Kenny Kerr was more than just a Las Vegas drag performer — he was a pioneer within the LGBT community, whose roots were grounded not far from Philadelphia.
Kerr died April 28 at age 60. The cause of death has not been announced. Kerr was born in Blue Anchor, N.J., and began performing in Philadelphia when he was just 16. Franny Price, executive director of Philly Pride Presents, remembers Kerr’s start at The Forrest Lounge in the early 1970s. “I knew Kenny because when I was 20 and started going to The Forrest Lounge, Kenny would perform in a show called The Doll Factory,” she said. Price said Kerr later joined up with a troupe to perform “Viva La Boys” and traveled along the East Coat for various gigs. Price was the team’s light and sound person and said Kerr was known for his Barbra Streisand impersonation. Kerr later turned “Viva La Boys” into “Boy-Lesque” and eventually took the show to Vegas. He performed for more than a decade at the Silver Slipper and later went on to headline at such venues as the Plaza Hotel, the Sahara and the New Frontier, with shows that drew such stars as Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross. He toured promoting his own music and, after spending a number of years in Palm Springs, came back to Vegas a few years ago, performing at such venues as the Onyx Theatre. Price said Kerr was a talented performer who set the stage for drag performers. “Back in the late 1960s and ’70s, drag shows were a big part of our identity and it was different then,” she said. “They were impersonators and he was a pioneer in a sense.” Price remembered Kerr for his uncanny sense of humor, especially on the road. “He would give me names and they became my nicknames. I had a car that was all denim inside and I dressed like a cowboy, so he called me John Wayne,” she said. “He would always kid around. If I would tell him that what I thought they were doing was wrong, Kenny would look at me and say I was being a WFWG, a Wonderful Flawless Woman Goddess. He was one of the best.” Price said Kerr and his fellow performers would often compete with each other, which made for a really exciting show. “Being the light and sound person, it was exciting to me because you got to enjoy the last 20 minutes of the show, where he would compete. I am so lucky to have been able to live through all of the changes and to have known Kenny,” she said. While Kerr was known for his on- and off-stage antics, Price said he had a pure heart. “I was shocked to hear about his death. They were the ones there when I hurt, when I was sad. They were the ones there for me and Kenny was one of those people.”