Whitney Houston’s piercing mezzo-soprano voice rang out from the wooded Glenwood neighborhood as the late singer sang the lyrics to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” on Sunday afternoon. As the upbeat tempo of the cover blasted from the large, square speakers in front of the one-story leafy green house, a lone figure stood on the porch stairs that led up to the pasty white wooden door.
Standing in a black, satin dress silver sequins and cape sleeves that draped down from her forearms, hair done up in an updo with a considerable amount of makeup plastered on her face was drag queen Tia Chanella.
On Saturday, Chemistry Nightclub owner Drew Wofford put together a social-distancing tailgate party with the help of his drag queen employees. The event was lucky enough to take place on a hot sunny day with neighbors, friends and visitors attending the gathering.
Hands on her hips, Tia began to move her body to the beat of the song. As the melody started to pick up the pace, she strutted gracefully down the path to the street in a pair of black high heels. Stepping out onto the pavement, she lip-synched the 1978 hit single.
“I’m every woman/ It’s all in me/ Anything you want done, baby/ I do it naturally/ I’m every woman, It’s all in me…,” she mouthed, continuing to sway her hips from side to side with an occasional twirl that caused her dress to fan out around her legs.
The audience members, consisting mostly of neighbors of all ages, sat in lawn chairs along the street or stood on either side of the road to witness the performance while maintaining a good distance away from one another. Seated on the sidewalk opposite of the drag queen was a little girl with chestnut brown hair pulled back into a high ponytail clapping her hands excitedly as she watched the fabulously dressed queen with a never-ending smile. On the side of the street, a young woman with short, curly brown hair with lilac purple highlights, cupped her hands together over her mouth and shouted to the queen, “Get it girl!”
Wofford, who owns the gay bar and dance club, said he feels that the pandemic has caused enough despair, so he organized the event to bring some fun back into people’s lives.
“Everyone’s scared to go out,” Wofford said. “Everybody’s been distant, and we have to find a way to get past this. So, this is a positive that you can meet together, you can be social-distancing and staying in groups. It shows that we can be together, we can be loud, we can be proud, be as one — the community can come together.”
During the event, guests abided by the governor’s orders to practice social distancing and wear masks to protect themselves as well as others.
“I also love events like this,” Wofford said as he fiddled around with the different gauges on the music control panel. “In the middle of a neighborhood, black, white, straight, the bisexual — it doesn’t matter. Everyone came out here to have a good time.”
Chris Sox, also known by his drag queen name “Mz. Cocktail,” spoke during the event about what drag culture means to him.
“It allows you to act like something you have never acted like before,” he said. “You get to experience and watch other people’s reactions on their face when they see you come out and see you’re so happy; it’s everything.”
While Tia performed Whitney Houston, other drag queens like Giselle Cassidy Carter impersonated her muse, Beyoncé. Like Tia, she sashayed down the cement runway of the house and stepped out onto the street in a glittery, gold bodysuit with bright yellow tassels that trailed down the sides of her waist. The getup is a pretty close replica of Beyoncé’s outfit from her 2018 Coachella performance. Striding up alongside her were two male dancers who performed back flips as Carter showed off a series of freestyle dance moves. Holding a small microphone in one hand, she continued her act, pumping up the crowd around her. Carter’s energy inspired a blonde woman from the audience to abruptly stand up from her lawn chair and swing her body, shimmying in place while making eye contact with Carter.
“My personal definition of drag is being able to express yourself through performance,” Carter said. “It’s really helped me out a lot to be here today because I’ve been able to express the feelings that I have been having at home. I like to relate to people and express the feelings that I’m going through in hopes that somebody in the crowd is going through the same feeling and I’m going to touch them and help them.”