Tiff: I have heard so many stories of your dedication to the art form and also your involvements in the community. I know it's not right to brag about the good you have done, but, I personally would like to show our young readers how important it is to be just as involved and follow great leaders like yourself. What are some of the charities and groups that have had your support?Tina:
Posted 22 January 2006 - 10:37 AM
January 2006 Hello Members and Guests –Welcome to 2006! We expect GREAT things this year – online and offline. I have to start off by giving props to this little movie getting so much attention. Brokeback Mountain has won the Golden Globe for Best Picture and is getting acclaim in all areas of the country. I know Hollywood is very liberal (and closeted) but it does make me think that if a gay-themed movie can get such acclaim from a mass audience – anything can happen. I do hope that this movie will touch enough lives that a true change of the tides will begin. But I digress. We’ll just have to wait to see if Brokeback Mountain can take the Oscar!Tiffany Rachels has been doing her homework and has brought to us yet another FANTASTIC interview. This month – we are pleased to bring you an interview with the great Tina Devore! Tina is one of the most respected names in the industry. Based out of Atlanta – Tina is often the “go-to” person for advice on pageantry. I personally sat next to her on the judges’ panel at Miss USofA 2004 and have yet to meet someone who displayed such professionalism. I am extremely honored that she sat down with Tiffany to do this interview. So with that – I turn it over to them. Enjoy!Happy New Year – Carrie Fairfield
8Px;">Tiff: Having started female impersonation in college at The Palace in Orlando on a talent night, did you ever dream your career as an impersonator would have such longevity and that you would be where you are today? Tina:
Wow, Tiffany! You've really done your homework. I absolutely had no idea! It was something new and fun, but I thought I would leave college, go on to become a renowned actor in Hollywood and soon forget about drag. How wrong was I?!Tiff: After your summer at the Palace, you then went back to Tallahassee and began your own show as a benefit for the gay student union. Was it then you saw what impact you could have on your own community?Tina:
While I did see Female Impersonation as a way to get people's attention and a creative outlet for someone who aspired to the performing arts, I never imagined that through the 'art' one could really
make a difference in people's lives. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that I could raise money for or call attention worthy causes and issues. The fact that my entertainment could bring joy to someone else was the icing on the cake.Tiff: You became a drag mother to The Lady Chablis in 1974 and moved to Atlanta. Tell us a little about meeting Chablis, how the relationship formed, and what provoked the two of you to then move to Atlanta?8Px;">
Tina: Oh my! This is probably going to be a long answer. Chablis and I met at a disco in Tallahassee, FL for the first time. I was then a theatre student at Florida State University. I didn't know for weeks after our initial meeting that she was not really a she. She kept calling me and calling me and I was like "why does this girl keep calling me?!" Then one day during one of our phone conversations, the truth came out. I was shocked and intrigued at the same time. Although she had been dressing as a girl for some time, she had never done shows. I was directing a little 'one night a week' show at a local tavern and, of course, immediately wanted her to be in my show.She didn't even have a drag name at the time and every one called her 'Miss Pee Wee'. So when I introduced her for the first time, I said; Ladies and gentlemen please welcome to the stage Miss P - Wee! The name The Lady Chablis came later, but that's a story for another interview.I graduated and moved to Atlanta with hopes of being an actor, but after I had been here for less than two weeks I was hired in a show when two of their showgirls got fired. I happened to have been working in their show that night and was hired on the spot. I was the first black entertainer to ever be hired in that bar (It was a bit 'red', I must admit) but less than two months I was show director in charge of hiring, firing and payroll. That’s when I went back to Tallahassee and got Chablis and said 'come on girl, you're about to be a star'! Since then I have been directing and producing pageants and shows for years.Tiff: Some of your inspirations include Rachel Wells, Hot Chocolate and Lisa King. What about each of these ladies inspired you?Tina:
Rachel Wells, to me at the time, represented the total package: Beauty, talent and popularity. When they introduced her at The Sweet Gum Head (the hottest show bar of its day) the crowd would rush to the stage with tips before she even came out. The applause would be deafening!Hot Chocolate was everything I was not. She was a dancing diva from the word go. Her energy and stamina amazed me. Couple that with a winning smile and personality, I was hooked!Lisa King was the consummate entertainer; perfect lip-sync, a dancer and could hold her weight in the glamour department with the best. AND we had met in Tallahassee where she was a student at Florida A&M. I sooooo wanted to be her.I also wanted to add that I was also greatly inspired early on by; Tiffany Arieagus, The Lady Barronnessa, Roski Fernandez and Dina Jacobs.Currently, I am especially inspired by the dedication and perseverance of Miss Charlie Brown who still carries the torch for Female Impersonation here in the ATL and who's efforts keep many of Atlanta's favorites doing what they do best...Entertaining. 8Px;">
