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Sandy Kay is one of the few entertainers left in Kansas City who performed at the original Jewel Box lounge. Camp recently met with Kay and Kirk Nelson, to talk about Kay’s new show, Over the Rainbow, A Night With Judy. The March 18 performance will reprise a role that Kay has played many times over the years. Nelson and his life partner Bruce Winter, aka Melinda Ryder, are the show’s co-producers.
I asked Kay whether he would prefer we use his stage name or real name, and he replied, “Just Sandy.” He said that most people only know him by that name anyway. He’s 57, a Missouri native and now lives on the Kansas side of the city.
“I used to dress up all the time. I lived as a woman for years, before I even started doing the shows. I used to live in Armourdale and Argentine and lived as a woman.”
He said he started dressing as a woman when he was 17 or 18.
“I went out and bought me this big huge pair of gold lamé shoes with all the straps, and I bought a little pleated gold lamé skirt and top and this big flip hairdo thing and I started going downtown,” Kay said.
He said he considered himself gay although he dated straight men, not gay men. He also grew his hair long and styled his own hair rather than wear wigs.
Kay said he got into drag somewhat accidentally.
“I moved over to the Missouri side, and there was the original old MCC church. It was on 31st Street. It was above a little ice cream parlor. And they were trying to raise money to move the church and get a bigger building, so they thought they were going to have a drag show. Well, they asked me, ‘Do you drag?’ and I said, ‘No, I just dress up as a woman.’
“ ‘Can you help out?’ they asked. And I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do something.’ And I had no idea, because I had never done it, so I had no idea what to do,” he said with a laugh.
He said the idea came to him when he was watching TV with a friend.
“We were at home watching TV and one of the old Judy shows was on, and he said, ‘You’ve got to do her, do her.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do Judy Garland.’ And he said, ‘Yes, you can.’
“So I went out and got some makeup and an old wig and went to the thrift store and bought this bright pink lamé suit, and we played around with the makeup and it looked horrible,” he said with a laugh. “But finally we got it together, and I did Judy for the church and made a lot of money. And that was my first show ever. And that was back in the middle ’70s, probably.”
Kay said he had never seen drag shows before he impersonated Judy Garland.
“When I was a child, or younger, we lived off of Armour, and Troost was right on the corner. I used to walk up there all the time and sat in front of the old original Jewel Box and watch people go in and out. And they had the big pictures of the drag queens there, and that’s when I first saw what a drag queen was.”
The Jewel Box was a legendary drag bar, although it was not a gay bar. The entertainers were paid to do shows and did not rely on tips for their income.
Nelson said, “Back in the ’50s and ’60s, it was like whenever famous movie stars would come to town after their shows, they would go there for after-hour things. It wasn’t a gay bar thing. It was all straight people that went there. It was like going to La Cage in Vegas.”
Kay agreed. “Even when they closed off Troost and moved to Main Street, it stayed that way. It was not a gay club. We did three shows a night, six nights a week. The buses would come, and we’d do the one show, and the next bus would come in.”
One day when he was a teenager, Kay said, “I sat down at the table, and my father had remarried, and Dorothy was her name, that was my stepmother. And I knew something was wrong and I was young then, I think about 16, and so I said, ‘I have to tell you something. Something’s not right.’ I don’t think they used the word gay back then, I don’t know what it was, but I told them. And my father said, ‘Oh, we knew that a long time ago.’ And that was it, he laughed.”
I asked Kay whether that meant his parents were accepting and he said, “They were understanding.”
Kay went on to tell a story of how he was performing at The Jewel Box as a female stripper when one night his parents came in to the club. Kay said his show director announced on stage that they had special guests, Sandy Kay’s parents, in the audience and then came backstage and told him. His reaction was that he couldn’t do a strip number in front of his parents, but his show director told him, ‘You’re going to go out and there and you’re going to do the number like they’re not even in the audience.’
“So I went out there I stripped and did the whole thing,” Kay laughed.
