Drag legend Kevin Aviance returns to D.C. at Challenge GLOW

Kevin Aviance will carry out as a DJ within the secret backyard at Challenge GLOW on April 29. Aviance wears a robe by Melisa Robinson and earrings by Dianna Brossard. (Pictures by Allison Michael Orenstein for The Washington Put up)

The performer returns to D.C. for Challenge GLOW as his visibility will get a lift from Beyoncé

From the second his elementary faculty introduced a expertise present, Kevin Aviance — born Eric Snead — had a imaginative and prescient for his efficiency. It was 1979, and Gloria Gaynor’s disco masterpiece “I Will Survive” was charting around the globe, setting dance flooring ablaze.

Aviance, then 10, was drawn to its infectious bass rhythm, the sweeping strings and horns and, after all, Gaynor’s hovering vocals, which made the track an everlasting anthem of empowerment and resilience — notably within the LGBTQ community.

“I simply cherished that track. It was sort of like my coming-out factor,” Aviance, now 54, recalled. “And no matter occurred, I used to be going to outlive.”

So when he took the stage at Three Chopt Elementary College outdoors Richmond, he started his efficiency from behind a curtain — his voice high-pitched as he crooned, “First I used to be afraid, I used to be petrified.” Then, because the track’s catchy bass groove swelled, he strutted boldly into the highlight in blue platform heels, a floral costume and a “full-beat face” of make-up. “And so that you’re again, from outer house!” he belted as his classmates erupted into cheers.

“Again then, I knew I needed to be dramatic,” Aviance stated, and it labored: He received the expertise present. That fifth-grade act, one he has recounted often in interviews, marked the primary drag efficiency in a profession that spans greater than 30 years.

Right now, as a trailblazing drag queen performer and recording artist, Aviance nonetheless begins his units offstage, skillfully timing his entrance as the gang’s anticipation builds. He has carried out in golf equipment around the globe, and toured Japan and France. His singles “Din Da Da,” “Give It Up” and “Alive” have all shot to the highest of the Billboard dance charts. And not too long ago, his reputation has seen a resurgence after Beyoncé sampled his track “C–ty” on her critically acclaimed 2022 album “Renaissance.” The publicity gave his profession new life: Final month he signed a cope with Voss Occasions, a artistic company and occasion administration firm that represents Aquaria, Jaida Essence Corridor and different movie star drag expertise. And later this yr, he’ll launch a brand new EP, his first in nearly 20 years, and embark on a C–ty Ball tour.

However first, he’ll return to D.C., the place his profession started, to headline Project GLOW, a two-day digital music pageant at RFK Stadium that boasts a lineup of powerhouse DJs together with Kygo, Benny Benassi and Tiësto.

The pageant, now in its second yr, is hosted by Club Glow, the longest-running dance occasion in D.C. Throughout its inaugural occasion final yr, greater than 20,000 individuals confirmed up every day, stated founder Pete Kalamoutsos. The occasion additionally made noise with a thumping closing night time that actually reverberated throughout the town. Low cloud protection was in charge for the sonic growth, making for an unforgettable pageant debut.

One purpose for Challenge GLOW this yr is to showcase extra of the town’s native taste. Ed Bailey, longtime nightlife operator and proprietor of in style queer bars Commerce and Quantity 9, was tapped to steer the cost. His imaginative and prescient will characteristic a “secret backyard” tucked away on the pageant grounds and have a few of the native DJs who’ve contributed to the town’s evolving nightlife scene. Whereas reflecting on membership tradition in D.C., Bailey was impressed to ask an outdated good friend.

“There’s no one within the historical past of D.C. and membership life that represents some sort of substantial drive of nightlife and leisure like Kevin,” Bailey stated.

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Their friendship is deeply rooted in D.C.’s membership scene. When Aviance packed his automotive and moved to the town for a man within the late ’80s, he pictured a brand new life as a “housewife” and hairdresser. However the metropolis’s booming membership tradition had different plans for Aviance, who shortly turned a centerpiece of District nightlife.

In Washington, he stated, “each night time was epic, honey.” “D.C. was an unbelievable journey for me as a result of that’s the place I bought my Blackness from, that’s the place I get my individuality.”

Among the many venues he closely frequented: Tracks on Thursdays for “Various Evening,” Badlands, the Frat Home, Dakota, Kilimanjaro, “all of Adams Morgan,” Clubhouse within the wee hours of the mornings, then Tracks once more on Sundays for “Black Evening.”

Tracks, a homosexual nightlife staple for 15 years earlier than shuttering in 1999, “is the place I used to be born,” stated Aviance, who was central to most of the nightly vogue and runway battles the membership hosted.

“[He] was an integral a part of the power of that house,” stated Bailey, who deejayed on the venue earlier than turning into considered one of its key promoters, “and it allowed me professionally to turn into extra noteworthy as a result of his involvement made issues extra noteworthy typically.”

It’s additionally the place he met Juan Aviance, the founder and “mom” of Home of Aviance — one of the notable vogue-ball homes within the nation. Kevin, along with his huge hair, cutoff shorts and cowboy boots, instantly caught Juan’s eye. “Again then, though individuals have been homosexual and on the market, individuals have been nonetheless nervous about being themselves,” Juan recalled, “however I observed Kevin … and I used to be like ‘B—h, you fierce!’”

