MICHAEL CALLEN, American singer, songwriter and AIDS activist (d. 1993); was a singer, songwriter, composer, author and AIDS activist. He was a significant architect of the response to the AIDS crisis in the United States.
First diagnosed with “Gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID) in 1982, Callen quickly became a leader in the response to the epidemic. He was a founding member of the People With AIDS Self-Empowerment Movement among other organizations, and he testified before the President’s Commission on AIDS and both houses of the U.S. Congress.
As a founding member of the New York Gay & Lesbian Community Center Board, and through his activities in other organizations around the country, he also became a leading voice in gay and lesbian politics.
He was a founding member of the Gay a cappella singing group The Flirtations, with whom he recorded two albums. He also had a solo album, Purple Heart (Significant Others Records, 1988), which a review in The Advocate called “the most remarkable Gay independent release of the past decade.”
In partnership with Oscar winner Peter Allen and Marsha Melamet, he wrote his most enduring song, “Love Don’t Need a Reason,” which he sang frequently at Gay Pride and AIDS-related events around the country. In 1993 he appeared in the films Philadelphia (as part of The Flirtations) and Zero Patience (appearing in drag as a singing virus, Miss HIV).
Shortly before his death from AIDS-related complications in December 1993, Callen completed vocal tracks for 48 new songs. Twenty-nine of these compositions have been released as a double CD, titled Legacy, which garnered four Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Recording by a Male Artist. Legacy, recorded with the help of such prominent musicians as Holly Near, Cris Williamson, David Lasley, James Taylor, Greg Wells, k.d. lang, Fred Hersch, Arnold McCuller (Phil Collins) and Steve Sandberg (David Byrne, Ruben Blades) are a testament to Callen’s commitment to the Gay and Lesbian community as well as his own passionate struggle for Gay identity and selfhood.