beauty. Love punk music too, because the energy of punk is so undeniable.”
King lived in Texas until he was 17 and moved away to go to college.