Kevin turned one of many first members of Home of Aviance and, as is customary, took a brand new stage identify to affiliate himself along with his new household. Feeling shunned by the bigger ballroom scene in New York Metropolis, Home of Aviance started throwing its personal events and competitions in D.C. Its first, the Inferno Ball, packed the home. “I don’t suppose Tracks ever had that many individuals in that constructing,” Juan stated. “It was like a kind of huge moments of its time.”

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In 1991, Aviance moved to Miami to refine his craft. “I wanted to get my drag bones,” he stated, and South Florida’s wealthy drag historical past and occasion scene had turned the area right into a haven for queens.

“[Kevin] and I ended up being a part of the invoice of a giant occasion in Miami one yr the place I used to be deejaying and he was the primary performer,” stated Bailey. “And I keep in mind we took a second to have a look at one another and notice sort of the place we had come from and the way we had gotten to what was one of many greatest events within the nation on the time collectively.”

Two years later, after becoming a member of Juan in New York Metropolis, Kevin landed a sequence of jobs that made him one of the in style queer nightlife figures within the business — from gigs with Madonna, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston to TV and movie appearances in Robert De Niro’s “Flawless” and Tyra Banks’s “America’s Subsequent Prime Mannequin.”

The success of his 1999 debut album “Box of Chocolates” introduced him again to the District through the years, together with a efficiency at a D.C. Delight Fest. “I [remembered] I made a decision to leap off the stage and did runway down the entire road for my track ‘C–ty,’” he stated. Right now, a stunt like that will include much more threat, he stated, throughout a time when the LGBTQ neighborhood faces an onslaught of anti-trans payments, drag protests and assaults.

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In 2006, Aviance himself was the goal of a hate crime in New York Metropolis that made nationwide headlines. In response to the New York Times, a bunch of males have been arrested in reference to an assault outdoors a homosexual bar in East Village that left Aviance with a damaged jaw, a fractured knee and neck accidents. Days later, his jaw was nonetheless wired shut as he addressed a crowd on the metropolis’s homosexual Delight parade. “You possibly can’t maintain an excellent queen down,” he stated to cheers.

His message again then was to reply with love. “Cease the violence. Cease the hate. Simply love — love, love, love,” he implored the LGBTQ neighborhood. However right now, he senses larger stress within the environment. “Homosexual delight will not be about delight — it’s about protest, at the least this yr it’s,” he stated. “And I feel that’s the place we’ve got to shift gears and cease the celebration [because] we’re now defending for our lives.”

Aviance says the brand new wave of LGBTQ activism is empowering. “I’m political. I’m Black, I’m homosexual, I’m a drag queen — I’m political,” he stated, “And I’m studying to do my half. To be extra vocal, to be extra conscious.”

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These moments of reflection, resilience and perseverance all culminated with the culture-shifting launch of Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” final yr, an album that honors the Black LGBTQ neighborhood and samples queer icons reminiscent of Moi Renee and Huge Freedia. From his condo in Harlem, Aviance performed the album moments after its midnight debut on streaming platforms — by no means imagining he would hear his commanding voice echoing “C–ty” at the beginning of Beyoncé’s monitor “Pure/Honey.” Aviance stood up, then every thing went black. “I couldn’t consider what I used to be listening to,” he stated. “My blood went to my head so quick that I handed out in the midst of my bed room.”

Aviance had no prior data of the discharge, he stated, as a result of the producer behind “C–ty” forgot to inform him earlier than happening trip. As an alternative, Aviance cycled by way of each emotion as he replayed the monitor. “I used to be completely happy, I used to be mad, I didn’t know what to do with it. It was simply an excessive amount of to deal with,” he stated. However in the end, he wouldn’t change something about the way in which he discovered, “as a result of the story is sort of dramatic, and I adore it.”

How Beyoncé honors Black queer tradition in ‘Renaissance’

Because the album’s launch, Aviance stated he’s had an opportunity to satisfy Beyoncé́ — however he’s holding that have near the chest, together with any data of whether or not he’ll seem on a possible visible album for “Renaissance” or its world tour, which kicks off in Stockholm subsequent month. “You possibly can’t be speaking freely on the mouth about Bey,” he defined.

However what he’ll share, and as usually as he can, is his gratitude. “There was a time earlier than this all occurred the place I couldn’t even name to get a gig.” he stated. “So to be validated by a Black lady, a Black billionaire-diva that took us in and held us as much as the world and stated, ‘Hear to those individuals, they’ve a narrative to inform’ — that’s what’s so lovely about the entire thing.”

And of all his hit songs, she selected the one which meant essentially the most to him. Aviance views “C–ty” because the definitive single of his profession, like Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and different groundbreaking diva anthems. “Everyone has their ‘Ain’t No Mountain Excessive Sufficient,’” he stated. “So if any track goes to symbolize me completely, it might be ‘C–ty.’”

Whereas the phrase is extra generally thought-about derogatory, Aviance stated its which means in his track originated within the ballroom scene, the place it’s used to reference somebody who’s assured, fierce and exudes a robust female power.

“C–ty is an anointment from God,” he stated. “C–ty is a sense. It’s one thing that comes over your physique that you’re given and you are feeling it. You know the way to stroll, you know the way to speak, you know the way to be, you know the way to bop. You know the way to really feel fab about your self and also you don’t want anybody else to confirm it for you.”

Because the day he strode throughout the stage of his faculty’s auditorium, Aviance has reveled in his personal energy and individuality — relishing the journey it set him on.

“It’s a blessing to have the ability to inform a narrative,” he stated. “nevertheless it’s a extremely great point to have the ability to stay it once more.”

Styling by Jamie Grace; hair and make-up by Darvel Freman, Mac Cosmetics

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