Nelson interjected that the routine included stripping down to panties and pasties with a bra, and then the performer would remove the bra, showing the audience it was a real man.
Kay said, “It was funny because afterward, my mother and stepmother took all the girls and we went to Denny’s on 39th and Main, and we all had breakfast in full drag.”
Kay said that he first got involved with The Jewel Box by walking in the bar and asking if they were hiring. “The owner’s name was John Tuccillo and I knew he was just kidding, and he said, ‘We don’t hire women’, and he said ‘Oh, OK, I know what you are and da da da.’ And he said, ‘Well, we’re not hiring right now. Are you a professional?’ and I said ‘No, I’ve never done this.’
“So he hired me, but just as a trainee, so that’s how I got my start.”
Kay credits Melinda Ryder for helping him get his start performing drag in the gay bars.
“When the Jewel Box closed, Melinda Ryder said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to come out to the gay bars,’” said Kay.
Nelson described how Kay started working at the bar Ebenezer’s Folly in the River Market. “Melinda said, ‘You have to start coming out in the gay community and being seen and let people know who you are,’ since Sandy was starting to think about entering pageants.”
In addition to the common practice of lip-syncing songs, Kay said, he and others often sang at least one song in a performance in their own voices as well as doing pantomimed comedy.
Over the years, Kay has taken several breaks from performing, once as long as 10 years away from the stage.
Kay has long been known for creating his own gowns and sometimes other performers’ gowns.
“I started out by going to thrift stores and buying gowns and gluing stuff onto them,” he said with a laugh. He said he taught himself to sew when he was still living at home as a teenager.
“My stepmother was cleaning the basement and she had this old Singer machine and I said, ‘What is that?’ although I knew what it was.’ And she said, ‘It doesn’t work.’ And so I took it and played with it and carried on and it worked.
“The first thing I ever made was a pair of polyester pants, and they were men’s pants, didn’t have a zipper or nothing, just elastic and you just pulled them up,” he said, laughing.
He said he’s never used patterns but just lays out the fabric and then does the rest.
“Patterns are kind of complicated, because I have a hard time seeing them, first of all. I just don’t like them. I can lay a dress down and it’s done, because I cheat so bad. You don’t want to take a look in the inside of it, but the outside is purty,” he laughed.
Over the Rainbow, A Night With Judy is at 8 p.m. March 18 at the Marquee Lounge in the AMC Mainstreet Theatre, 1400 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. Doors open at 6 p.m. The show is a benefit for Kansas City Pride. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door and available at www.gaypridekc.com. Parking is $2 with an AMC Theatre validation.
Worldwide opera star Renée Fleming will perform in Kansas City on Thursday night, November 18, but the day before, she'll be part of a panel discussion for "Music and the Mind" — a conversation about how music affects the brain, cognitive development, healing and quality of life.
WHAT: Music and the Mind with Renée Fleming
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021
TIME: 4:00-5:30 PM
WHERE: The 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods, KS, 66205
Music has a profound impact and the ability to shape 86 billion neurons in the brain for cognitive development, healing, and therapy. Science research has clearly shown that music therapy interventions can improve quality of life across nearly all neurological disorders. And there is tremendous public-interest in applying music to creative aging, childhood development, and community wellness.
But scientists want to know more.
Join soprano Renée Fleming and a distinguished panel of local Kansas City experts in neurology, music therapy, music and healing, and more for this cutting-edge discussion. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q&A following the panel discussion.
*Please note this Music and the Mind Event is not a musical performance*
As Artistic Advisor at Large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Renée Fleming has spearheaded a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH, and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. This initiative has also led the NIH to recently award $20 million dollars in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years.
As part of her advocacy, Fleming is also advisor to the recently launched NEA/UCSF Sound Health Network and co-chair of the Aspen Institute/Johns Hopkins NeuroArts Blueprint, both working to advance the field of arts and health.
