Award-Winning Songwriter BEVERLEE Leaves Marriage, Comes Out, Releases Debut Album

It’s the kind of life story that reads like a Hollywood script, except the ending has not been written yet. For award-winning songwriter BEVERLEE, who has just released her debut album ‘Purple Violin’, her story is an incredible act of vulnerability, but a necessary one to show the world that being brave and authentic is the only way to live life.

You may be familiar with her existing body of work, touring with the likes of Barenaked Ladies and most notably penning viral hits for artists like Son Little and LGBTQ artist Shea Diamond (“American Pie”). BEVERLEE, aka Abby Diamond, has been featured as a vocalist for major labels and her songs have amassed viral streams. The past eleven years, Diamond has composed music for commercials, television, and film, penning songs for HBO, Disney, Nickelodeon, CBS, MTV and a variety of other networks. But songwriting is only one interesting aspect of her story.

BEVERLEE started in New York, where Diamond lived for thirteen years when she was presumably “straight” and married. Diamond had been working with LGBT artists at the time, whose experience of feeling uncomfortable in her body was echoing Abby’s own desire to explore the unknown. In 2017, Diamond came out through her marriage, got divorced, and moved to Los Angeles. While Diamond continued ghostwriting pop music for other artists and film/TV on the west coast, she embarked on writing her own music that was more experimental and rooted conceptually in the loss and rebirth of self that comes with sexual awakening and identity. She named the project BEVERLEE, after her cousin who was a fine artist and murdered by her Hell’s Angels boyfriend in 1970. The album Purple Violin is a celebration of unheard voices and honors those whose desires live on the outskirts of what is deemed culturally acceptable.

Diamond’s second cousin Beverlee Jacobson died October 18, 1970. The murder caused immense trauma in her family, and it wasn’t until Diamond came out, and moved to Los Angeles that she began asking her mother and Beverlee’s sisters about this person, who Diamond was always told looked like her.

Beverlee was a dancer at a strip club in Boston to support herself in college, which is where she presumably met her boyfriend George of the Hell’s Angels. She was an artist and even designed early insignia for the motorcycle gang. Beverlee broke up with George when he started becoming violent and abusive. One evening in October, he went to the apartment she shared in Somerville, MA with single mother Sherrill Simmons and shot her in the back of the head. Beverlee’s roommate did her best to describe the Hell’s Angel’s member but said she did not know him. Much of the story is lost now, says Diamond, and the newspapers’ accounts do not get basic information right of her cousin’s age, death date or name spelling.

The articles at the time describe Sherrill as a “lanky blonde,” and, as Abby said in a press release, “essentially slut shame her as some liar, since she was now under witness protection, and they made my cousin out to be some dumb girl who was asking for it too since she was dancing in a strip club to pay her college tuition.”

Beverlee’s mother was also a single mom and could only afford a court-appointed lawyer, so the trial lasted about a week according to the family account. George got off innocent, though later was killed by a rival gang four years later. It is the kind of heartbreak and trauma carried in families for years. For Abby, creating her music persona BEVERLEE was her way of honoring her relative’s life and channelling the pain into art.

We spoke with the singer/songwriter about her debut release, coming out after being in a heterosexual marriage, and her passion for championing underrepresented and LGBTQ voices in music.

First of all, congrats on the release of ‘Purple Violin’! How does it feel to have your debut album out in the world?

It felt vulnerable at first, and in some ways always will. Overall, the act of putting my own art out into the world again has given me a new level of confidence. My friends reminded me recently of the RuPaul quote, “We’re all in drag.” So much of my coming out as a queer artist has involved a level of performance — believing I have the right to be seen. I have no control over how someone sees me, and so a large part of my work (both personally and creatively) has been about letting go of shame and giving into the action. If all I can control in life is myself, then I’m going to keep doing what I do. The right tribe will find me and enjoy what I’ve made. 

We can’t get ‘Logic is Lost’ out of our heads. It is so ethereal and emotional yet catchy, like we want to keep listening to it over and over again. What is the story behind this song?

I co-wrote this song with my friend Matt Mariano (Grey’s Anatomy, Raising Hope) before the pandemic about the separation I was feeling from New York as I was slipping into my queer skin and becoming “woo woo” in the west. All the places I knew in New York no longer existed, and the shifting landscape was tripping me out. At the time, the marching down the streets was referring to the Women’s March, but the production took on a whole other meaning during the pandemic.

Some of the samples in the bridge, and the one at the end “we have to find a vaccine” were added after-the-fact. They’re all B-Roll from old horror movies. The original title was “Work In Progress” but I changed it to “Logic Is Lost” because listeners remember songs more when the title comes from the chorus. “Logic is Lost” also fits better with the concept of collective memory: the world as we pictured it is slipping away and we can’t really make sense of it. 

Speaking of story, your artist name was chosen to honor the life of your relative Beverlee Jacobson, who was tragically murdered by her boyfriend in 1970. Can you talk more about her story, and how this has impacted your life and artistry?

I didn’t know the details of Beverlee’s life and death until I was 30. To be honest, I still have a lot of questions about both. Growing up, I knew I had this cousin who was killed, but it wasn’t something my family would discuss. They carried alot of shame from her murder and trial. In the newspaper articles at the time, the press made her out to be a loose, wild child who brought violence upon herself. As a result, the women in my family felt a pressure to stay quiet and not shine too bright. To make respectable decisions that would bring honor. The unspoken ethos was valid given the circumstances; Beverlee’s visibility was not only met with criticism, but also fatal danger. 

