The legend speaks about Drag Queen Story Hour and being a Ball scene veteran
There is drag in New Jersey, and then there is Harmonica Sunbeam. She is a trailblazer, activist, and all around phenomenon. Sunbeam has crafted a career spanning several decades. She always works with HIV/AIDS organizations and now has a Drag Queen Story Hour. Sunbeam has managed to continue the grind of being one of the most premiere queens on the scene. I caught up with this always busy broad and we talked Drag Race, her new gig at The Royal in Jersey City, and the recent Wigstock event!
Michael Cook: Harmonica Sunbeam, you are New Jersey drag “Royalty” (pardon the pun). Tell me about how you got started in the world of drag?
Harmonica Sunbeam: Cookie-Oooh. Let’s see, the first time I ever did drag was for a ball. It was Paris Dupree’s ball held at Tracks in New York City. The category was Butch Queen Up In Drags First Time At A Ball. I had no idea what I would look like! But I put my faith in my Adonis house members to dress and make me up, all I had to do was sell it. Well, I sold it and won! I hit the stage in drag about a year later.
What have been some of your biggest accomplishments during your career?
HS: My accomplishments range from performing with Beyoncé, to film and television work, being a recording artist, as well as my work with HIV Prevention. I’ve had the pleasure of wearing many hats as Harmonica Sunbeam.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has changed the landscape
For a new gal starting in the business of drag; what suggestions would you give her?
HS: I would suggest that she stay humble, be open to criticism, and take chances. You can’t flourish in this business if you’re not a risk taker.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has changed the landscape of both nightlife performing as well as drag performances; your thoughts? And would you ever try out for the show?
HS: RPDR has surely changed the landscape both positively and negatively. It has opened doors for mainstream venues to welcome drag brunches, bingos and shows. Many shows were previously only seen in gay establishments. On the flip side, it’s created a generation of fans who think the only people who exist or matter are RPDR alumni. Fuck my drag right (laughs)!?
I did audition for Season 7 after watching Kelly Mantle and Bianca del Rio on Season 6. And two girls who I had previously worked with on comedy acts later aired on Logo. I thought, if it’s good enough for them hoes, it’s good enough for me. Well obviously Drag Race thought differently, but maybe just maybe — I’ll audition again.
Wigstock was long and draining backstage, but awesome
You just performed at Wigstock; tell me about that experience.
HS: Wigstock was long and draining backstage, but awesome in its entirety. It was great to see and reminisce with girls from back in the day, as well as meeting other artists in person I only knew by name. Lady Bunny really pulled it off this year; the folks at AARP must be pleased.
You are the North Jersey Coordinator for Drag Queen Story Hour. How did that come about? What has the experience been like?
HS: I attended a Drag Queen Story Hour training in New York City a little less than two years ago. I enjoyed the program immensely. I was the only one living in New jersey. So I asked if I could make some magic happen in North Jersey, to which they joyously replied, yes! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some awesome kids and their caretakers in libraries, festivals, and bookstores across North Jersey thanks to DQSH.
You are hosting at the Royal bar in Jersey City. Tell me what it is like headlining at New Jersey’s newest hot spot?
HS: Working at the Royal has been a dream come true. What girl doesn’t want the comfort of rollerblading to her gig because it’s so close to home?! The staff and management are respectful and open to suggestions, and the customers are happy that there is another gay venue to hang out in Jersey City. I currently host on Tuesday nights and Sunday brunch. So, if you’re ever in the neighborhood, pop in the Royal.
What inspires you on a daily basis both as a performer and as a person?
HS: I am inspired as a performer, because I know there’s a lot more out there with my name on it. I’ve been doing this for twenty eight years, and I’m thankful to stay busy and on top of my game. As a person, I’m inspired because I know there are others who still live in fear, are closeted, or not ready to walk in their truth. So, if I just continue to be me, it may give them the courage to do so as well.