This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please call the Harriman-Jewell Series at 816-415-5025 to reserve your seat.
WHAT: Renée Fleming, soprano in recital
WHEN: Thursday, Nov 18, 2021
TIME: 7:00 PM
WHERE: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
COST: Tickets from $25.00 *discounts available for students, educators, first responders, active duty military and veterans with valid I.D.
Pair a glorious voice with a winning personality and you have a diva for the ages. Renée Fleming is a longstanding Harriman-Jewell Series favorite. With her many television and Broadway appearances, Fleming has been embraced by music lovers of all genres.
Whether singing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Olympics, or Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Renée Fleming represents opera to the world. In addition to her numerous operatic performances, Fleming often works classic show tunes and the Great American Songbook into her recitals. Fleming’s trademark rapport with audiences will give her Kansas City performance a warmth that is personal and sincere.
Rob Ainsley is pianist for the recital. His diverse career as a musician, conductor, educator, and administrator has taken him to top organizations and colleges from coast to coast. He now serves as Director of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists and American Opera Initiative. Ainsley performed with Renée Fleming in The Metropolitan Opera’s August 2020 “Met Stars Live in Concert” that was streamed worldwide.
ABOUT THE HARRIMAN-JEWELL SERIES
Renée Fleming's recital will mark the 977th performance since the Series was founded in 1965. From free education events that allow interaction with musicians and dancers, to our free Discovery Concerts that are open to the community, the Harriman-Jewell Series continues to offer life-enriching opportunities for its community's youth and lifelong learners.
Whether you're spreading truth, information, or love, traveling abroad for humanitarian reasons can have risks. Detained American journalist in Myanmar, Danny Fenster, is to be released from jail, and to fly home soon. But it doesn't always end well for every foreign national attempting to do good in a foreign country.
The missionaries consisting of sixteen Americans and one Canadian kidnapped by the Haitian “400 Mawozo” gang on October 16, is extremely scary. The gang has threatened to kill the humanitarian Christians if a million dollar per person ransom is not fulfilled. The group consists of men, women, children and an eight-month-old baby.
These missionaries have sacrificed their time and paid their own way to go to the poorest place in the Western hemisphere to try to spread God’s love and save some souls. In turn, the missionaries are experiencing a nightmare like they’ve never imagined. They’re imprisoned and being threatened with a bullet in the head.
Most of us will never get over seeing journalists being beheaded and tortured in Syria and Iraq by the barbaric Islamic extremist group called ISIL. Burning people alive and beheading others were too graphic and gruesome to ever be forgotten.
Years ago, I traveled to a third world country on a “missionary trip” with others thinking it would be a nice break. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
Sadly, the 17 missionaries in Haiti are undergoing a cruel experience that may end with the cost of their very lives. What are they thinking now? What is going through the minds of the little children who traveled to a world to help others and spread God’s love?
Haiti has been the site of years of humanitarian efforts. The United States and other countries have given billions of dollars to help Haiti. Sadly, hurricanes, political unrest, underdevelopment and extreme poverty have all made for a sad scenario.
How much money would the world have to give to Haiti to make life better for this nation? This is a question no one can answer because usually aid is a short-term solution. We spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and they aren’t any better off today.
Good missionary people went to Haiti with good hearts for helping others in the name of God’s love. They went to share a message they hoped would bring about change and better lives. They may now lose their lives.
Christians point to Jesus as the model for such missionary efforts. He came preaching and teaching in an effort to demonstrate and spread God’s love and it cost him plenty – his life, executed in public on a cross.
There are some Christians today who, like Jesus, are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. Did these men and women literally go to Haiti taking their children with them truly believe they could be killed? Would they purposefully do this to their children? Who convinced these people that such a trip with small children was a good idea?
My goal here is to simply say, think about such trips to places like Haiti. Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Nigeria and numerous others countries are not vacation spots. Foreign travel may sound exotic and adventurous but consider the possible cost.
