Stormé DeLarverie Sweetrocks Inspiring Woman
Stormé DeLarverie (December 24, 1920 – May 24, 2014) was a butch lesbian whose scuffle with police was, according to Stormé and many eyewitnesses, the spark that ignited the Stonewall riots, spurring the crowd to action. She was born in New Orleans, to an African American mother and a white father. She is remembered as a gay civil rights icon and entertainer, who performed and hosted at the Apollo Theater and Radio City Music Hall. She worked for much of her life as an MC, singer, bouncer, bodyguard and volunteer street patrol worker, the “guardian of lesbians in the Village.” She is known as “the Rosa Parks of the gay community.”
From 1955 to 1969 DeLarverie toured the black theater circuit as the MC (and only drag king) of the Jewel Box Revue, North America’s first racially integrated drag revue. The revue regularly played the Apollo Theater in Harlem, as well as to mixed-race audiences, something that was still rare during the era of Racial segregation in the United States. She performed as a baritone.
During shows audience members would try to guess who the “one girl” was, among the revue performers, and at the end Stormé would reveal herself as a woman during a musical number called, “A Surprise with a Song,” often wearing tailored suits and sometimes a moustache that made her “unidentifiable” to audience members. As a singer, she drew inspiration from Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday (both of whom she knew in person). During this era when there were very few drag kings performing, her unique drag style and subversive performances became celebrated, influential, and are now known to have set a historic precedent.
In 1987 Michelle Parkerson released the first cut of the movie, Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box, about DeLarverie and her time with the revue.