Pepper LaBeija

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Pepper LaBeija
Born(1948-11-05)November 5, 1948
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
DiedMay 14, 2003(2003-05-14) (aged 54)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Occupation(s)Drag queen, fashion designer

Pepper LaBeija (November 5, 1948 – May 14, 2003) was an American drag queen and fashion designer. She was known as "the last remaining queen of the Harlem drag balls".

Early life and career[edit]

Born in The Bronx in 1948, Pepper Labeija first arrived on New York city's gay ballroom scene in the late-1960s and eventually became head of the House of LaBeija in 1981.[1]

While not identifying as a woman, Labeija had breast implants and preferred the feminine pronoun she.[1][2] Labeija remained the head of the house (known as "the Mother") until her death in 2003. As the head of the House, Labeija spoke openly about the importance of providing support and guidance to young gay men arriving on the scene after being alienated from their families.

Labeija was known for Egyptian-inspired runway performances and won approximately 250 ballroom trophies over the course of her career.[3] Outside of performing, Labeija earned a living producing drag balls and teaching modeling.[2]

Later years and death[edit]

LaBeija and her companion Pamela Jackson had a daughter together, and LaBeija devoted much of her time to her family, raising her daughter and stepson. In 1992, Pamela Jackson died. As LaBeija's health declined, her children lived with their maternal grandmother.[4]

LaBeija suffered from diabetes mellitus type 2, which resulted in both her feet being amputated. She was largely bedridden for the last ten years of her life. On May 14, 2003, LaBeija died of a heart attack at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan at the age of 54.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

LaBeija is best known for her appearances in the documentary films Paris Is Burning (1990) and How Do I Look? (2006).[5]

LaBeija also made appearances on The Joan Rivers Show (1991), TV Transvestites (1982), and The Queen (1968).[6]

Malcolm McLaren quoted LaBeija in a 1989 song and music video "Deep in Vogue", a tribute to the New York gay balls of the 1980s, runway competitions that involved dance, fashion, and attitude.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Martin, Douglas (May 26, 2003). "Pepper LaBeija, Queen of Harlem Drag Balls, Is Dead at 53". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b "Pepper LaBeija, 53; Queen of Drag Ball Scene in Harlem". Los Angeles Times. May 29, 2003. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  3. ^ Doonan, Simon (June 16, 2003). "Pater Is Burning! Rad Dads in Drag". Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  4. ^ Lawrence, Tim (November 21, 2022). "Listen, and You Will Hear all the Houses That Walked There Before: A History of Drag Balls, Houses and the Culture of Voguing". Academia EDU. Retrieved December 2, 2022. LaBeija recalled later, while her mother doggedly stuck to calling her by her birth name, William Jackson.
  5. ^ Jones, William (April 1, 1991). "Burning Voices: Redefining "Realness" in Paris is Burning". documentary. Retrieved December 2, 2022. As Dorian Corey, another legend, explains, Liz Taylor is famous. So is Pepper Labeija.
  6. ^ Rudolph, Christopher (November 15, 2019). "Paris Is Burning Headed To Criterion Collection With New Footage Galore". logo tv. Retrieved December 2, 2022. It will even include the 1991 episode of The Joan Rivers Show featuring Livingston with ball community members Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Freddie Pendavis, and Willi Ninja!
  7. ^ Lawrence, Tim (July 16, 2013). "Listen, and You Will Hear all the Houses that Walked There Before: A History of Drag Balls, Houses and the Culture of Voguing. London: Soul Jazz, 2011". Retrieved December 2, 2022. ... in 1989 when Willi Ninja appeared on Malcolm McLaren and the Bootzilla Orchestra's Deep in Vogue... Drag ball and voguing culture made its screen breakthrough in 1990 when Livingston's movie, titled Paris Is Burning after the 1986 ball staged by Paris Dupree and the House of Dupree, began to pick up awards at film festivals. Shot between 1986 and 1989, the documentary provided a rich cultural insight into the previously clandestine culture of black and Latin drag balls through its mix of ballroom footage, everyday-life material shot at the piers, and interviews with Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Angie Xtravaganza and others.

External links[edit]