Artist: Jaimee Harris
Hometown: Born in Nacogdoches, Texas; Raised in Hewitt, Texas; Living in Nashville, Tennessee
Song: “Orange Avenue”
In Their Words: “My partner, Mary Gauthier, was given an incredible writing residency in Key West for the entire month of January 2022. We often tour together, so I decided I’d take the time of solitude to search for songs. I started my search in the panhandle of Florida and spent a month driving down to Key West. Every two to three days I traveled to a different town, collected stories, visited fascinating museums, explored the variety of Florida’s natural beauty, and wrote a song in every town I visited.
“I did not plan to stop by Pulse Nightclub, but I found myself there alone at night. The first thing that struck me about Pulse was its location. I imagined it would be located in a nightlife district, but that is not the case. I was surprised to find it standing at the end of Orange Avenue, across from a Dunkin’ Donuts – the only two businesses on a street lined with houses. Pulse was a queer-friendly club, but it was also a neighborhood bar. The entry age was 18, so there were plenty of teenagers who hung out at Pulse simply because it was a friendly place where they could dance without having to be 21 to enter.
“The second thing that struck me was a plaque that listed 48 names of those who were killed on June 12, 2016. The third thing I noticed was a block of text that read, ‘We honor the 49 angel birthdays by placing angel wings next to their name. You are always in our hearts.’ If there were 49 killed, then why were only 48 names listed? I then noticed a plaque that said, ‘Out of respect for the family’s wishes, a victim’s name has been kept private.’
“I was curious about why that was and so I did some research. What I discovered was that the family of one male victim did not know he was gay until he was murdered at Pulse. The man’s family did not want to collect his body. This is why officials in Orlando felt it was important to emphasize to the world that this, up until that point, the highest casualty mass shooting in America was a hate crime targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
“I tried not to write ‘Orange Avenue.’ I tried to run away from it. But the song kept nagging at me. The original version of this song was sung from my perspective, but I felt it wasn’t quite right. I tried a lot of other narrative perspectives until I landed on the one that made me cry the hardest: the unnamed, unclaimed man.
“I have only played ‘Orange Avenue’ in public three times. In July 2023 at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, OK, in September 2023 at the Americana Proud showcase hosted by Autumn Nicholas, and for this Pilot Moon Films taping.
“I am so grateful that Pilot Moon Films invited me to participate in this incredible From One, to Tenn. series. Because Pilot Moon Films was so generous with their time and talent, I felt deeply that I should use this gift as an opportunity to share this man’s story.” – Jaimee Harris
(Editor’s Note: Subscribe to the YouTube Channel for From One, to Tenn. for a new exclusive performance video every Wednesday.)
Video Credits: Filmed by David Allison, John DeMaio, and Joel Malizia, Pilot Moon Films / Islander Entertainment
Audio captured – Brett Blandon
Mixed/Mastered – John Kelly
Special thanks to Helene Cronin & Victoria O’Campo
Photo Credit: Video stills courtesy of Pilot Moon Films