WhoWhatWhenWhereWhy&How . . .
Since moving here about a year ago, Dale Worley—Unity minister, musician and showman extraordinaire -- has taken Savannah by storm. Relocating here to serve as an associate minister with Arlene Myer at Unity Church on Sunset Boulevard, Dale also stepped into a role as Unity’s Creative Arts Director and hosts their weekly online radio show.
He was asked to be Entertainment Director for this year’s Gay Pride event and rocked Forsyth Park from start to finish, kicking the day’s events off with the most rousing version of “Tootie Frooty” that I have heard since Little Richard himself.
I asked Dale to tell Gay Savannah Online and its readers a little bit more about where he came from, what he’s done and what makes him tick along today.
“Well, I grew up in a small town in Tennessee near Chattanooga, in a four room house on a gravel road. My dad taught me to drive his truck and shoot a rifle when I was 10. I should have been a redneck, but I don't know what happened along the way to change that,” Dale grins slyly.
“I started playing the piano and singing when I was 8 years old, and I haven't stopped yet. My dad's family has a lot of very talented people, and I learned a lot from them. In high school, I played at a square dance in my dad's band every Saturday night. I lived in a trailer across the street from a store and the dance hall. I could buy a quart of beer at the store for 85 cents and fill up my motorcycle for $1.50.” Another pause and a laugh,” Did I mention that I should have been a redneck?
“College life consisted of going to frat parties until my dad got tired of wasting his money, and then I went ‘on the road’. I sold magazines with a crew for a while. One day a friend of mine told me about a booking agency in Wisconsin, and I called them and they hooked me up with a lounge band. I was a lounge lizard in three different bands for a few years. “
Asked about anything particular that stood out about that period of time, Dale winks and says,” I have been to the middle of nowhere-- it's in a little cowboy bar on the border of North and South Dakota. I used to shave all the hair off the sides of my head and wear it long in back like some kind of punk mullet. Once I played on an Indian reservation in Missouri that had a giant bull penis over the back of the bar.
One of the regulars was a woman who wore boots, a leather jacket, and a live snake around her neck as a choker. Most of my twenties was a blur, and for this I am grateful!”
Dale speaks of his first significant spiritual awakening occurring in his thirties, and the birth of his son - which we’ll talk more about shortly - and then about his ‘coming-out’. “I came out to myself when I was 40. My dad was the last one that I told because I knew how he would react. He told me that he knew I was gay ever since I was a little boy. He just hoped it wouldn't be so. I was shocked and appalled that I had spent the majority of my life trying to be straight for him so that he would love me, and then I find out he already knew. I am always the last one to know anything about myself.”
Talking about his portentous relocation to Savannah, Dales muses, “ I believe it is by Divine Appointment that I am here in Savannah. I lived in Kansas City before I moved here. I really like KC, but I LOVE Savannah! I have a love affair going with this city, the beach, the people, and my church. I have been welcomed here with open arms by so many people and I feel right at home. It has been a big change and a lot of stress, especially being so far away from my son, but it still feels good. Before I moved here, I was "on the road again", but this time it was in a positive way; playing positive music, giving talks, leading retreats and workshops at different spiritual centers around the country. My Higher Power takes all the talents and gifts that I squander selfishly and shows me how to use them in service to others and to make a difference in the world. I recently heard someone say that the key to happiness consists of two things: being in community and being of service. I believe this is true, and the more
I practice that simple philosophy, the better my life gets and the happier that I am.
I am getting plenty of opportunities for both here in Savannah.
WHO taught you to sing ‘Tooty Fruity’? Has it become your trademark song?
My dad's brother Craig, who passed away recently, taught me that song. He was a big influence on me. Actually, my trademark songs are "Imagine" and "Great Balls of Fire", two of the most spiritual songs I know!
WHAT drove you to become such an accomplished musician and singer?
The drive to make music seems to be something that has always been with me. Music is definitely my passion and my purpose. When I am angry, sad, lonely or frustrated,
I play the piano and I feel better. When I am feeling good, I celebrate by making music!
WHEN did you first feel drawn to more deeply explore spirituality—both in your lifestyle and ultimately as a career?
