Friday, May 30, 2014

Stormé DeLarverié by Diamondback Annie

Drag king Stormé DeLarverié - often called the “Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement” for playing a catalytic role at the1969 Stonewall Riots - passed away in Brooklyn on May 24, 2014, at age 93. She is widely believed to have been the “Stonewall Lesbian” - the butch woman eyewitnesses say struck back at policemen that clubbed her outside the bar, which rallied the crowd collected there into action.

Born on Christmas Eve, 1920, Stormé (pronounced “Stormy) was raised in New Orleans. Her mother was black and her father white, so at that time, as a mixed-race child in the South, DeLarverié embodied the crossing of boundaries in a way that could make both black and white people around her very uncomfortable. At one point, as she told interviewer Kirk Klocke, bullies hung her by the leg from a fencepost, leaving a scar inches long (see video this page). Young Stormé learned to not give in to bullying, but to fight back hard, when she cracked the heads of the two worst bullies together one day - a lesson that would serve her well, as an adult at Stonewall. 

At a Stonewall Veterans Association event, DeLarverié recalled how she got into an altercation with the police the night of the riots. The raid was getting out of hand, and she saw a friend of hers get struck by a cop - from behind, and for no apparent reason. Right afterwards an officer, who she says probably thought she was a gay guy, said, “Move, faggot” to her. She replied, “I will not! And don’t you dare touch me,” and the officer shoved her - so she punched him in the face, and he fell to the ground, bleeding. 

Storme and Jewel Box Performers

Long before Stonewall, however, Stormé was already one of the foremost drag performers in the United States. She had toured the country, and been photographed by Diane Arbus. Though notorious for having thrown one of the first punches at Stonewall, DeLarverié was a boundary breaker as an artist, as well. She was the first person of color, and also the first(and only) male impersonator, in America’s first racially-integrated drag show, the Jewel Box Revue. Founded in the late 1930s in Miami, the Jewel Box Revue was the most successful show of its kind in the pre-Stonewall era, playing major theaters like the Apollo, and later serving as inspiration for “La Cage Aux Folles.” Stormé was also a regular performer at Club 82, an underground drag bar frequented by celebrity guests like Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, and Milton Berle. 

Storme by Diane Arbus

DeLarverié got her start as an entertainer when she joined the Ringling Brothers’ Circus as a teen show pony rider, but after being injured in a fall, she began performing as “Stormy Dale “ - a traditionally feminine-looking big band jazz vocalist. The glamorous gowned vamp Stormy became dashing drag king Stormé, when DeLarverié became the emcee and musical director of the Jewel Box Revue in 1955 - a position she held till 1969.

The Jewel Box’s tagline became “Twenty-five Men and a Girl” when Stormé joined the cast. Audience members didn’t often guess, though, that the single biological woman in the show was the handsome guy in the tux. DeLarverie was definitely a brilliant drag artist, and wore beautifully tailored clothing, as her page in the Jewel Box program demonstrates. 

 Jewel Box Program

However, the audience’s surprise when she revealed herself toward the end of the Jewel Box show also demonstrates the power assumptions have over the perception of gender. This seems likely since Stormé maintained, in the documentary short The Lady of the Jewel Box, that her moves and singing voice always stayed the same, whether she was performing in the guise of a man, or of a woman. 

Storme at The Chelsea Hotel
DeLarverié was a longtime resident of the infamous Chelsea Hotel, and a King of the Imperial Court of New York. As a vice president of the Stonewall Veterans Association, she was also a familiar figure at NYC Pride parades every year. A gentleman to the end, DeLarverié carried out a lifelong commitment to protect the LGBT youth she called her “children.” Well into her 80s, she patrolled Village streets, packing a gun (which she had a license for), and serving as a bouncer at lesbian bars like Henrietta Hudson. Stormé made it her constant mission to fight the “ugliness” - her word for the harassment and prejudice LGBT individuals constantly face. In this 2009 video commemorating Stonewall’s 40th anniversary, she cautions those who would attempt such ugliness around her: “Just don’t try it. You’re apt to wind up with your ass on the floor.” 

See why DeLarverié remained a convincing bad-ass at the age of 90, and listen to her still-beautiful singing voice, in this lovely interview by Columbia University journalist Kirk Klocke:

Diamondback Annie's balls-out stageshows are a crowd-pumping combination of drag; striptease and coliseum rock. A member of the first known neo-burlesque troupe, Los Angeles’ Velvet Hammer, Diamondback has headlined events worldwide since winning Best Debut at the 2005 Burlesque Hall of Fame competition. Besides performing live, she is a popular video vixen, appearing in videos for artists like Pharrell Williams; RuPaul; Rod Stewart; and Maroon 5.

1 comment:

  1. My dear friend, Tony Sinclair, was a Jewel Box performer, billed as "The Most Beautiful Man In the World."