Many missionaries and Christian workers have paid the ultimate price in order to spread the gospel of Christ. Only eternity will reveal what their selfless sacrifice has meant to those whose lives they impacted.
By chance, if you decide such an international trip is not for you, don’t feel bad. Consider helping in an American inner city, Appalachia or maybe your own neighborhood. Service at home is needed across America.
Let’s pray for the safety of these missionaries and for those negotiating their release. May God help them and all who may consider such endeavors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Glenn Mollette is a graduate of numerous schools including Georgetown College, Southern and Lexington Seminaries in Kentucky. He is the author of 13 books including Uncommon Sense, Grandpa's Store, Minister's Guidebook: insights from a fellow minister. His column is published weekly in over 600 publications in all 50 states. Glenn Mollette has been on numerous International humanitarian and missionary group trips. Hear Glenn Mollette every weekday morning EST at 8:56 on XM radio 131. Editor-If you need to tweak or do a small edit for you paper or website that is okay. Please respond to this email if you need a picture for this column. Scroll down for additional biographical info. Buy his latest recording titled "Black Coffee" on iTunes. Learn more at www.glennmollette.com
The Black Trans Fund, incubated at Groundswell Fund, and Grantmakers for Girls of Color launched the Holding a Sister Initiative, the first-ever national fund explicitly dedicated to transgender girls and gender-expansive youth of color.
Dr. Monique W. Morris, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, and Bré Rivera, program director of the Black Trans Fund are together spearheading the Holding a Sister Initiative to bring attention and resources to organizations supporting trans girls of color, normalize concern and investment in their success, and create learning opportunities for cis and trans girls of color to move in deeper community with one another.
The initiative will award $1 million in grants in the first year, and will ultimately engage trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color in the decision-making process for selecting grantees on an ongoing basis.
While there has been an increase in donor attention to work led by people of color, it has yet to translate into significant gains in funding for trans and gender-expansive youth of color.
According to recent regional studies in Detroit, South Florida and New Orleans, trans women of color face higher levels of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration and discrimination. At the same time, the majority of this year's record-breaking anti-trans legislation are targeted to affect youth, including bills that prevent transgender athletes from playing in school sports and the "Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act." Research has show sharp rises in suicide attempts among trans youth during 2020 and 2021.
"The reality is transgender and gender-expansive youth of color require more attention, and resources to interrupt the staggering intersections of trauma and crises they experience," said Bré Rivera.
The initiative joins existing funding intermediaries who have been leading the work to resource trans communities and engage trans people in the direction and distribution of resources, including the Third Wave Fund, the Black Trans Travel Fund, and Fund for Trans Generations. As funding partners, the Black Trans Fund and Grantmakers for Girls of Color aim to expand and transform philanthropy's investments in trans and gender-nonconforming youth. The initiative will move resources to organizations serving and led by trans girls and young women of color. It will also amplify narratives that elevate the humanity, dignity and leadership of trans and gender-expansive youth of color, as well as the ways their experiences and contributions have been overlooked, minimized and targeted by oppositional and systemic forces, and larger social justice movements.
The Holding a Sister Initiative will be led by a manager, who will steward culture change through grantmaking, capacity building, narrative shifting and philanthropic organizing. The position is currently open for applicants.
About Grantmakers for Girls of Color
Fiscally-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) works to mobilize resources and amplify transformative organizing work to dismantle systems of oppression led by girls and gender-expansive youth of color. Grantmakers for Girls of Color openly invites partners and stakeholders to co-create an inclusive space in support of girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color across programmatic issues and geographic areas. Learn more by visiting Grantmakers for Girls of Color.
About the Black Trans Fund
The Black Trans Fund is a groundbreaking endeavor: the first national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting and resourcing Black trans social justice leaders. BTF seeks to address the lack of funding for Black trans communities in the U.S. through direct grantmaking, capacity building support, and funder organizing to transform philanthropy. Learn more by visiting Black Trans Fund.