Richmond Community Plans Final Hamaganza In Remembrance Of 'Dirt Woman'
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In Richmond, Va., people are remembering an over-the-top personality - Donnie Corker, who was known affectionately as Dirt Woman. Corker died in his sleep last month at the age of 65, and a charity group is planning one last outrageous party to honor him. Craig Carper with member station WCVE reports.
CRAIG CARPER, BYLINE: Donnie Corker was an institution in the Virginia Capitol for four decades, working as a cross-dressing prostitute starting in the mid-'70s, later performing in drag shows and even running for mayor in 2008.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONNIE CORKER: Hello, Richmond. This is Dirt Woman. Kiss me, baby.
CARPER: Stories about Corker seemed too strange to be true. But in interview after interview, you'll hear the same things over and over. He got the name Dirt Woman from using the back of a police car as his personal bathroom. He once wrestled the heavy metal band GWAR in a pool full of pork and beans and Jell-O. He was arrested at former Governor Doug Wilder's inauguration for exposing himself to police officers. He sung about it with his friend journalist Mark Holmberg in their song for Richmond.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CORKER: (Singing) Cops messing around with people like me. Richmond likes straight people. Don't you see?
CARPER: Dirt Woman was also known for the annual December charitable bash Hamaganza which over the years raised as much as $40,000 for the Central Virginia Food Bank.
CHRIS DOVI: Plus thousands of pounds of delicious ham.
CARPER: Chris Dovi, a longtime friend of Corker's, organized the show over the past decade. He describes Hamaganza as a kind of Lollapalooza circus with music, strippers and raunchy skits. It attracts an impressive cross section of Richmond. Every year, politicians attend so they can be skewered and roasted. And sitting in an oversized sleigh, Dirt Woman was always the centerpiece.
DOVI: There was a lighted Christmas tree one year, Mrs. Claus obviously. I think the last Hamaganza that he was at, he was Princess Leia. And we used actual cinnamon buns.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, actual cinnamon buns.
CARPER: For Dovi and his friends, a final Hamaganza seems the most appropriate tribute to Corker. Corker grew up in a working-class neighborhood near Virginia Commonwealth University at a time when being gay was taboo, though Donnie never hid who he was. In the '70s and '80s, Corker would frequently be seen walking up and down a busy street in a white wedding dress, catcalling male VCU students and not caring about what other people thought.
SCOTT PRICE: He was not an attractive woman, but he carried it off with such panache that it worked.
CARPER: That's Scott Price, Dirt Woman's former wrestling manager.
PRICE: He was a hustler. He was always selling flowers, panhandling, selling his pin-up calendar.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Selling himself.
PRICE: Yeah - or attempting to sell himself.
CARPER: Ellen Shaver says Corker was also inspiring. Shaver knew she was transgender from age 6 but didn't surgically transition until 2010. She says Corker gave her the courage to be in public who she always was inside.
ELLEN SHAVER: Here it was. He was already 200-and-something pounds, and he was out there dressing the part and getting away with it. As far as I could go was probably the perimeters of my house. And Donnie was down there parading up and down Grace Street acting like, who cares?
CARPER: But at his core, Donnie Corker was an entertainer. He lived to shock people and make them smile. His friends hope to honor that tradition at this year's Hamaganza. For NPR News, I'm Craig Carper in Richmond, Va.
(SOUNDBITE OF BENMONT TENCH'S "WOBBLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.