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TransVocalizers: Donna Sachet

| Apr 26, 2010
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Sometimes, new leads for the column come to me in rather unusual ways. I learned about Donna Sachet through a link to a video sent by a friend. Okay, so there’s absolutely nothing unusual or new anymore about watching a video on YouTube. What caught my attention was the caption: “Drag Queen makes history by sing at major league game.”

media1The game in question was the San Francisco Giants taking on the Arizona Diamondbacks, at their home park in San Francisco on September 29th, 2009.* Donna Sachet was chosen to perform the opening honor of singing the National Anthem. That’s a daunting vocal task for any singer, regardless of talent or experience. I think whomever posted this clip was absolutely right in saying the performance was “historic”. I’ve never heard of a drag queen singing the National Anthem before the start of a major league ball game — ever.

Donna has been singing all her life and like most serious vocalists, she started singing in choruses and has had several voice teachers. While she does play piano, she doesn’t use that talent in performance.

She’s originally from Georgia, and attended college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. For the past 19 years, San Francisco has been home. She just doesn’t only live there–she’s become something of a local institution.

Donna Sachet was voted Miss Gay San Francisco in 1993; was the 30th elected Empress in ’95-’96; and has received accolades from four city mayors as well as the California State Legislature.

Her community involvement includes co-chairing the San Francisco GLAAD Media Awards for four years; co-anchoring TV coverage of San Francisco’s Pride Parade; participating in the annual “Songs Of The Season” musical variety show benefiting the AIDS Emergency Fund; and has been past spokesmodel for Smirnoff Twist Vodka.

media7Other local TV credits include “Bay Area Backroads” and “Outspoken” on Comcast. She writes a column for the Bay Area Reporter called “On The Town”, and is on the compilation CD Carols Across America. Currently, she stars in Sundays A Drag at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room (Check out her website for the rest of her credentials, which are too numerous to list here.)

Musically, Donna is not your standard issue diva. Her taste in what she chooses to perform gravitates to more standard material.

“I like the Great American Song Book,” she said. “To me, that’s my kind of music — Cole Porter, Gershwin — music that has, first of all, very clever lyrics that make the melody work. And then, fairly simple phrasing. It’s more just the delivery than the notes themselves. I have trouble with a lot of modern music. It’s nonsensical words and it’s more about the rhythm than it’s about the vocality itself.”

What Donna sings is probably the result of her attitude towards the craft of singing.

“When you think in terms of instruments, like piano, it’s how limber you are, how sensitive you are with the keys,” she said. “With the voice, it’s just mind over matter. You’re thinking a D flat and you hit a D flat. You go louder or softer, or you trill…it’s just mind over matter. It’s your breath control, your vocal chords and your mind. Music is magical and wonderful”

As we’ve already mentioned, she’s more than just a little well known in San Francisco.

“I’ve covered San Francisco Pride on live television for six years,” Donna said. “Last year, they brought in other people who weren’t local and the community reacted strongly. This year, I’m going to be not only in the live television coverage, but in the preparations for the broadcast with commercials ahead of time. So it’s going to be very productive. It’s our 40th year.”

There are plans for Donna to do another television show of her own, which hopefully could get picked up, but it’s only in the planning stages now. Along with the “Backroads…” show which featured local historic neighborhoods on which she was a guest star, Donna also did a talk show.

Her recording resumé to date is the compilation CD, but she doesn’t rule out more.

“Recording is something in the future,” Donna said. “When I do it, I want to make sure it’s not as a lot of things tend to be, more or less an ego trip. I want it to be something with the right music that will inspire people, something that would take it somewhere.

media15“One show that I’ve done for 16-17 years is a holiday show where I invite other people to sing with me. Maybe that’s what I’d do first — a collaboration where I could share it with somebody.”

With only the one recording under her belt, hopefully Donna will get the opportunity to work more in the studio. That’s not to say that her live appearances don’t have an impact. When asked about the National Anthem gig, she said this: “A friend of mine told me that when he went to the bathroom at the ballpark, he heard two guys arguing about my performance,” Donna said. “But the argument was, ‘She was lipsynching…’-‘No, that was real…’ It didn’t faze anyone that a drag queen just performed the National Anthem.”

While that might be true in San Francisco, the acceptance level for drag in other parts of the country can be hit and miss. Donna has her own thoughts on this.

“When it comes to drag, I never want to say ‘good-bad’,” Donna said. “I just think there’s a difference in what’s happening now. Right now, there’s a lot of drag that’s going on that’s gender bending. Sometimes in San Francisco, they call it club drag. People put on something that mixes up the genders just to go out and dance, act crazy, and party.

“That’s not what drag has ever meant to me. To me, drag is allowing the feminine part of my personality to take center stage. I think all of us have some element of that no matter what gender or sex we are. I consider drag a complement to all that’s positive about being feminine. Sometimes I think drag that’s done today is negative and competitive, and a lot of ridicule involved. Those are hurtful and not positive things.”

This sentiment sort of dovetails into Donna’s advice to anyone considering working as a drag entertainer.

“There’s kind of two steps there,” she said. “First of all, if someone feels that they’re transgender…that’s one thing to explore. Music is a second thing to explore. It’s kind of a double whammy. It can be positive and negative.

“I think the important thing is to always surround yourself with people who share your values. If you can connect with a transgender organization, there are going to be poeple who have gone through what you’re about to go through. Same thing with music. If you want to sing, if you want to play the piano-go to piano bars, go to concerts. Hang out with people where music is their life. The best thing is to seek out like minded people.

“I sometimes pinch myself and have to remember that I have it pretty good because of the way people treat me, because of the things I’ve done, and the name I’ve acquired. Everyone whould be treated well.”

In closing, Donna sums up the dichotomy of performing as a drag artist quite well.

“We still carry a lot of shame and self-hatred and confusion with us the rest of our lives,” she said. “It’s a lifetime to overcome that…it takes a while to be not only happy with yourself, but proud of yourself for who you are.”

Check out YouTube for the National Anthem video, along with several others. * By the way, the San Francisco Giants won that game on Sept. 29, 2009, 8-4.

ALSO THIS MONTH…

More YouTube videos from Calpernia Addams: Cal sings Pussy, originally by Lords of Acid; Cal interviews Bamby Salcedo for Angels of Change; and Cal and Andrea James are interviewed by George Takei (Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu, as if you need that bit of information…) for KPFK radio. George, by the way, has an incredible voice for radio.

Quite some time ago, I received a rather unique advance copy of a CD I didn’t know what to do with at the time: Nellie McKay’s Normal As Blueberry Pie, a tribute to Doris Day. I remember Doris Day from my mom’s record collection, and from all those movies with Cary Grant.

wallpaper2_1024x768What’s interesting about this project is the tune selection. Doris Day’s first hit, Sentimental Journey, was in 1945 and is included here. It’s my personal favorite on the album.

Miss Day’s best known song, Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) is not included on the project. There’s probably a legal issue here. Anyway, this song was originally part of the soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film The Man Who Knew Too Much. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Ironically, while it went on to become Doris Day’s signiture song, at the time she hated it and told a friend “You’ll never hear me sing THAT again.”

What’s also ineresting about Normal As Blueberry Pie is McKay’s voice, which is probably higher than Day’s but well within her range. Plus, the instrumental background is superb.

Produced by Nelli McKay and Robin Pappas. Somewhere out there, there has to be a drag queen who covers Doris Day material. At least there should be, because of the sheer range and wealth of her work as shown by McKay on this very worthy and well done tribute. For more information, go to www.nelliemckay.com, or www.ververecords.com.


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Category: Music, Transgender Fun & Entertainment

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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