“Pittsburgh does not really have many Black History shows if any, and it, unfortunately, looks like we’re the only ones doing a Black queer variety show,” says White, a comedian and performance artist who also manages Velvet Hearts! Pittsburgh. “At the end of the day, this goes back to representation. There is rampant appropriation of Black culture, and it would be completely remiss of us not to acknowledge the pioneers that gave us the foundations we have today. The music, the dance, the style — a lot of what shapes who we are all comes from these amazing people who came first and did what they loved. We have to express our gratitude. We’d be nothing without them.”
In addition to White, the show will feature singers, drag kings and queens, belly dancers, and more. Among them is Velvet Hearts! Columbus manager and Pay Tribute producer, Butterfly, who, in a previous show, performed a routine dedicated to rock legend Tina Turner. This year, she plans to pay tribute to singer, actress, and activist Eartha Kitt; other icons to be commemorated are Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Etta James, and Toni Braxton.
Some of the featured acts hail from other cities, including Cleveland-based burlesque dancer and Headmistress of Blackwater Cabaret Lakota Shekhar, and Roxy von Teddy of Columbus.
“Fighting for representation in the wake of erasure and tokenism are ongoing battles,” says von Teddy, a comedian and burlesque performer who identifies as a Black queer woman. “This show existing in celebration of Black history feels less like a war and more of a win. ... I know that, without question, I wouldn’t trade who I am for anything in the world, and on this stage, I get to do that unapologetically.”
Pay Tribute will also feature burlesque performer and singer Vita Valentina; drag king and Hot Metal Hardware member, Malcum Tent; Pittsburgh samba and bellydancer Haniyah; and singer and dancer Josalynn Lark.
After the show, adventurous, sex-positive audience members are encouraged to check out Revelry, described as a “queer inclusive celebration of all things erotic.”
Overall, Pay Tribute offers a different approach to honoring important figures in Black history and as a chance to showcase a community not always given the spotlight.
“I've had the honor to be a part of this amazing cast for three years, and I will never forget the awe and instant warmth that I felt walking into a dressing room full of people that looked like me,” says Lark. “The warmth, love, and appreciation I received is what every performer of color dreams of."
Pay Tribute with Velvet Hearts!. 9:30-11 p.m. Doors at 9 p.m. Sat., Feb. 29. Red Light Lounge, 97 Margaret St., McKees Rocks. $15-25. facebook.com/velvetheartspittsburgh