by Marc Cuenco
The ball community mourns the passing of original house mother Paris Dupree, the namesake of the landmark documentary Paris Is Burning.
In New York’s drag ball world, Paris Dupree was considered a legend among legends. As the founding mother of the House of Dupree, she was an inimitable force, an iconic figure who mobilized young, urban gays to express themselves in ways that mainstreamAmerica could not quite understand. That is until the release of Jennie Livingston 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, which was named after one of Dupree’s grand balls. Details of Dupree’s death remain unconfirmed, but friends and fans began Tweeting “R.I.P. Paris Dupree” on August 15. She was living in New York City at the time of her passing.
“The ballroom runway ‘Grand Prize Competition’ in heaven got a bit thicker this week with the passing of Mother Paris Dupree,” says famed performer Karl Xtravaganza. “Her death signals the end of an era.” Dupree made her mark as one of the “big five” House mothers in New York’s ballroom scene. She founded the House of Dupree in the 1970’s alongside her fellow mothers Angie Xtravaganza, Dorian Corey, Avis Pendavis and Pepper LaBeijia. Originally established in Harlem, the drag balls were over-the-top and exuberant—a Wonderland of escapism where you can be anything you want, and anything goes. Dupree’s annual Paris Is Burning ball inspired Jennie Livingston’s documentary, which included footage from ballroom events and intimate interviews with drag mothers and their “children.” Dupree appears in one scene where she rips the wig off her head and yells “Butch, Queen!” to the judges. It’s a true lesson in fierceness that only a ballroom icon could teach.
“I haven’t watched Paris Is Burning in years,” says DJ and music producer Johnny Dynell. “It’s too hard for me. People don’t realize that almost every single person in that movie is gone now. Paris Dupree was the last of the great legendary house mothers.” Dupree’s passing also came at a very emotional time for the ballroom community, with two other deaths reported in the last few days, performers Kevin Magnifique Milan and Leo Xtravaganza. The legacy left behind by Dupree, Xtravaganza, Corey, Pendavis and LaBeijia lives on with drag balls now being held and celebrated all over the country. And even though the featured stars of Paris Is Burning are no longer around, their influence and contributions to the LGBTQ community continue with the young men who exude “realness” on the runway and “vogue” like there’s no tomorrow.
“There has a been a popular resurgence in voguing and the ballroom scene,” adds Karl Xtravaganza. “The past year has seen the release of numerous underground club voguing records and the movie musical Leave It On the Floor, which is based on the ball world. Thanks to the larger-than-life personalities and indomitable spirit of people like Paris Dupree, the ball scene has grown into a nationwide phenomenon.”
A memorial service for Paris Dupree will be held at 3pm on August 20 at Pearl Studios (519 Eighth Ave, 12th Fl).
so weird. i posted about the movie on okc recently. guess, i'll have to watch paris is burning again, soon. fore-mother passes over. she will no doubt be missed.
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