The next lady of jazz reaches out to her communities

Tzedakah Drag

Female impersonator Trinity, self-styled "next lady of jazz," describes herself as "everyone's typical Jewish aunt" in steep heels and rhinestones. "I get a lot of elderly people who come to the show and say it reminds them of Judy Garland," says Jamie Grace, a 38-year-old Jewish guy who created Trinity as a birthday present to himself four years ago. Trinity is inclined to disagree, noting, "My voice is belty, more like an Ethel Merman I think."

With three albums of cover hits including "Secret Agent Man," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and "Roller Coaster Blues," Trinity tries to capture the flair of a bygone era with big-band arrangements and glamour-puss costumes. During a recent interview at his mother's townhouse in North Miami Beach, Grace talked about why Trinity strikes a special chord not only in the gay community but also among the older Jewish ladies he believes she represents.

"Gay people think that straight people are standing there [at Trinity shows] with a hammer over their heads, but it's not that way," says Grace between sips of rice milk and bites of strawberries and a chocolate croissant. "We all have to work together."


Trinity performs with the Chris Luard Orchestra

The Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach

8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 17. Tickets range from $18 to $35. Call 305-674-1040.

Sporting a white T-shirt and khaki pants over a small muscular body, Grace says although he began taking singing lessons about three years ago, Trinity only breaks into song seasonally. A snowbird, Grace works as a masseur in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the summer. He winters in Miami and Berlin, giving concerts as Trinity to earn money for gay-rights advocacy groups as part of the practice of tzedakah, or individual giving, promoted within Judaism.

It's not surprising then that an upcoming concert at the Colony Theater, meant to raise money for the gay-rights group SAVE Dade, found a sponsor in the tricounty community paper the Jewish Journal. Justo Rey, vice-president of the journal's specialty publications division, believes this is the newspaper's first time sponsoring a gay Jewish concert.

"The attractive thing for us was that there is a fundraising tie with SAVE Dade," Rey notes. "It's about issues of equality. We're an advocacy paper, and we want to make sure things are done the right way."

Trinity's shows, in fact, often attract older Jewish women, who the Jewish Journal taps as readers. (According to a Scarborough Research 2000 study, the Jewish Journal has a circulation of roughly 150,000, with women making up 60 percent of its readership.) Trinity frequently performs with Eleanor Kurland, Grace's real-life mom, and the ladies banter onstage about bagels, dry martinis, and men. Herself a paragon of the fabulous Fifties, Kurland in her heyday hoofed it up on Broadway, showed off her gams for a Hanes campaign, and reigned as Colgate toothpaste's "Smile of Pleasure Girl."

Listening to her son sing jazz standards and crack jokes about plastic surgery surprises Kurland, who describes Grace, who graduated from a Unitarian seminary school, as a quiet youngster. Accepting her double duty as mother and role model, however, Kurland affirms, "It's important to stand behind your kids no matter what their lifestyle and sexual orientation is."

Through Trinity, Grace resurrects the grand style he glimpses in his mother's memories. Trinity sings with the eight-piece Chris Luard Orchestra, whose sharp brass swings through tunes like "Wives and Lovers" and "The Exciting Life." She plays the Colony Theater, "where all the big stars of the Fifties -- Ella, Judy, Frank Sinatra, Belle Barth, everyone -- played," says the queen. "I want my music and my show to be an evening that brings my audience back to the glamour, the class, the glitz of the Fifties. So people who come to my shows get a huge, classy, red-carpet jazz concert with dancers and back-up singers -- a rare, tasteful, glamorous night in today's culture."

A girl's gotta work hard to put on the Ritz. "I own the rights to the name Trinity, and now I have three CDs," Grace says of his work promoting the diva. "I have refrigerator magnets. I've toured." Pressing his palm to his forehead, Grace pauses to ponder the enormity of the enterprise. "It takes money to make money. A lot of entertainers aren't willing to make refrigerator magnets of themselves and make press kits. It's awful how much goes into that one night." He recovers.

"It's way too late," he continues. "There's no turning back. I dream bigger than I am. I think that's part of the Buddhist way, to decide who you are and then decide what would be the most outrageous thing you could be. Then walk in that path, because we do get stuck, and you don't know you're stuck. Suddenly you've been an accountant for the past ten years, and you hate your job."


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