Steppin’ Out

Although Trans-Q the web series lives on the wide open data seas of the Internet, the show is produced in the post-industrial urban gem known as “Pittsburgh.” A quirky little city, Pittsburgh has a queer history that complicates the enshrined tales of gay life in New York and San Francisco. Local historian, and Trans-Q producer, Harrison Apple has spent the past year collecting stories, photos, videos, and memories from decades gone by, bringing new attention to the ‘Burgh’s queer roots.

Along the way, Harrison was introduced to one Miss Connie Dorsett. Connie, known to her friends as the “Queen of the Commonwealth”, began performing in drag in the 1960’s. Part of a vibrant scene of black female impersonators, Connie became part of a community which stretched back into the early 20th century. Connie was happy to share her memories (and fashion tips) with Harrison, but there was one other thing she’d been dying to do – step out in class one last time for a fashionable and fierce* drag ball.

Working with fellow historian Laura Grantmyre, Harrison set out to throw one last dream gala for Connie. More than a party, the event would celebrate the decades of black queer performance in Pittsburgh. Trans-Q Television was, of course, on scene to document every single sparkling moment.

Trans-Q’s own Dani Lamorte opened the show with three (count ’em, grl) types of sequins, offering a rousing interpretation of “I Will Survive” – covered by Eartha Kitt! Dani handed the stage over to the hostess of the evening, Kierra Darshell. Titled the “first Lady of Pittsburgh”, Kierra is a local performer best known for creating the Miss Tri-State pageant.

Kierra welcomed the crowd and introduced the next performer – and a legend in her own right – Miss JoJo. Miss JoJo confessed off-stage that she hadn’t performed in 25 years, but you never would have known it. A veteran of the PearlBox Revue, she spent much of her life traveling across the country, wowing audiences with her talent for language. Deftly combining monologue with song and storytelling, Miss JoJo shared her considerable wisdom and wit with the audience. Reminding the audience of long-gone performers and community leaders, such as Miss Coco and Denice Darshell, Miss JoJo’s performance made it clear why we were in attendance: to pay respect to and show appreciation for those who came before us.

Milan Tre’zur and Shantel Cummings also paid tribute to Connie and her peers. Milan’s jaw-dropping rendition of “Everything I Feel” is best summed up with the following quote from Paris Is Burning: “You own everything. Everything is yours.” Meanwhile, Shantel served up some emotionally-charged Whitney Houston, followed by a good dose of “Disco Inferno”. From splits to flips to head whips, Shantel kept the crowd cheering.

The evening wrapped up with Jackie Dorsett – Miss Connie’s own niece – performing a version of Chaka Khan’s classic “I’m Every Woman”. Giving the night a distinctly intimate, family tone, Jackie warmed our hearts and prepared us for what was to follow: a dance party DJ’ed by local jam expert, Alexis Icon.

Miss Connie and her contemporaries paved the way for today’s drag performers. A night for the history books, One More Time aimed to honor this living legend and celebrate her life. And, it would seem, the audience got a good show out of it, too.

If you couldn’t make it to One More Time, enjoy the photos below – courtesy of Harrison Apple and the Pittsburgh Queer History Project.

Warning: We cannot be held responsible for finger-snapping-related injuries resulting from viewing these killer performers in action.

[caption id="attachment_366" align="alignleft" width="239"]The one and only Miss Connie Dorsett - Queen of the Commonwealth. Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. The one and only Miss Connie Dorsett – Queen of the Commonwealth.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_368" align="alignleft" width="346"]"I Will Survive" by Dani Lamorte. Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. “I Will Survive” by Dani Lamorte.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_369" align="alignleft" width="230"]"I'm Every Woman" by Jackie Dorsett. Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. “I’m Every Woman” by Jackie Dorsett.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_374" align="alignleft" width="346"]"Disco Inferno" by Shantel Cummings. Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. “Disco Inferno” by Shantel Cummings.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_373" align="alignleft" width="346"]Miss JoJo of the PearlBox Revue. Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. Miss JoJo of the PearlBox Revue.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_372" align="alignleft" width="230"]"Everything I Feel" by Milan Tre'zur. Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. “Everything I Feel” by Milan Tre’zur.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_371" align="aligncenter" width="346"]Kierra Darshell (left) and Harrison Apple (right). Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. Kierra Darshell (left) and Harrison Apple (right).[/caption] [caption id="attachment_370" align="alignleft" width="230"]"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Kierra Darshell. Photo courtesy of Harrison Apple & The Pittsburgh Queer History Project. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Kierra Darshell.[/caption]

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Producer for Trans-Q Television: Suzie Silver
Photos by: Alex Walker
Video by: Katie O’Connor, Jennifer Huang, and Reese Adams-Romagnoli

Special thanks to Harrison Apple, Laura Grantmyre, Connie Dorsett, Kierra Darshell, and the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational & Cultural Center in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Even special-er thanks to Alexis Icon, the flawless DJ of the evening.

One More Time was supported in part by generous community donations, via an Indiegogo campaign. Additional support was provided by the Center for the Arts in Society at Carnegie Mellon University.

* The author, as a grumpy queen, disapproves of the liberal use of the word “fierce”. “Fierce” is used in this context because, Miss Thing, everything that night was f-l-a-w-l-e-s-s.