Local historians unite to celebrate “The Golden Age of Milwaukee Drag”

by | Sep 1, 2020 | 0 comments

  • Jaida Essence Hall
  • BJ Daniels

The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project is proud to announce The Golden Age of Milwaukee Drag, its forthcoming book by local historians Michail Takach and BJ Daniels.

From “The Only Leon’s” bewildering debut at Nunnemacher’s Opera Hall in 1884, to Jaida Essence Hall’s flawless victory on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12, Milwaukee has produced a long, proud and scandalous legacy of drag superstars. The Golden Age of Milwaukee Drag will cover the highs and lows of gender identity across the city’s history, and the rise and fall of drag-dominant nightlife throughout the 1920s, 1950s, 1980s and today.

“Being able to share stories of all the great drag performers I’ve known, and worked with, is so important,” said BJ Daniels. “I feel honored to name those that have paved the way for me and others. This history gives us a sense of pride in our own homegrown stars!”

Milwaukee has been a favorite stop for touring female impersonators Julian Eltinge, Karyl Norman, and the Jewel Box Revue, a home base for midcentury divas Adrian Ames and Billie Herrero, a hotspot for high-end drag productions with the Holly Brown Revue and the Club 219 Girls, and ultimately, an incubator for diverse drag talent, including Trixie Mattel, Jaymes Mansfield and more.

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“We want to answer, why Milwaukee?” said Michail Takach. “What is it about Milwaukee that allows drag culture to thrive and evolve, even when other cities banned drag shows and shut down cabarets for decades?”

Community participation is welcomed. Readers are encouraged to join the History of Gay Wisconsin Facebook group to join the ongoing conversation.

“So many of our drag and gender non-conforming elders were forced into hidden lives due to social rejection,” said Michail Takach. “When they passed away, they took their life stories with them, never to be told again. Many times, their next of kin destroyed priceless photos out of shame or confusion.”

“The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project exists so that every one of our elders receives the applause they were denied in their lifetimes. And this book, especially, will include many reasons for applause.”

The Golden Age of Milwaukee Drag will be be published in summer 2021.

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