When Gary Beals plays at The Marquee Ballroom on Monday night, it will mark two decades since he played the Halifax concert venue.
The last time the Nova Scotian played there was for the album release of his self-titled debut on Aug. 17, 2004. That album was released after Beals appeared on the 2003 season of singing competition Canadian Idol, in which he was the runner-up.
In those days, his lyrics covered topics like boy meets girl, boy likes girl.
"And that just wasn't me," said Beals. "But again, it was what R&B was to me at that time, not seeing any examples of a Black gay person or not even really [many] examples of gay people singing. I guess I went down that path of singing and got stuck in that realm."
Two decades into his music career, Beals is singing from a place of joy with lyrics that reflect who he is.
Ryan Malcolm, left, of Kingston, Ont., and Beals were the finalists in the 2003 season of Canadian Idol. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
"It's liberating," he said. "I have such a deeper passion for music now because it's coming from an authentic place ... it's just me, Gary being Gary."
Besides Beals's Marquee show, he'll be performing on Feb. 24 at the African Heritage Month Gala Dinner at the Halifax Convention Centre.
Beals's fourth album, The Melody Within, was released last October. One of his favourite songs on the album is Self Revolution, which sounds like a 1960s soul song. The message of the song, said Beals, is that change comes from within.
"Embrace every part of yourself," said Beals. "Through embracing comes liberation, comes healing, comes growth."
Beals, who lives in Toronto, was raised in Cherry Brook, N.S. Growing up, he said music was a big part of his life. Whether it was music in the home or singing in the church choir, it was how Beals expressed himself.
Beals's fans display their support as they watch the Canadian Idol finale at the Halifax Metro Centre. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
But growing up in the church, he said the Bible told him that homosexuality was a sin. And while homosexuality wasn't condemned from the pulpit, he got the message.
Beals was a fan of American Idol and loved the idea of regular people singing in front of millions on television, so auditioning was a no-brainer when the Canadian version launched.
Asked if he felt any pressure to portray himself in a certain way, he said no.
"I was just going through life doing what I thought was best for me and maybe feeling like I was authentic, but kind of knowing deep down, knowing it wasn't really an authentic place," said Beals.
Sattina Dabb is a lifelong friend of Beals's. The Cherry Brook resident said the difference in Beals today is noticeable.
"It just brings me so much joy because I see him living in his truth and he's actually embracing it," she said. "And he's not afraid of showing the world who he is."
Beals's fourth album, The Melody Within, was released last October. (Fabian Di Corcia)
When the Canadian Idol finale aired, there was a watch party at the Halifax Metro Centre, with thousands of people cheering Beals on.
Looking back on that night, Beals chokes up.
"It's humbling," he said. "And sometimes I get a little emotional, teary-eyed, because it's a dream and it's a reality," he said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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