Photos courtesy of Chablis
Popular performer and long running host of Lashes weekly cabaret show at R Place in Seattle; Howard Robert Russell, also known as Chablis, is as tough as they come.
Chablis has survived sexual abuse by an older family member, bullying and a turbulent relationship with his father for being too overtly feminine. He dropped out of school at the age 16 and ran away to Chicago where he encountered his first relationship with a man.
“This is where I was taught the value of life and how to survive. I received my GED and did some college work,” he said.
Today he maintains a closer than ever relationship with his family. Chablis and other local talents have entertained audiences from destinations both near and afar. He has worked with many performers from LOGO TV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is not bad for the little boy who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.
PrideIndex reached out to Chablis through a friend of friend on Facebook to learn more about the amazing artist who at a young age pictured himself being in the movies or performing somewhere on stage.
PRIDE INDEX (PI): Tell us about your background. Where you from and what was it like growing up?
Chablis (CH): My full name is Howard Robert Russell. I grew up in Omaha Nebraska the oldest of two boys. Growing up I knew that I was different. I seemed to enjoy being around grownups and I pictured myself being in the movies or on stage. I guess I was a kid who just wanted to be in the spotlight which of course got me into trouble on occasion. (Laughs)
I can remember when I was in the 2nd grade there was a dance show where kids were pick to do a Mexican dance in front of a crowd of a thousand people. Initially I was not picked because I was black; they wanted kids that were of Hispanic descent. I cried but I decided to stay and watch the rehearsals luckily for me one kid got sick so they needed another child in a hurry, they had no choice but to pick me because I was the only one who knew the dance. Imagine all these Mexican kids and me, the only black one. My mother just laughed because she knew what type of kid I was.
While in high school I enjoyed performing in musicals. I had a big problem identifying my sexual orientation it was not easy for me. I was teased and bullied a lot. My family life was not easy either because I was sexually abused by my uncle. My dad and I didn’t see eye to eye because of my feminine behavior. Dad wanted a football player not some “gay theatre son.” I finally could not take it anymore so at the age of 16 years old I decided to drop out of high school and run away from home. I came to Chicago where I had my first relationship with a man. In Chicago is where I was taught the value of life and how to survive. I received my GED and did some college work.
After being in Chicago for a few years I decided to come home to rekindle my relationship with my family. We are closer than before. Later I moved to Minneapolis and decided to attend a community college. I worked backstage management at a theater and did a few plays.
When I was old enough to see a drag show it seemed really strange to me. I thought to myself, men in dresses acting like women and pretending to sing, that’s strange. At the same time I was intrigued and excited by what I saw. I saw how much these men could paint themselves to look just like Diana Ross, Dolly Pardon, or Whitney Houston. I told myself that I would never become a drag queen. However came back to every show each week.
PI: How did I get the name Chablis?
CH: I had a friend who decided to paint me one day just for the fun of it. I was living in Tacoma Washington at the time. My friend is a drag performer who did shows every week. At the club there was a “turnabout show” where anyone who had never done shows before could dress up and get on stage so I did it. I didn’t have a drag name so I came up with “Lady Chablis.” I didn’t know there was already another famous performer named Lady Chablis who lived in Georgia until later after I had been performing on a regular basis. I was told by a friend about the movie called “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I ended up dropping “Lady” and simply became Chablis.
PI: How do you prepare for a performance?
CH: I listen to songs that I like and think of how I could perform them and make it into something fun that a crowd would enjoy. I enjoy being dressed as old women performing Gospel songs or playing big girls. I really like wearing evening gowns, most of them are made by another drag queen named Malaysia, and she lives in Atlanta. Malaysia is amazing, she would fly up to Seattle, look at me on stage get her sewing kit and marching orders and it seems like that next day she has a fabulous dress completed for me to perform in the next night!
PI: If your style were a cocktail what kind would it be?
CH: That’s easy – a glass of wine. When it ages it gets even better in taste.
PI: What is my ultimate goal as a performer?
CH: Since RuPaul’s Drag Race has become a door way for drag queens to become famous overnight I thought at one point if I could just get on their show that would completely change my life. Unfortunately it’s not an easy show to get on and what they’re looking for you just never know. So I have now taken a different route. I am finishing up my very first single call I Love You Anyway which is written by Christopher Rachel with music by Scott Lawrence and a Seattle production team call E/M Music. It will be release in January 2015. The song is about things that are happening in the world, gun violence, racial discrimination, etc. It talks about life and regardless of who’s doing whatever we still need to love everyone anyway. I’m extremely excited about this project; we will see how far it gets me. I’d still welcome the chance for to be in a movie even it’s just an opportunity to walk across the camera I’ll take it. I have reached out to some of the production studios and I even wrote to Tyler Perry. (Laughs) I’m still waiting.
PI: Where can we see you in action?
CH: I am a host of a show call Lashes which takes place every Friday and Saturday in Seattle Washington at a bar called R Place. I have been there for over 10 years. I am the longest running host in Seattle. We have a cast of 4 girls with guest performers every week. We have worked with many of the RuPaul’s Drag Race girls and some very talented local artist.
PI: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
CH: Stay tune for my new single, I Love You Anyway, coming soon.
I would also say to anyone who is still waiting for a miracle to happen in their life to just hang in there, the door will open up one day just give it a little time and patience. Just pray and pray. I can remember when I was ready to give up on life; I had to tell myself DON’T STOP FIGHTING!!! I find that fighting has become something I enjoy; it keeps me motivated now when I accomplish something I realize it took me and God to make it happen.
To Learn more about Lashes Weekly show at R Place Bar in Seattle visit http://rplaceseattle.com