Orville Peck: SA’s queer masked country crooner
We take a look at Orville Peck, the South African-born proudly gay masked country sensation kicking up a storm in the US.
His voice sounds like smoky whisky wrapped in dark chocolate. A bit of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Chris Isaak, and a hint of vintage country singer Jim Reeves.
He is the newest, brightest star on the American country scene and his name is Orville Peck. Here’s the thing, because he’s never revealed his face in public, for the longest time no one knew who the singer-songwriter was.
Okay, let’s back up a bit. A mask-wearing openly gay country performer. And no one knows who he really is?
Well, now we finally do. It’s been confirmed that Orville Peck is in fact Johannesburg-born Daniel Pitout.
“I grew up in Johannesburg until I was 15. I never talked about where I was from only because I wanted to wait—obviously, I’m a man of mystery and I like to not give everyone everything all at once,” said Peck in 2022. “I’m so proud to be South African. I go back there all the time.”
The crooner trained in ballet for 12 years, studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, was in a Canadian punk rock band, and performed in musical theatre before making his dream of being a country singer a reality.
Peck revealed in a Vogue interview that he always held a fascination for cowboys, the old Spaghetti Westerns and country singers who would perform macho songs decked out in pink rhinestones.
Peck has also opened up about his sexuality. “I’ve been out since I was little,” he told Variety. “I was very lucky to grow up in a family environment where I was very protected and loved for whoever I was going to be.”
Peck went on to add: “I have definitely received my fair share of reluctance, scepticism and aggression because I’m a gay man in the country world, but I would say that it’s far less than I think people would maybe imagine.”
So what’s up with the mask? The signature fringed masks he wears in public and during performances have become synonymous with Orville Peck. He’s explained the masks as a way to be a “more sincere musician”, allowing him to perform without having to meet the expectations of being someone other than himself.
While the person behind Orville Peck remains an enigma in many ways, his music is straightforward and relatable. He sings of heartbreak, lost love, being in an abusive relationship, and his life growing up in South Africa.
In 2019, he released his first album, which was self-financed, titled Pony, which was followed in 2020 by an EP, Show Pony. He went on to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live and at the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals.
Peck was chosen to be one of the artists featured on Lady Gaga’s 2021 Born This Way The Tenth Anniversary album, with his soulful country rendition of Born this Way. He also released a duet with Shania Twain, Legends Never Die, and even recorded a cover of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s classic, Jackson, with RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Trixie Mattel.
In 2022, he unveiled his second studio album titled Bronco. It’s been well-received and has been nominated for the upcoming 2023 GLAAD Media Awards (Outstanding Music Artist) and Canada’s Juno Awards (Country Album of the Year).
Last year, Peck was presented with the Cultural Icon Award by the Tom of Finland Foundation, “for artistic achievement and immeasurable contributions to the art and culture of [the LGBTQ] community”.
There is one thing about Peck, though. The man can sing. And write songs. And perform. It’s no wonder he is the hottest thing on the country charts at the moment. He certainly has what it takes to leave his mark on country music, especially as a gay man. Without a doubt, Orville Peck is not a one-trick pony.
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