In a similar sense, when I chose to write music for other people and behind film/TV, it is also tied into the risk of putting myself out there authentically as a queer artist. My family has always had a lot of lesbian friends, but because those people were more butch, I rationalized that I couldn’t be gay and ultimately silenced myself. Deep down, I felt like showing that side of myself would be tough not just for me, but for those associated with me, and so I swallowed the feelings and sat with that shame for years.

I love writing for film/TV and other artists—there is no greater validation than collaborating with someone you admire—but I want to own up to my initial motivation for being behind-the-scenes. That profession felt more respectable, and therefore safer for me to swallow. There’s a quote in Maggie Nelson’s ‘The Argonauts’ which I read when coming out that says, “I told you I wanted to live in a world in which the antidote to shame is not honor but honesty.” Authenticity is the only form of healing for me and my family. 

Previous to your emergence as a solo artist, you have been an award-winning songwriter for many others including Shea Diamond and Son Little. What is the creative transition like, going from writing for others, to making your own album? 

I wouldn’t say it is a full transition because my feet will always be firmly planted in both places. My dream is to be like Jack Antonoff, making music with others and for myself. If anything, being on alongside these artists has only deepened my respect and understanding of their lives. It’s given me more street cred as a songwriter and producer inside the studio. Before, I would just be involved in the initial stage of collaborating, but now I have a greater insight into art direction, marketing, promotion, music videos, etc. These were pieces of the puzzle I always knew existed, but mainly as a spectator on the sidelines offering moral support. There are so many hurdles artists have to jump over to have their music be heard by a wider audience. Even with the support of a team, it’s a lot of work overseeing that process of building your brand.

One of the things we love about you is the way you like to celebrate unheard voices, and feature the stories of women. Can you talk more about this overall theme and why it resonates with you personally? 

There’s a direct correlation between visibility and understanding. The more we hear LGBTQIA+ or women’s stories, the more we understand them and, therefore, value them. There’s this faux capitalist argument that stories from underrepresented communities won’t sell, but the opposite is true. Reese Witherspoon talked about how films like ‘Wild’ or the ‘Hunger Games’ were multi-million box office sensations. Marginalized communities make up a large part of our population and are starving to see and hear themselves represented in mainstream culture.

When we identify with a character or song, it is such an exciting and validating experience that we want to shout from the rooftops! And for the population at large, movies like Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ or artists like King Princess help start a conversation about blackness or queerness. This ultimately leads to familiarity. Someone who was previously the “other” now pulling up a seat to the dinner table or TV couch to talk. Having a voice in the room is at its root activism. 

As a queer artist, you have quite the coming out story! How did leaving an 8 year relationship and marriage to a man to embrace your queer identity impact the music you were making? 

I needed to make sense of what was happening inside my body, which felt sad, joyful, and even funny at times. Purple Violin is about rebirth, including the loss of who I was before. What happens when you leave the comfort of your old self, listen to desire and step into the unknown? Feelings are fleeting. I wanted to capture all of these emotions, and show the multitude of what it means to desire. It has felt freeing to call myself BEVERLEE, not only as an ode to my cousin, but also because the act of renaming is what all queer people go through.

The distance between my artist name and given name also allows space to write more dramatic songs like Lorena, No Medal, or Amelia. I am not literally the lonely, woman dreaming about a porn star, the Sylvia Plath-esque woman on the brink of insanity, or the closeted housewife watching the night sky, waiting for the rumored-to-be-gay lost pilot. But when we are going through a life change, the feelings are that intense. I wanted to show that deep longing and nostalgia. 

We’re seeing so many celebs and high profile people coming out and living their authentic lives. Why do you think it is important to see this in the music industry, which is still largely dominated by straight, white men, who try to push especially female artists into a box? 

I do not believe all straight white men are this way, but unfortunately there is a loud percentage of decision makers who either subtly (or overtly) package women artists in a way that leaves little room for growth or even a voice. For example, the frequent reason record label execs might put young female artists in rooms with often much older men, is because they claim “no female producers or writers exist.” In psychology 101, that’s called an availability heuristic: seeing information through the limited scope of your own experience or social network.

It takes work to go outside of your circle and ask, ‘hey do you know any female writers or producers I can put my artist with?’ The result of putting an artist in with someone who understands her experience because she has lived it too, is authentic songwriting. Instead of a hypersexualized song for a fourteen-year-old, you get something true to her body.

By the same token, when LGBTQIA+ or women-identifying people are in positions of power at record labels or publishing companies, or as top-selling pop artists, songwriters, producers, and engineers, others can imagine themselves in that role too. And even if they do not want to be in the music industry, can you imagine how cool it would be if you were a young Black, gay boy hearing Frank Ocean for the first time? I get chills thinking about how often those songs are on repeat and who is listening. 

As more people get to know your music and listen to Purple Violin, what is the message you want them to take away? 

The short answer is to live truthfully and shamelessly. The longer answer is the road to getting there can be windy, full of intense feelings of doubt or loss. Being in the in-between stage, when you have made a huge life change but haven’t yet gotten to the other side, is really hard because you don’t know what is coming next. But what you do know is yourself. You’ve made it this far, so you can keep on going. 

Specifically to LGBTQIA+ audiences who have not come out yet: I see you. I am lucky to have accepting parents, but many others do not have that privilege. There are resources like The Trevor Project, as well as online communities that offer the support to create a safe coming out plan when you’re ready. Take your time, find your community and know you’re not alone. You’ve got this!

You can listen to ‘Purple Violin’ on Spotify and check out BEVERLEE’s website.