In Memoriam: A life celebrated and remembered

Gay Pioneer & Drag Legend Danny Leonard aka “Brandy Alexander” passes away at age 70

Over a hundred friends and family gathered in the early evening on Saturday, March 26 at Chaser’s Charlotte for the “Brandy Alexander Celebration of Life Memorial Service.” Danny Leonard [Brandy Alexander] passed away on Monday, March 21, 2016, at the age of 70.

As a drag legend, Alexander will hold a place in history as one of the most popular female impersonators in the South. In 1979, she was crowned the very first Miss Gay North Carolina America and she also won the first state title for Miss Gay North Carolina U.S.ofA. in 1986. She performed in the Queen City and across the South from the 1960s and continued until recent years.

Shana Nicole pays tribute to Brandy Alexander by performing Alexander’s favorite song, ‘I Did It My Way.’ Photo Credit: Tommy Feldman, Tyvola Design

Shana Nicole pays tribute to Brandy Alexander by performing Alexander’s favorite song, ‘I Did It My Way.’ Photo Credit: Tommy Feldman, Tyvola Design

The “Celebration of Life” featured tributes and drag performances of Alexander’s favorite songs by her drag family and dear friends Kelly Ray Shelton, Terri Lovo, John Elvis, Macy Alexander, Shana Nicole, as well as memories shared by Greg Brafford and Janice Covington Allison. The mood among the crowd was loving, and yet lively remembering both the drag legend Alexander and the gay pioneer Leonard.

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Related: Mural honors drag queen Brandy Alexander

‘I Did It My Way’

❝To think I did all that;
And may I say — not in a
shy way,
“Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way.”
For what is a man, what
has he got?
If not himself, then he
has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one
who kneels.
The record shows I took
the blows —
And did it my way!
Yes, it was my way.❞

“That voice. When Brandy spoke people listened,” said Shane Curtis, aka Shana Nicole, who performed that night one of Brandy’s favorite numbers “I Did It My Way.” “Her wisdom has certainly impacted my life and drag career and she is someone I have always been proud to call a sister. And that sisterhood forged a bond that lasted Brandy and me a lifetime. May we always remember her for the survivor and the pioneer that she was…But may we also remember the incredible talent and character that was Brandy Alexander. She truly did it — as the song says — ‘MY WAY’…Love you Brandy.”

Classic Brandy Alexander entertained for decades and ‘did it her way.’ Photo Credit: Memory Books of Brandy Alexander

Classic Brandy Alexander entertained for decades and ‘did it her way.’ Photo Credit: Memory Books of Brandy Alexander

Long-time friend and another southern drag legend Ricky Carter, aka Boom Boom LaTour, emceed the memorial service sharing stories about Alexander between numbers.

“A lot of people didn’t know Brandy was a member of a circus. She was a clown and that’s how she started in drag…well anyway,” said Carter. “Lord she would have loved it. All the songs played were songs she had done for years. The memories, the laughter…she would have loved it.”

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Among many life accomplishments, Leonard/Alexander owned Friends Lounge in Jacksonville, N.C. Friends Lounge was the only gay bar in the country that was officially off-limits for military personnel. Because it was located near Camp Lejeune Marine Base, any Marine who was caught there would be in jeopardy and at-risk of being discharged dishonorably. The local sheriff had waged an all-out attack on the bar nightly. The bar was frequently raided by police and it was commonplace for patrons to suffer undue harassment and violence.

In the fall of 1988 in an article in  “Southern Exposure,” Leonard was quoted, “When I was doing drag in Florida in 1964, we were pulled out of bars and beaten by cops with billy clubs. I’ve been put in a jail probably 50 times. They’d pull paddy wagons up and put all the female impersonators and owners in, then fine us for being in women’s clothes. They used to make us strip down, and we had to have three items of male clothing. So we’d wear three pairs of jockey shorts under our dresses. What was going on in Jacksonville reminded me of that. Bars have changed an awful lot since then. There are more of them, they’re more open. I don’t want to see these kids go through what I went through.“

Many wrote tributes to Brandy Alexander in her memory. Photo Credit: Tommy Feldman, Tyvola Design

Many wrote tributes to Brandy Alexander in her memory. Photo Credit: Tommy Feldman, Tyvola Design

Leonard as a gay activist was one of the best known in the southern region in the 1970s and 1980s. His perseverance and leadership in the face of adversity, as well as his fundraising efforts organizing benefits for people with AIDS, were truly the work of a gay southern pioneer. He had helped to raise $350,000 at the time for supporting people with AIDS — more than the entire state of North Carolina had contributed to fight the epidemic back then. Shortly after Leonard’s passing, it was announced that an outdoor mural project titled “Drag Queens of the Queen City” will feature Brandy Alexander, as well as other Charlotte drag legends. The mural will be painted in the Plaza-Midwood area starting in April.

In memory of his life, Brafford, a close friend and the bar owner of the Woodshed in Charlotte, N.C., asked everyone at the memorial service to remember this: “I want you to remember one thing about Brandy. That girl had balls. She wasn’t scared of a redneck in Lexington, North Carolina, when she was growing up. She wasn’t scared of the police in Florida when they locked her up.  She wasn’t scared of a six-foot-five Marine with a baseball bat in Jacksonville. She wasn’t scared of a fire when they burned her house down. She wasn’t scared of a bomb when they blew her bar up and she sure as fuckin’ hell wasn’t scared of cancer. “

For many in the Charlotte drag community, it is difficult to believe that Leonard and his drag persona Brandy Alexander are no longer with us. And yet through the words of her favorite songs we will hold dear forever.

The Late Brandy Alexander In A 1980 Performance

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5 Replies to “In Memoriam: A life celebrated and remembered”

  1. Ceasar Aviance April 11, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    I was lucky to have the privilege of meeting Brandy @ Friends Lounge in Jacksonville, NC. You’ll never meet another person that was a sweet and protective of her customers which were more or less family. I had some really good times at that little club. RIP to Brandy Alexander thank you for your friendship!!

  2. I was lucky to have known both Danny and work with Brandy. She was the best of the best. She gave me advice I took to heart and lived by. I gave up performing a while back. She always told me I was wasting my talent, but recently I thought about getting back. I was not informed of her death or I would have been there. RIP, my sweet angel, I will never forget you.

    stormy summers

  3. Danny had a bar in Jacksonville N.C., my hometown. One night I just could not hold it in any longer so I went there, well Danny saw that I was young, 18, and very uneasy. He talked to me, he walked me through coming out, he gave me the strength to be my own person and to live life on my own terms. He didn’t judge me for being gay, he was a guy that had been where I was and could see what was going to happen to me and wanted to help to start me on the right path with advice and guidance. He has done this for over 10,000 young men and women.
    Thank you, Brandy Alexander, for coming into my life, Love Stacey Hines (Lee) RIP

  4. So sad to hear of Danny’s passing. As a young gay marine in the mid 80s, his friendship and advise gave me the courage to be as open and as happy as I could be. His bar, Friend’s Lounge, was a refuge to so many of us. And so was his home when I needed a temporary place to stay. His heart was as huge as his personality. I’ve thought of him and Brandy many times over the years. I’ll always be grateful.

  5. I remember seeing Brandy Alexander the many, many times she would come and perform at The Park in Roanoke, VA in the 1980s. Brandy had a such a strong stage presence. I spoke with Danny when he would come out after his show. Danny/Brandy was tough but was also loving and inspiring.

    I am deeply saddened to hear of this great entertainer’s passing.

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