CHARLIE MURPHY was an American singer-songwriter who was born on this date (d: 2016); Growing up during the civil rights and anti-war movements, Charlie devoted his life to social change. His conviction was fueled by his experience at Camp Claggett, a summer camp led by a group of extraordinary adult activists who were also involved in the human potential movement. He worked as a camp counselor throughout his college years while studying sociology at Loyola University in Baltimore. He also received training in group facilitation at the Center for mid-Atlantic Trainers, where he became their youngest facilitator.
After college, Charlie chose to work with youth through the Roanoke Virginia mental health services. Charlie soon discovered, however, that he was being asked to help these young people to adjust to a world in turmoil rather than to empower them to take an active role in making things better. So, he left the world of mental health and chose to express his passion for social change through music.
From an early age Charlie loved music and played the guitar. This unleashed a passion for writing and composing songs. In the mid seventies, Charlie toured the country as a folk singer, inspiring audiences with a passion for social change. He was a pioneer of the men’s movement and sang openly about gay rights, making him one of the few out and proud gay singer/songwriters of his day. He appeared on the landmark 1979 album “Walls to Roses”, that featured both gay and straight men who supported the struggle against sexism.
In the late ‘80s, Charlie founded the award-winning band, Rumors of the Big Wave, with creative partner and cellist Jami Sieber. His AIDS anthem, I Choose Life, landed the band a spot as featured artists on a Barbara Walters special commemorating the 20th anniversary of the AIDS crisis. Rumors of the Big Wave played with Ziggy Marley, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and Midnight Oil. They traveled nationally and internationally and produced several award-winning albums.
Murphy’s album Catch the Fire (1981), released on the Good Fairy Productions label, contained the original version of Burning Times, later covered by Christy Moore and Roy Bailey. The album also contained the LGBT rights anthem Gay Spirit. The album is notable for addressing LGBT issues and pagan spirituality within its lyrics. The song Burning Times concerns the persecution of women accused of witchcraft in the Middle Ages and early modern periods. Its chorus mentions an array of pagan female deities: Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali… Inanna. It also memorializes that nine million women died, …in this holocaust against the nature people. The other key song, Gay Spirit, expresses the frustration of growing up gay within a prejudiced society: When we were born they tried to put us in a cage, and tell our bodies what to feel, we have chosen to feel all the truth, that our bodies do reveal…. The chorus is a rousing burst of optimism: There’s a gay spirit singing in our hearts, leading us through these troubled times, There’s a gay spirit moving ’round this land, calling us to a time of open love.
In 1996, Charlie and Langley resident, Peggy Taylor, a journalist and creative development specialist, founded a creativity-based youth development organization called the Power of Hope: Youth Empowerment Through the Arts. Their Creative Community Model for integrating the arts into youth development, quickly caught fire and began to spark a transformation in youth work. In 2005, Charlie, was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship in recognition of his life-long achievements as a change maker and for his groundbreaking work in the youth development field.
In 2006, Charlie and his husband, theater-artist Eric Mulholland, began traveling internationally, leading Creative Community-based youth programs and trainings in Uganda, South Africa, Italy, and the UK. Three years later, with Peggy and UK-based entrepreneur Ian Watson, Charlie formed PYE Global: Partners for Youth Empowerment to further spread the international work.
Charlie and Eric spent several years developing an international network of PYE partners and facilitators dedicated to bringing creativity and hope into the lives of young people. With over one million youth impacted to date and thirty partners in fifteen countries, Charlie’s influence continues to grow and promises to flourish in years to come.
Murphy died of Bulbar ALS in 2016 and was survived by his husband, theater-artist EricMulholland.