Interview, Part 1
Rev. Yolanda will be celebrating her 60th birthday, as well as 25 years as a singer/songwriter, performer, and recording artist. An event called “Peace, Love & Yolanda” is being held Saturday, August 6 at The Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd St., New York, N.Y. For further information phone 212-206-0440.
Long time readers of this column know that Rev. Yolanda has been featured here many times over the years. All of that press has been more than warranted, though. Besides being a recording artist with several albums released, she’s also an acclaimed live performer. She has two Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs (MAC) Awards, 2014 and 2015, for her live show Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour. She won in the category Impersonation/Characterization/Drag Artist.
She is a member of the GLBT Hall Of Fame, as well as being a member of the Blues Hall Of Fame. She is also listed in the Guinness Book Of World Records for Longest Variety Show.
Recent releases include a 5 song EP of her best known tune, “We Are Angels”; a DVD of the Gospel Hour show entitled “Rev. Yolanda — The Movie”, as well as a behind-the-scenes coffee table type book to accompany the movie. She is currently working on her next CD, the Country Gospel Kirtan, Part 2, and has been involved with a current theatrical production entitled Welcome To The Dolls Den.
The following interview will be presented in two parts because of length and also because during this particular time, Yolanda really opened up a lot about her past. I though I knew a lot about her after all these years, but I was wrong. She offers insights into her journey as a musician, as a spiritual person and as an activist. I truly believe this is one interview that a lot of our younger readers, and perhaps some of the “old timer regulars” should take the time to read. I feel honored that Rev. Yolanda is someone I’ve gotten to know over the years and I’m humbled that she trusts myself and TGForum enough to share what she has.
TGForum: First off, congrats. When you first started out, did you think you’d end up doing all the things you’ve done over a 25 year career…live performances, recording, even a movie, as well as having a book published about your work and career?
Rev. Yolanda: Wow! What a trip these last 25 years have been. 25 years ago I was songwriting and performing as Tony Mapes because that’s who I understood myself to be at the time. I was already dressing in women’s spandex, tube tops, mascara, and a waist length blonde weave. By George was my hero. I include those five years before I began to live as Yolanda with the Radical Faeries, because four of the songs that I wrote in those first five years are on my CD Rev. Yolanda’s Country Gospel Kirtan. Those songs are Home, Free Your Mind, You Are An Idea, and Love And Light. I also wrote Alien Love Child during that period and it wound up on my CD Welcome To Yolandaworld.
At that time Tony Mapes was discovering the LGBT community for the first time, while also discovering New Age Spirituality, coming from a background of fundamentalist Christianity. The world was opening up to me and I learned to read the Tarot, experienced the phenomenon of channeling, was convinced that alien abduction had happened to me, found Marianna Williamson and Louse Hay and was living in NYC in the ’80s during the AIDS crisis. There was no queer music scene and I was trying to find my own authenticity and speak to it while trying to break into the mainstream music scene. That never happened, BUT I did find that there was so much more to myself as an artist than I ever dreamed.
By 1992 or so, I had found the Radical Faeries, renamed myself Yolanda, found out I was HIV POZ, and moved to Vermont to live with the Faeries. My Vermont experience changed me more than anything I had ever known. I began to learn about my own transgendered nature and called myself Yolanda The Transgender Warrior. I then created my band Yolanda And The Plastic Family and began recording my own original music. That felt amazing and people liked it. So many thing happened during my adventures in Vermont, but musically, I began to notice that musicians were coming out of the closet and a new Queer Music Scene was emerging.
By 2001 the band and I were playing regularly at CBGB in NYC at the queen music night called Homocorps run by Dean Johnson of Velvet Mafia. I moved back to NYC, and became a downtown queer music scene regular. I started my own queer music night at the famous women’s bar Meow Mix. This was the time period where I joined Out Music and OutVoice and met other queen musicians like Robert Urban and Freddy Freeman as well as many others. I won OutMusician Of the Year in 2003 and a sting of awards from Pride In The Arts, Outvboice and The GLBT Hall Of Fame. I got picked up by a record label called Figjam who was creating a cover album of ABBA song performed by drag queen called ABBAlicious and my friendship with Hedda Lettuce and Joie Starr was formed. Hedda and I wound up on The Dave Chappelle Show on The Comedy Channel, and then created a live cabaret show called Dixie Chicks With Dicks and recorded two more songs for Figjam for their Marry Me CD. In the meantime, I had started work with Robert Urban on my CD House Of Joy which Figjam was funding. Then Figjam went belly up and my dreams crashed. I didn’t have money to finish my CD with Robert. I lost hope. I decided to buy Yolanda and call myself Roger. I stopped singing. At the same time my HIV doctor put me on testosterone, and I went through 2 or 3 more years of a total identity change. I had NEVER though of myself as male and now I was Super Male. I started working out and became muscular with men hitting on me right and left. It was during this time period that I met my husband, Glen.
