Though he perfected his dance moves in the 1970s New York club scene, singer Billy Newton-Davis didn’t drop his first house track till the ripe old age of 56. The four-time Juno Award winner, former member of The Nylons and Broadway alumnus hadn’t thought to lend his pipes to the genre until hot-shit DJ/producer Deadmau5 asked him to collaborate in 2007.
Their signature track “All U Ever Want” became an instant club classic, garnering a Juno for Best Dance Album and bringing Newton an entirely new fan base.
“I always loved dance music but hadn’t thought about recording any until the offer came in,” the Cleveland, Ohio, native says. “I was happily surprised by how successful the work was. Being new to the scene and having that immediate response was a wonderful acknowledgment for me.”
Being part of the event means more to Davis than simply a chance to perform. The long-time activist was himself diagnosed with HIV in 1986, during the epidemic’s earliest and scariest days. Though he’d been openly gay for years, it wasn’t until 2000 he went public with his status after being featured in a Vision TV documentary. Director Sylvia Sweeney was instructed not to bring it up. But when she broke the rules and asked point-blank, he realized he was ready to come out a second time.
“I broke down in tears and started talking,” he says. “The contract stipulated I had final clearance on anything they shot, so I knew they wouldn’t be able to use it unless I gave permission. When I watched the footage I realized this was something I wanted out there. If it could help other people, I shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.”
Initially sticking with herbal remedies and traditional Chinese medicine, he went on a drug cocktail in 1996 at his partner’s insistence following a string of opportunistic infections and significant weight loss.
“I was attending the Metropolitan Community Church and people were dying all the time,” he says. “I was singing at all these funerals, and I realized if I didn’t take advantage of the options available, it wouldn’t be long before someone was singing at mine.”
Healthy, happy and still going strong at 61, Davis performs regularly. Despite his recent success on the dance charts, his next project will be a compilation of modern-tinged standards aimed at a more mature audience.
“The love I’ve received working in a new genre has been amazing and overwhelming,” he laughs. “But I’m also open to making the kind of music a guy my age is supposed to make.”
Billy Newton-Davis performs at
MAC Viva Glam Fashion Cares 25
With Elton John and friends
Sun, Sept 9, 8pm
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
1 Front St E
Where have all the spaces for queer women in Toronto gone?