Shi-Queeta Lee, a legendary Washington, DC-based drag queen who has helped blaze the trail for queens around the world, will go down in history as the first-ever drag queen to perform at the White House. But she’s also known for her amazing impressions of music legends like Diana Ross, Tina Turner, and Mary J. Blige.
Jerry VanHook, AKA Shi-Queeta Lee, considers himself to be an “OG” of the drag community. The 57-year-old performer has been a staple of the DC drag scene since moving to the nation’s capital in 1984.
“When you come to see Shi-Queeta perform you gotta expect to see Tina Turner at her best,” VanHook told In the Know. “Nothing but cheering and laughter. [They’re] gonna get the best show of their life.”
VanHook was born and raised on a farm in the small town of Gretna, Virginia. “We raised tobacco, horses, cows, chickens, [and] pigs,” VanHook told In the Know. VanHook grew up playing sports, which he claims was really one of the few things you could do while living on a farm in the country. It wasn’t until VanHook tried out to be the school mascot that his love for performing was born.
VanHook then decided he wanted to pursue a career in singing. “I packed up my clothes [on] Christmas Day and I moved to Washington, DC in 1984,” he remembers. In DC, VanHook was able to embrace his identity as a gay man, and join a community that would help shape his career for years to come.
While in DC, VanHook took part in a softball league made up of gay players from around the city. At the end of the year, the league held a fundraiser drag pageant called the “Miss Magic Pageant.” VanHook entered the pageant and won.
“I was like, ‘If you can make this much money putting on a dress and wig and nails and pumps for 5 minutes…’ 24 years later I’m [still] doing it,” said VanHook. “Shi-Queeta Lee was born.”
Shi-Queeta Lee’s resume speaks for itself, but the early days were hard work for the legendary queen.
“When I first started doing drag, it was hard for me to get on shows. You had to prove yourself. You had to send in audition tapes. Compared to now, these girls really don’t understand how hard it was, what we went through,” said VanHook.
VanHook was able to find his niche by impersonating pop stars like Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige. “I love the art form of entertainment. To be able to put on makeup and transform into someone else is just a rush for me,” VanHook told In the Know.
Through talent and hard work, Shi-Queeta’s career has taken her to some incredible stages.
“My drag career evolved over the years. I’m getting more prominent gigs,” said VanHook. One of these gigs was at the White House under the Obama administration, where Shi-Queeta became the first-ever drag queen to be invited to perform at the historic venue.
“Being at the White House was something out of this world and something I’ve never seen before,” VanHook told In the Know. “Walking through the halls was like, ‘Wow this is where the Obamas walk down the hall, this is where all the past presidents walked down the hall.’ It was something surreal.”
In addition to performing at the White House, VanHook has also headlined at the legendary Howard Theater in DC, and was the first drag queen to host their own show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“As an OG drag performer, I feel that I have accomplished a lot,” said VanHook. “My dreams and hopes would be that whoever comes after me will remember that I was one of the ones who made a path for them to be who they are and to be accepted in society.”
If you liked this story, read about a Black, proud and resilient Miami-based queen.
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