Glen changed my life yet again. He encouraged me to resume singing and helped me finish the CD with Robert Urban that became House Of Joy. I released the CD under the name Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes and started singing again with Freddy Freeman’s Bearapalooza, trying to fit into the Bear scene as a Daddy Bear. But soon after I released the CD, I stopped taking testosterone because I just didn’t like being this Super male being that wasn’t authentic to me. After the testosterone years, I became much more identified with being a Gender Queer, living in the non=binary, but hadn’t reclaimed myself as Yolanda.
In 2009, I decided to go to One Spirit Interfaith “Seminary to fulfill a lifelong dream from childhood — of being a music minister. During my seminary process a very wise spiritual counselor said to me “…don’t be too hasty to throw away Yolanda”…and then I understood what I was being called to do. I became Rev. Yolanda. After graduation I created my show called Rev. Yolanda’s Old time Gospel Hour, won two MAC Awards, was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame, and was approached by Avaiya Media to create a full feature length documentary called Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time gospel Hour-The Movie.
Now I understand myself so much better. I am trans femme gender queer. I live in the non-binary but prefer present as feminine. I call myself Yolanda regardless of how I’m dressed and ask people to do the same. It’s been a challenging journey and confusing to myself and many others…but I love being a music minister with the mission of building bridges between diverse communities through the power of inspirational entertainment.
TGF: At the upcoming party, you have a lot of guest musicians/singers performing, correct? Are they folks you’ve worked with in the past? During the show, will they perform as soloists, doing your music, or with you?
Rev. Y.: My birthday show is a retrospective of my career as a songwriter. I have never heard other musicians do my music and now that I have some great musical friends, I have asked them to perform my music as solos. Of course I will be singing some of the major hits like Alien Love Child, Muscle Shoals, Step Back, We Are Angels and a tribute to my husband, The Greatest Love Of my My Life…but everything else in the 90 minute show will be sung by wonderful guests from Broadway, Cabaret, and the queer music world. Raissa Katona Bennet (Les Miz), Kenneth Gartman (my MAC Award winning musical director), Tanya Moberly (one of NYC’s most awarded Cabaret singers with multiple MAC and Bistro Awards), and of course my dear friend, CD producer, creator of Bearapalooza and Bear Your Soul, singer/songwriter Freddy Freeman.
TGF: Will there be a backing band?
Rev. Y.: Yes. My award winning backing band from Rev. Yolanda’s Old time Gospel Hour: Kenneth Gartman, Jim Keyes, Emily Mikesell and Denniss Michael Keefe.
TGF: Any plans to record or video tape the show?
Rev. Y.: Yes. I am doing this show at one of the premier nightclubs in Manhattan, The Metropolitan Room. They have a great sound system and I plan to video and hopefully simulcast the show because they have that capability. I’ll have to confirm the simulcast information and get back to you, but I hope we can do it because you could it online in real time.
TGF: Your PR guy said something about give-aways;/prizes at the show. Would that include the entire Yolanda CD collection, including the ABBAlicious CD, which is getting really hard to find…?
Rev. Y.: We are creating a back catalog package with all of my CDs and a viewing of the movie…with posters and T-shirts available. I haven’t yet confirmed with the execs of the former Figjam label to include ABBAlicious — but hopefully!
Please check out Yolanda’s website. She’s also on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Linkedin, Myspace and Jango. Please check out the aforementioned site for information regarding her Aug. 6 birthday celebration. Later in the month, we will be posting Part 2 of this interview.
ALSO THIS MONTH
Our Lady J will be touring in the U K this month. Here is a partial itinerary.
Aug. 10 The George Dublin
Aug. 17 Soho Theatre, London
Aug. 19,20 Soho Theatre, London
For more information, please check out her website or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just a reminder that David de Alba will be performing at MVIG Cultural Arts Center, inside the Boulevard Mall, near Macy’s, on August 18. For more information, please phone 701-339-0948, or contact email@example.com. Also, check out David’s website.
Matter by St. Lucia
Matter, the second album by St. Lucia, is pretty much the work and complete brain child of vocalist and mains song writer Jean-Philip Grobler, along with producer Chris Zane. Other band members include Ross Clark, Nick Paul, Dustin Kaufman and Patti Beranek.
While the project is techno synth pop heavy, it’s essentially a rock album, which surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to hear a lot of what I heard. The more danceable, techno pop material include Stay (with a great B G’s influenced backing vocal); Help Me Run Away (light rock with a great hook); Home, Dancing On Glass; Physical; Game 4 U; and The Winds Of Change. These are all well crafted songs, but they stay consistent to the synth pop techno groove.
One real surprise was the very laid back Love Somebody.
The project’s best cuts, which are also the best production moments are Always (great rock tune, with great sounding drums); Do You Remember (almost an arena rock type anthem tune, great hook, and the overall best production values on the project); and Rescue Me (which starts with a long instrumental section that made me think it was going in another direction, but still combined rock with St. Lucia’s main techno feel. )
St. Lucia is very interesting. While I personally get tired of hearing one vocalist all the way through an entire project, there was still enough musical variation to hold anyone’s attention. This is going to be a band to pay attention to, especially with their rock sensibilities.
Check their website, also Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.