Michael was an AIDS activist before there was an AIDS movement.
As a composer, singer, writer and AIDS activist, Michael Callen played a major role in shaping America's response to the epidemic. From the time of his diagnosis with Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) in 1982, he was involved in virtually all of the positive responses to the epidemic, including the self-empowerment of people with AIDS; the invention of safer sex; the community-based research movement; development of prophylaxis for major opportunistic infections; and the establishment of buyer's clubs providing low-cost access to both experimental and approved AIDS treatments. Callen helped coin the term "people with AIDS" (PWAs) to replace the early characterizations of AIDS victims, thus laying the foundation for the PWA self-empowerment movement. Callen emphasized that people could live with AIDS and continue to make significant contributions to society despite their diagnosis.
Callen was a founding board member of the People with AIDS Coalition, the Community Research Initiative, the National Association of People with AIDS, the PWA Health Group, the New York City Mayor's Interagency Task Force on AIDS, the New York State AIDS Institute, and The New York City Gay & Lesbian Community Center. He testified before the President's Commission on AIDS, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the New York State Legislature, the New York City Council and the Australian AIDS Council.
He was a noted and influential writer on AIDS and the politics of sexuality. His efforts in defining and promulgating safe sex guidelines were documented in Randy Shilts' book And the Band Played On. Through appearances on various news shows, such as Nightline, Good Morning America and 20/20 and a variety of talk shows, such as The Phil Donahue Show and Geraldo, Callen gave AIDS a human face. He also appeared in several films and documentaries, including the Hollywood AIDS movie Philadelphia and the HBO documentary Why Am I Gay? Callen also sang in John Greyson's movie Zero Patience.
Callen's work was recognized by several national organizations. He received awards from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Press Association, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. On December 1, 1993 he received the City of Los Angeles Lifetime Achievement Award. The Contemporary A Cappella Society of America named him A Cappella Artist of the Year in 1994.
Callen was a popular singer and composer in the gay community and his AIDS activism had a major influence on his music. His song "Living in Wartime," an AIDS battle cry from his album Purple Heart, was featured in the original production of Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart. Callen also wrote, with Peter Allen and Marsha Malamet, "Love Don't Need a Reason," which he sang at numerous gay and AIDS-related events. Callen was a founding member of the a capella group The Flirtations.
Shortly before his death from AIDS-related complications in December 1993, Callen completed vocal tracks for 48 new songs. Twenty-nine of these compositions were released as Legacy. These songs, recorded with the help of such prominent musicians as Holly Near, Cris Williamson, David Lasley, Greg Wells, Fred Hersch 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.
© 2012 Even For One Night ∵ The Music, Life & Lyrics of Michael Callen