New Hope Divas & Queens – A brief History of Drag
“Drag performers” have been integral part of LGBTA life since the beginnings of ancient Greece and Roman culture, where men dawned feminine apparel to entertain royals and rulers. In the United States, many Americans were introduced to “drag” on radio and TV by “straight” comedians, such as Red Skeleton, Milton Berle, Flip Wilson and others—men who dressed up as female characters to produce amusement and, often, dramatic pathos.
Gay and lesbian individuals considered drag to be their unique art form, and during the “early years” of non-disclosure of sexual preference and gender —born out of fear of harm and discrimination–they assembled in secret underground venues in order to socialize together. In many, “drag queens” became a part of the “evening show”—many men and women cross-dressed solely for performance sake, singing and lip-syncing to popular cover songs, while intermittently telling jokes and engaging their audiences.
People may not know that some of our most venerated performers today, such as Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, got their starts in “underground” gay clubs. And on TV, we have “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” in its ninth season on VH1!
In New Hope, drag exhibited the art form, which often extended into elaborate sketches, scenes, and whole musicals. Local pioneer drag queens—such as Monica Rey, Josie “Mother” Cavellucci, Danee Russo, Ricki Paris, Michael “Pumpkin” Gardner, Erika Kane, Berrie Lyndon, Jasmine Brooks, Vera Charles, Phoebe Mantrappe, Victoria Lace and many more have become legends through their performances, which were mostly done to raise money for local charities or ill members of the community.
They paid for their own glamorous, hand beaded gowns through tips from the audience. Theatrical residents like John Barocas, and Joe Black were prominent directors of many of the more elaborate stage performances—the “Cecil B. Demilles” of New Hope!
Additionally, for many years, New Hope has been the state’s center for the Miss Gay Pennsylvania contest. Local promoters Ricky Crosby, Jenn Whol and Joey Ray. Winners of the title compete annually in the Miss Gay US of A contest in Dallas, Tx. for national titles along with other state winners. New Hope is very proud of their famous Queens!
Drag and “drag queens” will most doubtlessly continue as an art form into eternity! We certainly hope so!