When Caleb De Casper performs at the Legendary Art Car Ball later this month, audiences can “expect a little bit of fire.” De Casper’s show-stopping feats might be flashy, but they’re grounded in authenticity. Musically inclined from an early age, the performer has found a voice in music and uses his art as a way to be true to himself while advocating for the LGBTQ community.
“That was a way for me to be powerful and show people who I was when I walked into the room, instead of letting them make their own assumptions about me,” De Casper recalls. “I feel like a lot of queer people had to grow up feeling like they had no power at all in social situations. [Performing] is just a way to feel that I have a lot of power. I figured that out very early—I figured out how to basically control a room through my energy, and just take the reins.”
While the LGBTQ community throughout history has toned down their queerness out of necessity, De Casper explains that queer artists are now creating and performing in a time where they don’t have to do that anymore. “Visibility as an out queer artist is more important than ever as the community continues to fight against the demonization of queer people.
“My biggest thing is authenticity. If I’m going to do something, I want to make sure that it is my decision, because at the end of the day, art is a way for us to see each other. Especially right now in this really shitty political climate that we’ve all been thrown into, I think it’s really important that we see each other—[and not just] caricatures of each other on the news, or sound bites of each other.”
For De Casper, this means being authentic even when authenticity is difficult. In the past year, the pianist and songwriter had to leave a job that didn’t like their public image, or that they identified as “genderqueer in everyday life.”
While De Casper worried that his art might have ruined his relationship with his employer, his students, or their families, he found that the opposite was true. Since leaving his previous job, he has started his own teaching studio and now has people who come to him for lessons because of his authenticity, rather than in spite of it.
“My community supports me. The relationships that you make with other people in your community are [based on your] authenticity, and being a trustworthy person,” he says.
The Texas-based artist is excited to come to Houston, which they say “has the same electricity as New York” while still retaining its Southern charm. Besides looking forward to revisiting NUA Thai in Midtown, De Casper is excited to bring to life an Art Car Ball “production fantasy.” While details are still being hammered out for the performance, De Casper is working through “schematics, blueprints, and logistics” to bring an electrifying performance to the event.
De Casper continues to pen songs and perform for larger and larger crowds, with growing production values to match. His album Femme Boy, which was released in 2019, represents the range that the artist is capable of, with 12 songs performed in various genres and styles.
“Three years ago now, I was told—for what I deemed to be the final time—that I was too gay to be successful with mainstream audiences. Fast-forward now to 2023, and I feel like every week I get more and more successful,” he observes.
De Casper’s shows bring together a mix of perspectives in the audience, from those having more mainstream tastes (including many straight listeners) to LGBTQ fans of her music. The shows also serve as a link between queer or trans identities and the larger heteronormative culture.
With the mounting threats against the LGBTQ community, De Casper believes it is more important than ever for queer artists to be heard. Recently speaking on a panel discussing art advocacy at South by Southwest in Austin—and then testifying against Texas Senate Bill 12 (known as the “Drag Queen Bill”)—De Casper remains authentic to himself in the face of fierce opposition as he advocates for the LGBTQ community in the public arena.
“Visibility is very important, because we exist to connect with each other. We use music and art to show each other who we are, and to connect. Right now in this world, where they’re trying to demonize people who are different, it’s just so important,” De Casper emphasizes. “It’s so important to be a queer artist.”
What: The Legendary Art Car Ball
When: April 14
Where: Orange Show Headquarters