JOE BLACK was a ‘gin slinger’ in the area for 14 years during the 1990’s and early 2000’s at both the Raven and the Cartwheel. During that time, he initiated Joe Black Productions, which became synonymous with quality, often group or theme driven drag shows.
Born in New York City, raised in Middlesex, NJ, Joe was drawn to the area, like many, because of its beauty, friendliness and diversity. “The first time I walked into the Raven,” he recalled of Joe “Mother” Cavalucci who he lists as most influential in deciding to root in New Hope, “she was seated at the last seat in the bar drinking beer from a wine glass. She saw me looking around, got up and came over to me and said, ‘Welcome. I’m Mother and am the official New Hope Welcome Wagon. Stick with me, kid. Your goanna like it here.'”
Prior he worked in Cherry Hill, NJ at a gay bar “but couldn’t remember NOT hearing ‘faggot’ being screamed from the cars driving by. New Hope was a rare place with virtually none of that. The freedom a person feels here is amazing.” In a short period of time, Joe became known while doing security at the Raven and, coming from a theater background where performers were a troupe, he was asked to produce the annual Raven Follies. To it he brought his own, unique ‘production number’ style. “It went over better than I thought because people were used to seeing one drag performer at a time. To me, group numbers were the best part and I guess that was the birth of Joe Black Productions!” In subsequent years, his colorful, multi-faceted, elaborate and amusing skits became legendary.
Already partnered when he arrived, Joe quickly made many good friends, including one who would become his best, Bruce Charles, who he met doing a Susan Heyward ‘I Want To Live” monologue behind the gate to the Raven restaurant. He was amazed at how quickly community members—both gay and straight—dropped everything to help any person in need.
“When I got into town, it seemed that the AIDS crisis was just hitting the area and it hit hard. My first day behind the bar was to work someone’s memorial service. I still have a suit that is filled with mass cards from so many people we lost. We were always trying to help and to me the best way to help was put on shows to raise money for them. I was happy to donate my time and tips for them. I knew if I wanted to put a show together for them all I had to do was pick up the phone and ask ‘the girls.’ They never said no.”
After the Cartwheel burned down on April 12, 2005, Joe left the area to manage venues in Philadelphia but visits often where he is always greeted with kisses and hugs by his friends and former customers. Now an open grassy field, Joe still has many fond memories of nightlife at the Cartwheel “and I am often tempted to stand in the field where my old bar used to be.” But wherever he roams he remembers and takes us with him in his heart. “I was very lucky that I had a twisted imagination and was surrounded by people who trusted me enough to put what I had in my head on stage.”
“If anything, nothing any of us has done could have been achieved anywhere else,” said Joe. “Such a sense of community is very rare and I’ve never experienced anything like it before. Or since.”
Summited by Daniel Brooks September 3rd 2016