Bianca Paige memorial a night of love, laughter

It was an event filled with dazzling images and loving epithets, a fitting tribute to a performer who provided plenty of both during a brilliant career. A memorial at Loews Vanderbilt on Friday night honored Mark Middleton, whose alter ego Bianca Paige captivated Nashville audiences for nearly two decades.

The memorial highlighted the life of one of the South's premier drag queens, with an array of video clips that gave just a glimpse of her magnificent talents. Those talents were rewarded often, as Bianca Paige earned the titles of Miss State of Tennessee and Miss Music City, among many other honors.

Middleton, who died on June 4 of complications related to HIV, hailed from Paducah, Ken. Soon after his arrival in Nashville, he was encouraged to try female impersonation in local night clubs and soon, Bianca Paige, the self-proclaimed "Pantomime Rage," was born. His deep, raspy voice was a revelation, cleverly couching his playful barbs as he shared personal anecdotes and heartfelt musical performances with an ever-adoring crowd.

Though his stage persona was spiced with bawdy banter, Middleton himself was a shy, considerate man who helped to raise over $1 million for organizations including Nashville CARES and the Vanderbilt Children with AIDS project. He also formed the Bianca Paige Awareness Network, a foundation dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV among Nashville youth. All proceeds from the memorial will go to his foundation, which directs donations to Middleton's beloved causes.

That desire to give back to the community began in the early 1990s when Middleton discovered he was HIV-positive. He used his platform to help in the prevention of the disease and raise awareness to numerous charitable causes. He also became a beacon for the GLBT community and its allies through his fierce determination and even fiercer wit.

Carmella Marcella Garcia played MC for the festivities, and her caustic humor provided a much-needed dose of levity on an occasion that ultimately mourned the loss of a peerless entertainer. During the event, organizers held a silent auction of Bianca Paige memorabilia, including a few select show dresses from her private collection. A block party on Church Street, hosted by Vibe and Blue Gene's, ended the festivities on an uplifting note.

During the memorial, organizers announced that the mayor had signed a proclamation earlier in the day marking August 27 as Bianca Paige Day, further confirmation that this Nashville star will not soon be forgotten.

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