I have always been drawn to the mysterious and the profound since I was a little boy. The Native American idea of a "Great Spirit" within all things and all people really struck a chord with me at a time in my life when I hated the God that I grew up with. A lot of ministers I know say that they wanted to do this kind of work since childhood. This was not the case for me; in fact, it seems more like something that happened to me than something that I did. Of course I had to take the action steps and do the work, but I definitely feel like this way of life is a soul calling on very deep level.
When I turned 33, I had a spiritual experience in a Native American ceremony that totally changed my life, and that day marks the beginning of my conscious spiritual journey. At that time I was married to a woman. We have a son together who is now 20 years old, and he is and always will be the most important person in my life. He is the only human I know that I feel I can be completely myself with and know without a doubt that he will always love me. And I love him unconditionally, too. I pretty much raised him on my own since he was 5. He lives in Missouri. He is coming to visit me in December for Christmas and we are getting matching tattoos (did I mention I might be a redneck?).
WHERE have you seen the most beautiful sunset?
Just like people, they are all beautiful in their own unique way!!!
WHY do you think it is important for a seemingly gay-friendly town like Savannah to have a PRIDE event or organizations like First City Network and Stand Out Youth?
There weren't any gay role models for me growing up. We didn't have Will and Grace, RuPaul, Queer as Folk, Ellen or Rosie. As far as I knew at the time, there was something very wrong with me, and I was going straight to hell for it.
It breaks my heart to think that a young gay person would commit suicide in these times, but I certainly know what despair and hopelessness feel like. I want everyone - young and old - to know that no matter what anyone says, you are okay just the way you are. The best gift that you can give the world is to be yourself! There is only one of you, and if you don't let us know who you are, then the world is deprived of that unique, beautiful and precious gift.
Savannah's gay and lesbian organizations are so important because they show us that we can be out and free and have a satisfying, fun, full, productive and "normal" life. The Pride festivals, the FCN mixers and oyster roasts, all the events that bring us together as a community, help us to feel a part of something and know we are not alone.
It is up to us who are living our dreams as gay men and women to be examples to others of the benefits of living an authentic life. To do that we must be visible and be part of the community - not just the gay community, even though that is important, but also the community of Savannah as a whole.
Ultimately it is about being what Gandhi calls "the change you wish to see in the world".
I am amazed that the GLBT community is so visible and accepted here in the Deep South. During the Pride event this year, I thanked one of the very butch (and most likely straight) police officers for his help in securing the stage, and he told me that he took part in the event every year - he wouldn't miss it! All of the city employees and officials I worked with were helpful and supportive in making sure that our event turned out well.
HOW are you inspired to create new musical programs week after week or come up with a musical program?
“I moved here to take the job of Associate Minister at Unity of Savannah, A Center for Spiritual Awakening (www.unitysavannah.org). So, really, it’s what I do. A big part of my job is that of Creative Arts Director. We have a wonderful music team consisting of a band and a choir that has arisen since I have taken the job, and I am so grateful to be a part of this loving and talented spiritual community; that inspires me. We also have a lot of special events in addition to our Sunday morning celebrations and everyone is invited to attend. Unity welcomes all people and we love you just the way you are—that inspires me. I have a radio show on the Internet called "Music Speaks Louder Than Words" that is part of the Unity Online Radio network, and I invite you to check us out at www.unity.fm. I also host my own website at www.asacredplace.net and a blog at www.daleworley.com.
Also, as has been mentioned, I am blessed to be part of the Savannah Pride Board as the Entertainment Director. This has been a lot of hard work but every minute of it has been fun and well worth it for the fabulous Pride day we had in Forsyth Park this year. I have received so much positive feedback about this year's event, and we are looking forward to an even more spectacular Pride Event on September 10, 2011, once again in Forsyth Park—that inspires me. Our Pride board is a group of hardworking, dedicated, upbeat, talented and unique individuals with a sincere desire to serve, and I have had a great time working with them and getting to know them. I am grateful to be part of this community and to have made so many friends in such a short amount of time! All of this fills my heart and inspires me day after day.