You will clearly see that I am no journalist. However, I am an intrepid reporter and I seek those that are truly “Difference Makers”. Grae is certainly that and especially to me! This is not an interview in the traditional sense, as at Grae’s suggestion, I have mined some of the information from her Facebook page.
Your Facebook page describes you as “Singer couldn’t get a job until he dressed as a gal”. Was that all there was to it?
Grae: Yes that was it. The offer came from a management team called ALA productions. Boy George had top hits that year (1983) such as Karma Chameleon, Miss Me Blind and It’s a Miracle. They felt that I had a unique singing voice and they’d like to develop it… however they wanted to produce me as a woman and hopefully go further than Boy George. They hired a stylist Peggy Magidson who’s work graced the cover of Time magazine as well as Cosmo, Vogue, Penthouse to create the Grae Phillips persona, and they hired a music director for my singing, he was Gordon Lowry Harrell. He had been the musical arranger for Liza Minnelli, Ann Reinking, and Betty Buckley, and On Broadway he had conducted for The Rocky Horror picture show, Jesus Christ Superstar, Dancin’ and he scored SGT Pepper for John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Where do you stand on now with regard to your gender?
Grae: In the same place I have always stood. I was born male, and I was given an extraordinarily limited opportunity to experience life as a female. I think both genders are amazing, and I would have been happy to have been born either one.
Do you simply consider Grae a performance or are you a cross-dresser or transgendered or something else?
Grae: Grae was absolutely a performance based character, not unlike drag queens who get dressed up to do their shows. It was/is a lot of fun, but an enormous amount of work. Even RuPaul often says he won’t get in drag anymore unless he sees the money! LOL In my heart I guess I am gender fluid, to me gender is just an aspect of being human, our souls are neutral.
What are some of the highlights for you? Do you still perform? Is Grae just a persona or is she you and you she?
Grae: There have been many highlights along the way for sure. Performing at Studio 54 in its hay-day was amazing, as well as many of the top hotels/clubs in New York that impersonators, drag acts etc had never performed in before. Of course doing the Phil Donahue show was a highlight and singing at Club Tatou when Madonna booked 17 tables for the night was an incredible experience. Winning the Talk Show Competition in New York and receiving an award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Theatre’ the following year.
Walk me through the arc of your career.
Grae’s career is full of memorable moments, all chronicled on her Facebook page (see below for the link, recommended reading). Here are a few highlights!
Arriving in New York: New York was loud, gritty and fabulous. My days were spent taking dance classes all over the city. I studied tap and jazz with Chuck Kelly, musical dance classes with the American Dance theater workshop and Jazz at the New York School of Ballet. I had a small job in an upscale specialty treats shop on East 86th street that was enough to pay the rent and my classes, but little else.
Between classes and work I auditioned for just about everything. From big Broadway shows like Cats and Dreamgirls to small night club acts, I was there. What I hadn’t counted on was the sheer talent of Americans. They are often trained from a young age and are extremely talented, ambitious and just astounding to watch in action. I was out of my league and I knew it. But I didn’t give up… just yet.
The days rambled on and about six months into this new life I got a call to audition for a small show that needed 2 male dancer/singers. “The Vie Tabac Act” at Caesars Palace in Atlantic City. Produced by Jerry Mathers and directed by Matt Ryan. It was a short run. And I grabbed it. I lost my store job of course but well worth it, and I got to spend some time exploring Atlantic City and it’s casinos. It was so exciting, and I began to dream again that this was right for me. I returned to Manhattan with a renewed sense of possibility and started again.
However my renewed spirit dwindled after another 6 months of rejections. And just as I began to start questioning my decision to stay in NY I had a very unexpected audition that was about to set me on a brand new trajectory… if I was brave enough to give it a go.
Geraldo Rivera Show “Secret Lives”: As I arrived for the taping the producers told me that Geraldo doesn’t meet his guests prior to the show, keeping his reactions fresh for the camera. However, just before taping began, I made a dash into the hallway to find a washroom. I was in full Grae mode as I high heeled it down the hallway in a tight red sequenced dress. When I turned the corner, I banged directly into Geraldo himself. LOL
He steadied me with a little laugh and said with a great big grin “You must be Grae”, and I smiled… and I kid you not, he gave me a light tap on my behind and staring directly into my eyes said “not bad… not bad at all”.
The show was great fun and Geraldo seemed a bit flirty with me on camera, which may have been the result of our preshow collision.
The Phil Donahue Show: Donahue was the precursor to all the daytime talk shows that arose during the 1980’s and 90’s, and it ran 26 years from 1970 to 1996. It made him among the most important media figures of the late 20th century.
Being a guest on his show was great fun. It triggered a series of events that changed my course for the next year or so. One of the opportunities it provided for me was a singing job at a top Cabaret venue that I had been trying to get for months. The club was called Tatou on east 50th Street. It was a ” jackets required” up scale club. Mariah Carey gave her first live performance there (1990).
Each time I had called for a booking, the agent said, “I’m not sure you are right for our place, call back next month.” He was just blowing me off and each month repeated the same thing.
However this last time I called he said something a little different “maybe,” he said, “at the end of the month.” And that stuck in my head, the “maybe” part.
So just before I went on stage for Donahue the producers asked me where I was performing next, and because I had no shows scheduled, I just blurted out, “Tatou, at the end of the Month.” Not realising Donahue would announce it live at the end of the show.
So, as you will see on the clip Phil (found on Grae’s Facebook page, as are all of her TV appearances) mentions Tatou as my next performance venue and for some reason (I was in the zone) I added “on the 27th” and the shit hit the fan! LOL Club Tatou was inundated with hundreds of phone calls for reservations.
When I got home that night my answering machine had at least 40 messages on it. Many from R. Couri Hay of Tatou saying: “Grae what have you done? Call me immediately.” The subsequent back and forth phone calls resulting in my booking a new show called “An Evening with Grae Phillips.”
And so, I finally had a show at Tatou… on the very last day at the end of the Month, on the 31st to be exact. LOL ….And it only took a national TV Show to get it. On a side note, the day that I booked it, it was already sold out.
Please visit Grae’s Facebook page!
There are literally hundreds of stories and thousands of photos, all so enjoyable to browse through!
I thank her for her time and grace in agreeing to do this for my little blog!