I have been involved in many, many fund-raising efforts for many organizations and individuals. I simply believe that we are, in fact, each other's keeper. Therefore, we are bound to help where ever and whenever it is needed. One of my passions was (and still is) an organization called Childkind that
supports children affected by HIV/AIDS and their families.I also work to preserve the 'art form' of Female Impersonation. There are so many negative connotations out there (some warranted and many not), so consequently I'm working 100% of the time to shed a brighter and more positive light on our profession, mostly by being respectable as well as respecting others.Tiff: What was it like growing up as Cliff and then you, your family, and friends discovering Tina? Were you accepted by your family?Tina:
I had a wonderful childhood. I was fortunate enough to have been born to two very religious, dedicated, hardworking parents who instilled in us (my sister and I) the importance of being honest, respectable and getting an education. We were not wealthy by any means, but never went without anything we needed. I was very musically inclined and could play the piano (by ear) from as long as I can remember. I played for my church choirs from the time I was around 10 until I graduated. I always hung out with the girls and was pretty much well receive by most. I discovered Tina when working as a singer/dancer at Walt Disney World (I was in the original cast of 'Kids of the Kingdom'). I discovered my first drag show, and then won their amateur night contest. The rest is history. Believe it or not, Tiffany, after 30 years, no one in my family knows that I do (or have done) shows. They wouldn't disown me or anything, mind you, but they simply would not get it. I have avoided telling them just to spare my Mom undue grief. Believe me, I am proud of my history and accomplishments, but don't feel the need to involve my family. I have never really made a conscious effort to keep it a secret, however.Tiff: How did you get the name Tina Coquina Devore?Tina:
When I started in Orlando some 30 years ago, my drag mamma, Lorrie Del Mar, saw something in me that reminded her of Tina Turner. Thus the name 'Tina' was born. One of my most popular numbers during that time was 'Ring the Bells' by Liza Minnelli. In it, she refers to a friend named Shirley Devore. I had never heard the name Devore, so I snatched it! Two of my best friends during the 80s and 90s were Cuban and affectionately nicknamed me 'Coquina'. In the last few years, for some reason, the younger generations think that it has something to do with cocaine. WRONG!Tiff: Tell us about the Gospel Girls.Tina:
The Gospel Girls, until less than a year ago, was the longest continuously running show in Atlanta. For me, it was a place that I could really go back to my roots, explore my spirituality and combine my other passion (female impersonation) in a manner that was personally gratifying and entertaining. I have a strong belief and faith in God. I recognize his presence in everything that I do and am very grateful to be here today to say so. Some of my favorite performance 'moments' came during my Gospel Girl performances. It was a sort of way for me to say 'thanks' for all the many blessings that I have receive over the years.Tiff: I first saw you perform in 1992. You were part of the cast at The Armory in Atlanta. There was Paula Sinclair, Leah Stetson and Motion at the time if I remember correctly. How long where you with the Armory?8Px;">
Tina: I think total; I was at the Armory more than 10 years. My first cast there was called the Funky Divas and featured: Lauren LaMasters, Cezanne, Ashley Kruiz, Motion, Tony Desario and me. Later came Paula Sinclair, Crystal Evans, Monica Layne, Leah Stetson, Heather Daniels, Niesha Dupree, Alicia Kelly, Savannah Leigh, Raquel Lord, Dominiquie Rashad, Sophia McIntosh Tamisha Iman...and the list goes on and on. I was a very popular place for a moment.
I was performing on an unfamiliar stage in North Carolina in the late 70s and walked into a wall...on my first time out. Needless to say, I was through!
Being chosen Miss USofA Classic Emeritus meant and still means a great deal to me. They could have chosen anyone in the country and they chose me. The title took me to places I never would have gone to otherwise. I had about 10 preliminaries that first year. I was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
I had actually decided some years ago after winning the last five pageants that I entered that I was going to give up on competition. And of course the fact that I was over 40 I wanted to go out as a winner. But, as fate would have it, my best friend, Tony Desario, decided to enter Mr. Continental. So I told him that IF he won, I would enter Miss Continental Elite. He won, so here goes! Open mouth, insert foot! ...but I rise to the challenge. The support has been incredible.
Tina: It's a triple whammy! Prejudice because of all three! First, as an African American, one witnesses some sort of prejudice on almost a daily basis. Add being gay to that, then you get prejudice within your own ethnic group which can make one feel even more alienated and then ‘drag’. As you know many in the gay community feel that there is no place for drag and that drag casts a negative light on the gay lifestyle. How ridiculous...but I digress. As they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I know that I am a much stronger person because of it.
I would say, “Be true to yourself.” Be certain that Female Impersonation is really something that you really want to do because making a career of it is not easy. Set goals and work diligently to achieve them. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Don't be discouraged by nay sayers...and remember that the bridges you cross on your way to the top, you may one day have to cross again.