Saturday, March 29, 2008

Power of Community: Our Conversation with Harmonica Sunbeam: Part 6

Backstage at Escuelita night club with Harmonica Sunbeam

Harmonica tells us about the marketing aspects of being a famous female impersonator; she also gracefully lets us know who Willi Ninja was to her.

Wolfgang Busch: How is Myspace affecting your audience?

Harmonica Sunbeam: I've heard of Myspace for quite some time, and I was totally against it only because I had my own website, and I was like, "Well, that was sufficient enough." And I didn't know the whole workings of the whole Myspace site.

LF: And wasn't there someone at some point trading on your name?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Right, there was someone who had opened up a profile with my name and my pictures from my website – on Myspace. And people were saying, "Oh, I sent you a message on Myspace." I said, "Well, I'm not on Myspace." And they said, "Oh, yes you are." And in order to get that person off, I joined. So, that's why my Myspace is under the Real Harmonica Sunbeam. And I didn't realize that Myspace was a community within a community. It really helps to get you in touch with long-lost people. And as an entertainer or artist with something to offer, it works out well for anyone, because it's free exposure. And who doesn't want that?

Wolfgang Busch: It helps to build an audience.

Harmonica Sunbeam: It's 24 hour exposure. You know, Myspace has also gotten me some bookings, so it works out.

LF: What does gay pride mean to you, if I can ask that kind of question?

Harmonica Sunbeam: It means accepting what you are and who you are, and not letting anyone bring you down about those two facts.

LF: How do you relate to other performers, other drag queens? Do you see yourself competing, always having to be better?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, I don't compete with other people. I compete with myself. I'm always trying to improve myself. I don't worry about other people, necessarily, with what they're doing. I focus on myself and making my own situation better. I think that there are a lot of people who use the term drag queen or female illusionist or female impersonator, and you have to do what you need do to in order to stay on top and keep your name out there. And keep the people – the managers and the owners of these clubs – calling you. And I think I try to be a better drag persona, because I opened doors for people. I helped other people, who are just coming into the business. I give them the chance that I had to fight for when I was just coming up. Some people are very insecure and don't want their light, so to speak, stolen from them, and so they won't give you a chance. There's enough light and stardom and money for all of us. And whatever you're going to get is what's coming to you. So, if you stop me from being in your show because you're jealous of me, you're not going to get the accolades if you don't deserve them, anyway.

LF: Just one quick follow-up: what you said about helping other people, didn't you help organize or host a mini-ball here?

Wolfgang Busch: That was in reference to the Eric Christian Bazaar -

Harmonica Sunbeam: - right.

LF: - yes, what did you do there to support the Ball community? What happened? Was that you being an example of - ?

Wolfgang Busch: - because there was a team from the BBC, and we needed an event, and we kind of tied that in?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Look, we are all part of the community, and it's all about us helping us. And if no one is going to help us, then we need to help ourselves. And there are many people who have come and gone and … we need to acknowledge and remember that it could be us. And you would want the same treatment for yourself as you would give to someone else. We all want to be loved and remembered and supported, and in order for that to happen, it has to be a give-and-take type of situation. So, I am always doing what I can. I can't always do much, but it's the thought that counts. So, we had this event. And it was a mini-ball, and we had the ball here.

Wolfgang Busch: And Willi was working coat check. And I don't know who was M.C.-ing, Kevin or somebody, called him out. And he came out.

LF: So, did you know Willi Ninja?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Yeah. Willi worked here on Thursday nights as one of the door people. Well, I had known him from the Ballroom scene before I started working here.

LF: What did you think about him?

Harmonica Sunbeam: I think he was an inspiration and a role model for a lot of young kids in the scene, and for many more to come. And I think his name and legacy will always live on. And it's good that we remind the upcoming kids of who paved the way – the people who helped pave the way, that were there. I'm not one of the people. When I first started coming out – I graduated high school in 1987 – and I started coming out about '88, '89, these were the people that I saw when I was just going to the Balls and sitting in the audience, as opposed to before I stared walking. This is back in the days when everything was basically located in Harlem.

LF: What Balls did you go to up there?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Pretty much it was at the Elks Lodge. It was such a fascinating culture for me that, as often as I could and being a young person having a mediocre-paying job and stuff like that, I couldn't always afford to go. And transportation, curfew, and so many other issues, that when I did go, it was a fun and enjoyable event.

LF: Good. Thank you for allowing Wolfgang and I to come visit you here at Escuelita.

The activist and director Wolfgang Busch and the man behind Harmonica Sunbeam in the dressing room of the New York City night club Escuelita on March 2, 2008. Photography by Louis Flores/Connaissable

Go back and read the previous installments of this exclusive interview:

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI

For another unique experience with Harmonica Sunbeam, please watch the independent documentary, How Do I Look, directed by Wolfgang Busch.


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