This Alabama-born singer-songwriter is also an interfaith spiritual adviser, an LGTB activist, and a beloved NYC entertainer since the 1980′s. Turning 60 this weekend–with a fun birthday showcase of her original songs interpreted by a large cast of performer pals at the Metropolitan Room–let’s give it up for Reverend Yolanda Roger Anthony Mapes in this exclusive Thotyssey interview!
Thotyssey: Hi Yolanda! Happy 60th! You look great! What’s your secret to eternal youth?
Rev. Yolanda: Lots of sleep [laughs]!
I see you’re from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. What was life like growing up there for you?
I was an artistic fairie boy sissy growing up in Alabama in the 60s. I knew I loved cisgendered boys, but I couldn’t describe myself. I never heard of a transperson–or even a drag queen–when I was growing up. I assumed I was the only “queer” person in my family and friends. I was an artist from the get-go, so people gave me a lot of room because I was “artsy.”
I grew up in the 60′s and consider myself from a hippie, counter/culture, radical faerie background. I cultivated a penchant for “cross dressing” from very young.
How did your family take to your sexual orientation?
I barely remember their reaction or not. I’m now 60 years-old, and here’s my declaration: “I’m tired of what people think about my anything, honey!”
Did growing up in that historic music town have a big influence on your musical identity?
Indeed it did… with the mixture of gospel, jazz, soul, country, and rockabilly all around. That definitely shaped me.
When did you start composing original songs?
I started performing when I was 16, with some gospel and bluegrass bands. I
started writing in the late 80′s in the East Village, NYC. I wanted to be a dance diva, and Larry Flick (Sirius) was my manager at the time. We did not succeed in this area, but I began to write songs that wound up years later on my CD Country Gospel Kirtan.
Were you always a spiritual person?
Yes, in fact I think we all are spiritual beings and it matters not the religion or lack thereof. Spirituality is inherent in all beings. Religions can be amazing and useful resources for good in the world. Let’s clean up our own minds and hearts within our respective religions.
So, who came first, Yolanda the drag performer, or the interfaith minister?
They are now, and always were, the same. I wanted to be a music minister
when I was a young high school guy. The message of “be true to yourself”
was deep in me, even back then. After I graduated from Seminary in 2011, I
finally had accepted my true calling as Rev. Yolanda.
Not to be too theological, but what does “interfaith” mean for you? Do believe all religions share the same God, or is it more than that?
Everything is allowed here on “Schoolhouse Earth”. There is no “out there” Entity, neither Male nor Female, that is wagging his or her finger at us–punishing us for things we or someone else has done. Or worse–rewarding those we hate. This idea of “GOD” has to be radically re-examined by a large number of people on earth.
I believe humanity is currently in the process of that re-examining, and is moving in the direction of love, guided by Goddess energy. We are culturally releasing our fascination with Patriarchal dominance.
Do you see a lot of LGTB people starving for some sort of spiritual guidance?
I do, although its not disproportionate to the general populace. Spiritual
guidance is always needed. We can’t see ourselves sometimes. We need each
other to see us and tell us what they see. We have to be willing to be open to change–no matter what our age.When one has a certain “ease’ with the transitory nature of reality, one can hear the intuitive voice better, and that still quiet voice is always the one to listen to. That guidance is always available to you.
That’s lovely! When did you meet your husband and ministry partner, Glen?
We met at a Radical Faerie Thanksgiving Party in 2006, and have barely left each others side since then. I thank my lucky stars for my husband. He means the world to me. It can happen to you, girls!
At what point did you come to New York, and what did you think of the city and the gay scene when you got here?
I arrived in 1982 or 3? OMG! I mean, OMG! No, kidding– totally awesome! Scary but awesome East Village nights with bar hopping from The Pyramid Club (when Ru and Bunny used to hang out there), to King Tut’s Wa Wa Hut, to CBGB’s, to Meow Mix (a little later on) to the world! Then stumbling home to E. 6th street and Ave A to my rooming house. It was amazing, and of course – tragic at the same time. AIDS was in full crisis mode, and I was very indiscreet. The time was wicked and indulgent, and I’m sure I had so much fun in part because I was in my 20s in NYC. It’s a great place to be a young artist!
Sounds like an intense time to be in the city! You went to AMDA, aka Drag Queen University. Why do you think so many queens come out of there, and how did you enjoy your own experience there?
[Laughs]! That’s awesome! I truly didn’t know! I loved AMDA. It propelled me to get out in the world and experiment with developing my own thing. I came out of the experience dedicated to myself as an artist in NYC.
