Isla Ebony returns with her life and production partner, Air Jared, to the Seattle Center PrideFest celebration this year. In my past position as Deputy Director/Talent Curator of Seattle PrideFest, I have booked them many times over the years in different iterations: First, they came and turned it out with the Banjee Ball brand (still one of THE HOTTEST years on the Fountain Stage). Then they came back as Purple Crush – and rocked that Mural Stage live set.
Since then, so much has happened. To quote ol’ Joe “we had 4 years of plague, followed by a pandemic” but this year….WE BACK BABY!!!! And while the world was distracted with all these things, Isla/Jared and Purple Crush have been featured within, and become crucial to the LEGENDARY series on HBO Max, now in its 3rd season. These folks have been longtime friends and collaborators. We’ve gone from dinky little club bookings, to desert pool parties, to massive festivals. I have seen them move and groove in so many ways. They are talented, humble, community oriented, ever evolving humans and artists. This year, as a Consultant to PrideFest / Curator for Headlining Talent, I am excited to say there will be an amazing, hour long, set of music, exposition, education, community involvement, local scene features, and just plain excititement brought to you by some of the LEGENDARY crew. I had a chance to sit down with Isla for a Q & A session. Read on for all the juice, baby!
LA KENDALL: For the folks not in the know, what is Ballroom?
ISLA EBONY: Ballroom is a creative community and culture that was founded by black trans women in New York in the late 60s and early 70s. It stemmed from the Drag pageant scene, which tended to be a racist space for non white LGBTQ. “Houses” were formed as both a team for the competitions and a family structure for disenfranchised youth. Over many decades Ballroom has evolved into a multi-category, multi-faceted international community and network.
LA KENDALL: How did you come to the Ballroom scene?
ISLA EBONY: Purple Crush had been involved in the LGBTQ club community for over a decade, first in New York and then LA. We were recording and performing in the Drag community and it was through the Downtown LA Queer nightlife scene that we found the Ballroom community. I started out in Ballroom as a promoter and not a voguer. Banjee Ball was my initiation.
LA KENDALL: People talk about Mainstream Ballroom vs. the Kiki scene. What is the difference between the two?
ISLA EBONY: Mainstream Ballroom has been around for decades, and has become a heavily political system. I believe over a decade ago younger kids in the scene wanted to start their own scene with less politics and more fun. Initially the Kiki scene was like a Junior Varsity Ballroom scene, but now the it is thriving as its own entity.
LA KENDALL: You started Banjee Ball in Los Angeles, which stands today as one of the top West Coast scenes. What was that journey like, creating and organizing and getting support from the community/folks involved?
ISLA EBONY: Banjee Ball happened at a very needed time in the LA Ballroom scene. For a number of reasons the scene had hit a lull, and so Banjee Ball helped fill a void. In New York they had Vogue Nights, which was a weekly space for the community to hone their skills, but LA had nothing. I was lucky to team up with Enyce (the West Coast commentator) very early on, which helped validate Banjee Ball and make it authentic. I call him the Pied Piper of the West Coast, and the combination of him and Purple Crush’s decades long relationships and experience in nightlife made for the perfect equation. Banjee Ball has been around now for 9 years and has helped grow many generations of Ball walkers.
LA KENDALL: After Banjee Ball, I noticed you traveling to NYC more for Balls, and various related events – how did you become the Godmother of the House of Ebony?
ISLA EBONY: It was a natural evolution. Prior to Ebony, I made my name in Ballroom as a Chanel, and was awarded Woman Voguer of the Year (2017) as a Chanel. While I was pregnant I changed houses. At first I was just a member of Ebony, but then leadership in the house shifted and there was a need. I am older, a mom, and with Banjee Ball and Purple Crush had the organizational skills to fill that role. Running a House is VERY hard work, especially when it is such a historic House like Ebony. When I was on Legendary I was a very new leader and I have grown a lot since then.
LA KENDALL: Then came Legendary on HBO Max. How did that come about, what was the experience like, and how has your relationship with the show continued to evolve?
ISLA EBONY: First off I want to say that bringing a culture like Ballroom to national television is no easy feat, one that was attempted for years, and only now is being done. Being on Season 1 was challenging, production would tell us we were the guinea pigs, which is exactly what it felt like. At the same time the Season 1 cast got to help form what the show has become. For example, Purple Crush did all the music for the House of Ebony productions, and you can really tell the difference between the Ebony’s music and the rest of the Houses (no shade). When Purple Crush was asked to do the music for Season 2, they said that they wanted all of the House productions to be like the Ebony’s. Our involvement from Season 2 to Season 3 has deepened even more, and now I feel like a process has really been formed. I am really excited for people to hear what we were able to do with the Houses. Ballroom has so much untapped talent, and I feel like we were able to crack that open this Season musically.
LA KENDALL: It’s so wild. Ballroom has been around forever, but it’s definitely had its moments in pop culture. It now seems to be having a glorious moment in the sun. Do you think that the Pose series had a hand in putting a spotlight on the scene for the new generation?
ISLA EBONY: Pose definitely did, but Ballroom had been making its way back into the spotlight through pop artists like Rihanna and FKA Twigs just prior to Pose. The art form of Vogue dance has evolved over the decades. The original form came out of the Runway category by stringing together poses. This form is called Old Way. Then came New Way, which added more stretch and flexibility. These two forms are what made it to the spotlight in Paris is Burning and Madonna’s “Vogue” era. The newest form is Vogue Femme, which has been making its way to the spotlight since 2009 when Vogue Evolution went onto America’s Best Dance Crew. Both Dashaun and Leiomy from Legendary were on that team.
LA KENDALL: You are bringing some of your Banjee Ball/HBO MAX Legendary fam with you to Seattle PrideFest Main Stage. Who are you bringing? What can we expect? Is there a call to action we can share here?
ISLA EBONY: Our collaborator is Legendary Enyce, who will be performing his music and commentating the ball. Purple Crush will also be performing our music as well as DJing and hosting the ball. Our big surprise guest judges is Divo Ebony, one of the best voguers in the world, and a cast member on Legendary Season 3 for the House of Yamamoto. You may have seen him on Vice’s “My House”. He will be giving Seattle a show. Another guest judge is Aja Labeija, who was also on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and shows us a whole new lady on Legendary in the Iconic (original Ballroom) House of La Beija. And lastly, we are bringing Portland’s own House of Ada, who are also on this Season of Legendary representing the Pacific Northwest Ballroom scene.
LA KENDALL: Well I hope all the local Kiki Scene folks come out and get involved and get to know y’all, strut their stuff, and fruitful relationships can be developed.
Check out a preview of the new video by Purple Crush coming out soon! Hold My Purse” is the latest video release off Purple Crush’s vogue laced album “Ballroom Baby”. The married music duo just wrapped production as Music Directors for Season 3 of “Legendary” on HBO Max (airing May 19th), but you may recognize Isla, aka Mother Ebony, from Season 1. The song contains music that was heard in the Iconic House of Ebony’s productions and was written immediately after getting booted from the show, hence the rage. The video for “Hold My Purse” is creative directed by LA Icon Hector (Kiki) Xtravaganza and filmed/edited by Tyler Stone (Raja, Erasure, Trinity Tuck). Guest appearances include their daughter Zarah (also heard on the track), Legendary Season 1 cast member Maurice West and Season 3 cast member Legendary Davon DYU Juicy Couture. It is a comical glimpse into the dualities of Motherhood when you are both a mom to a toddler and a mother in a Ballroom house.