Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie

(1920-2014)

DJ Name: Stormé Skies

And on the third week of Pride month, Historic Shuffle is turning to a legendary figure who may or may not have thrown the first punch at the Stonewall Riots on the night of June 27, 1969. That legen-wait for it-dary figure is none other than Stormé DeLarverie, who was simply trying to enjoy a night out in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village when police raided the popular gay bar. Since we’re approaching the anniversary of that fateful evening, it’s time to remember who Stormé was and how her life unfolded that would bring her to the Stonewall Inn on the night that would spark a series of protests and a whole month of Pride celebrations in subsequent years. 

But before we get to her life story, she asks that you shuffle up these tunes that served as her soundtrack while she served as the appointed guardian angel of Greenwich Village’s lesbian population.

Stormé DeLarverie (De-Lah-vee-yay) was born in The Big Easy AKA New Orleans (that cajun last name tho) on December 24, 1920, to a Black mother and a white father. Rumor has it she swooned the delivery room with her scat singing and jazzy vocals. Stormé’s mother met her father because she was a servant for his family. Aca-awkward. The two eventually married and said goodbye to life along the Mississippi River and hello to life on the Pacific Coast in California. Though Stormé celebrated her birthday on Christmas Eve, the real date of her actual birth is a mystery because she was never given a birth certificate. 

When she reached her teen years, Stormé took the entertainment world by storm and joined the Ringling Brothers Circus not as a singer but as a horse rider who jumped over barrels and through hoops of fire (allegedly). Sadly she was injured in a fall and that ended her circus career, but not her time in the spotlight. Stormé turned to the stage. She performed at clerbs in cities as close as New Orleans and as far as Europe, but eventually landed in NYC. It was in the 1950s and ’60s when Stormé the star was born. 

DeLarverie delighted in the role of M.C. of the Jewel Box Revue, which was a touring drag show. The Jewel Box Revue was a hidden gem because it was the only racially integrated drag troupe. Their performances attracted a multiracial and mainstream audience. Created in 1939 by Danny Brown and Doc Benner, the Jewel Box Revue fostered a welcoming gay community of performers that carved out queer communities in cities as they toured to different places across America. They frequented major theaters such as the Apollo in Manhattan. The troupe had 25 drag queens and one drag king during their performances. The one drag king of the hour was, you guessed it, DJ Stormé Skies. It was rumored that DJ Stormé Skies had previously spent a little time in Chicago before coming to the Jewel Box, where she allegedly worked as a bodyguard for mobsters (she was, in fact, the goodest fella) and perhaps she picked up some style tips from these mafiosos. Stormé was typically decked out in collared tuxedos, suits and fedoras with accessories like cufflinks and a pipe in hand. 

New York City law previously required people to wear at least three pieces of clothing that matched their gender. Stormé typically followed the rule by wearing women’s clothes during the day and drag while she was out to play on stage, but she was arrested twice while wearing women’s clothes because police thought she was a drag queen. Little did they know she was actually a drag king. We stan. She gave up on trying to please that law and was eventually arrested for wearing men’s clothing. While detained, a police officer criticized her bow tie so she asked for a tutorial and he showed her how to properly tie it. In an interview in 2001, Stormé said she could still tie a bow tie perfectly without a mirror. While she waltzed around NYC in her suits, other lesbians noticed and began to do the same. Her confidence attracted the attention and, eventually, the camera of another legen-wait for it-dary person, Diane Arbus, who created a series of portraits of Stormé in 1961 titled “Miss Stormé DeLarverie, the lady who appears to be a gentleman,” which in 2016 was displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Aside from being the “You Know Me M.C.” of the Jewel Box Revue, Stormé was also the guardian of the galaxies lesbians of the Village. She lived for a while in the Chelsea Hotel, and she would stroll through the Village at night to keep tabs on everyone’s safety and give everyone at gay bars an ocular patdown. Sometimes she was even armed during her patrolling — she had a state gun permit, and she could “spot ugly in a minute.” Well into her 80s, Stormé could be found checking in on the local lesbian bars in downtown Manhattan, looking out for abuse or intolerance of younger women. 

“She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero,” said Lisa Cannistraci, one of Stormé’s legal guardians and an owner of a Village lesbian bar. “She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.”

Her patrolling came in handy on the night of June 27, 1969. Solicitation of same-sex relations were illegal in NYC, and the police were often on the hunt for members of the LGBTQ community. Late that night, police raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street and started dragging patrons and staff members out of the bar. And Stormé — as legend has it — wouldn’t have it. She cocked her arm and threw a punch at one of the officers, and chaos ensued. The confrontation led to riots not just in Greenwich Village but all around the world as the LGBTQ community demanded equal rights and fair treatment. And now, half a century later, millions of people all around the world take to the streets every June to march for equality and representation. 

Though the Stonewall riots came to an end, the “Rosa Parks of Stonewall” continued to protect  lesbians in Manhattan for nearly the rest of her life to make sure another Stonewall situation didn’t occur. In her later years, Stormé developed dementia and had to retire from her patrol route. She spent her final years in a Brooklyn nursing home, where her brain decayed but her memories of Stonewall remained strong. She passed away, perhaps from a heart attack, in her sleep on May 24, 2014 when she was well into her 90s. She outlived all of her family, but she was loved by many people throughout Manhattan. Her legacy is remembered at various Pride events, and she was honored in 2014 by the Brooklyn Community Pride Center. Now, legend has it that Stormè is still present during recent Pride marches, the ghost of the Stonewall Lesbian floating over marchers and making sure no one else ever has to throw a punch ever again.

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