For most of his life, Durand Bernarr had been too entrenched in his musical identity to put any thought into his sexual definition. “For the longest, I’ve just been me,” Bernarr says. “I wasn’t trying to hide anything. Other people had their own interpretation of who I was. I didn’t know until I heard other people call me these things.”
Tiny, wiry, and possessing the bombastic energy of a Ren & Stimpy character, Bernarr stands out. And once the camera is filming, whether for TikTok or the BET reality series The Next Big Thing, it’s on as this young virtuoso slides between vocal registers and genres within seconds. In Bernarr’s view, there’s no need to label the indelible.
Describing himself as “everybody’s favorite cousin,” Bernarr grew up in a family and community centered on one thing: music. His mother taught piano and voice, and led worship at their church in Cleveland. His father engineered sound for Earth, Wind & Fire, along with Jay Z, Jill Scott, Whitney Houston, and other legends. Bernarr has been tinkering with music since he was ten (by “pressing Record on the cassette tape”) and performing live since he was 16. He struck out on his own when he released a 2009 compilation on YouTube featuring vivid interpretations of Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, and other pop icons.
In 2010, Bernarr released an EP of Erykah Badu covers, and was soon welcomed to join her tour as a vocalist—a gig that’s still delivering. Since his casting on 2019’s Next Best Thing and his debut album DUR& in 2020, Bernarr has claimed his own distinctive voice, displaying not only vocal grace but a comedian’s deftness at making fun of himself. “I take a comedic approach, because there are certain vocal things that tickle me, so I know that’s going to translate to other people. And because I’ve been carving out my lane and [the ways that] I’m inspired, I’ve been seeing other people test that out.” Observing men of all gender definitions playing with their vocal registers has been a particular delight for Bernarr.
As his audience has developed, and as he participates in festivals like The Normal Anomaly’s Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival and D.C.’s Honey Groove, he’s come to understand the meaning of claiming queerness. “I’ve been myself from the jump,” he notes, “but there are others that need to say ‘This is what I am.’ They want to represent for what it is they believe in. The word queer is a broad enough umbrella [term that I can] be a part of. [It’s] not confining me to just one thing.”
Bernarr promises a set in Houston that will “clear your skin and lower your cholesterol.” This far into a heavy pandemic, he’s pursuing an upbeat sound as he cuts his new album and tours around the country all summer. “I want to move, I want to dance; I don’t want to create sad, vibey music. I need something else.”
Keep up with Durand Bernarr on Instagram @durandbernarr.
What: Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival
When: April 30, 3–7 p.m.
Where: Stampede Houston, 11925-B Eastex Fwy.
Tickets: normalanomaly.org/BQAF $25–$75 (use code “Presale” for $10 off)
Black Queer+ Advancement Music Festival is sponsored by ViiV Healthcare accelerate Initiative, Gilead COMPASS Initiative, Impulse Group Houston, COVID-19 Prevention Network, Legacy Community Health, AIDS Foundation Houston, and OutSmart Magazine.
This article appears in the April 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.