January 28, 1952 – February 27, 1992
Detroit native Richard Steven Shank graduated from Novi High School in 1971 and worked as a waiter and bartender at Morey’s and the Escape. Shank was also involved in local community theater and for a time performed female impersonation as Rickie Day. He died from AIDS-related complications at age 39.
Cruise, March 18, 1992
April 3, 1933 – December 6, 1983
Originally from Arkansas, Winfred Wells was raised in Detroit and in the 1950s became a noted local beatnik poet. In the 1960s he performed female impersonation under his own name at the Diplomat Lounge. Wells subsequently moved to England, where he wrote screenplays and lived with his longtime companion, director Silvio Narizzano.
London Times, December 8, 1983
April 26, 1955 – September 27, 1991
Born in Detroit, Wilmer Gunther Jr. worked for many years at the Deck in Detroit and performed locally as Hummin Helen. Gunther also worked as a floral designer. He died from AIDS-related complications at age 36.
Metra, October 9, 1991
November 16, 1953 – November 16, 2004
Michael Sweazey of Canton and formerly of Garden City began bartending at Gigi’s in Detroit in the mid-1970s and was one of six employees to inherit ownership of the bar after the death of Tony Garneau. For many years he worked as Gigi’s show director and performed female impersonation under the name Vanessa LaSalle. Sweazey was survived by his life partner of 28 years Steven McAfee.
Between The Lines, December 2, 2004
Vanessa LaSalle at Our Community Roots
March 22, 1949 – July 25, 1989
Born in Detroit, Joseph Daniel Maldonado grew up in Saginaw and moved back to Detroit following high school. Through much of the 1970s he performed as Dani DiLetto at such clubs at Morey’s, the Iron Hinge, and Bookie’s Club 870. DiLetto was awarded the title of Miss Gay America in 1976 when the original winner had the crown rescinded. He died from AIDS-related complications at age 40.
Saginaw News, July 27, 1989
This Week in Texas, August 11, 1989
September 5, 1934 – July 3, 2011
Minnesota native Vicki Marlane was among a troupe of female impersonators who performed at the Diplomat Lounge in Detroit in the early 1960s. Born Donald Sterger, Marlane underwent gender affirmation surgery in San Francisco, where she continued to perform into her 70s. She was subject of the 2009 documentary Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight. She died from AIDS-related complications at age 76.
Bay Area Reporter, July 14, 2011
Vicki Marlane photographs and artifacts at the GLBT Historical Society
Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight on Vimeo
June 4, 1963 – July 19, 1993
Bradley Grant was a longtime member of the Detroit chapter of Black and White Men Together. He served on the board of the Michigan Organization or Human Rights and was active with the Detroit Area Gay/Lesbian Council. He also performed as a female impersonator under the name Peaches la Fleur. He died from AIDS-related complications at age 30.
BWMT Detroit newsletter, August 1993