Did you ever go the bar queen / lip sync route, or isthat something that never interested you?
I’ve never done that, but honey–a great drag queen who cam lip sync her
ass off is amazing!
Tell me about how you started your ministries.
I graduated from One Spirit Seminary with the idea to create “Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour” as my music ministry. The live stage show has two versions and has won two MAC Awards, and piqued the interest of movie maker Ike Allen of Avaiya Media, who created the movie version, which is now available on Amazon.
A large part of my ministry is about creating beautifully moving spiritual
experiences in unexpected places. My husband and I have a personal growth and study group every Wednesday night in Manhattan. The group is based on the lessons of A Course In Miracles.
And I do perform in churches all over the country as well as our own church gathering called ”Church with a 2 Drink Minimum.”
Regarding “Church with a 2 Drink Minimum,” I see you and Glen are resuming that monthly brunch and spiritual concert series with the Bearded Lady Band at Sidewalk NYC on Sept 18th! Tell me a little about and what goes down on those days.
We have our version of Church! We’ll be playing music and having the audience sing along, have some brunch, “clap your hands and hug somebody” kind of vibe. Lots of wonderful friends in the spectrum of the rainbow. Me and special musical guests serve up original and traditional inspirational music, and Rev. Glen delivers the message! Then we sing some more and have another pink margarita! And- we do other stuff, like retreats, workshops at your church, personal coaching and counseling:
I see your close with another wonderful veteran drag queen and fundraiser, Candy Samples, who often performs with Bearded Lady! When did you meet Candy?
Candy says we met in 2012. Truth is, I feel like I’ve always known her. She’s a real sister!
Does your ministry reject certain types of behavior that organized religions decry, like promiscuity or drug use?
No–we don’t go in that direction. We don’t tell you what to believe or what to do. We let religions handle those things.
Are you engaged with politics, within and beyond the LGTB community?
I Am! I will not comment on presidential candidates. I feel it’s important for everyone to be a part of the political system in any way we can. If you feel like you can run for office, please do. Take political action. Get your voice out there. Be heard. At the very least: Vote! So many people don’t even vote!
Let’s talk about your birthday concert at the Metropolitan Room on August 6th (3-5pm)! It looks like you have a lot of great musicians lined up, who will all be performing your original music. What else can we expect from that show?
“Peace Love and Yolanda: A Celebration of the Rev. Yolanda Songbook“: Sassy guests like Tym Moss (NY’s Boyfriend), Candy Samples (Queen Of the Bears), Freddy Freeman (singer-songwriter, creator of Bearapalooza and Bear Your Soul). and Raissa Katona Bennett (Christine in Phantom of The Opera). I’ve given all of my guests songs of mine to reinterpret and sing. I can’t wait to hear them. My songs range from comedy to jazz to gospel and rock.
I See you’re also appearing in a web series soon!
Yes- I’ve had the fortune this year of working on great film projects and a lead role on Season 2 of the webseries Skeleton Crew.
Where can we purchase your music?
On my own website, or on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, Spotify… almost every major digital media website. My newest cd “Rev. Yolanda’s Country Gospel Kirtan, vol.2- Step Back” will be released in November 2016.
Finally: there is so much hatred and divisiveness in the world today: in politics and world views, in organized religion, in race and ethnicity and lifestyles, etc. What sort of elements do you think can bring people together?
We have to be open to change. No matter what age what religion what sex what gender what orientation what nationality. We must embrace everyone–not just tolerate, or barely tolerate–each other. We are all vital to the healthy survival of the human race.
We are destroying the world we live in, and we must change that direction over the next 20 years with new, breakthrough ideas from new, fresh-thinking leaders and citizens. Get involved in our neighborhoods and get to know people of different lifestyles. We need to find ways to recognize ourselves in each other. Community building is vital. We must learn to build trust in our neighbors. Cook for people, have a house party for someone, share your talents be yourself in this world…fully alive and fully engaged in your role in this dance.
Sounds like paradise. Thanks again Yolanda, and happy birthday!
Rev. Yolanda’s birthday showcase “Peace, Love & Yolanda: A Celebration of the Rev. Yolanda Songbook” will be held at the Metropolitan Room on August 6th (3-5pm). Her monthly musical ministry brunch / recital “Church With a 2 Drink Minimum” at Sidewalk NYC will return on September 18th (3-5pm). Rev. Yolanda and her husband Rev. Glen conduct a weekly spiritual workshop, Mighty Companions Ministries, every Wednesday (7-9pm) at Yeoryia Studios. She has a website, and can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube.