More than Pretty Gowns and Winnings Crowns

By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

Female impersonation started as a dare for Quentin L. Reynolds, and now eight years later he performs as Aria B. Cassadine at Lips Atlanta. Aria was also crowned Miss Gay Black America 2018, and we talked to the talented showgirl about the history of the pageant, and why it is still so important in today’s society.

Tell us a little bit about how you became a female impersonator and pageant queen
I am Quentin L Reynolds, and I have been performing and competing as Aria B. Cassadine for just over eight years. I’m a full-time showgirl at Lips Atlanta where I can be seen any night of the week singing and entertaining for packed rooms! I am an Atlanta native and a graduate of Tri-Cities High School and Visual and Performing Arts Program.

Female impersonation started as a dare for me. My best friend at the time came up with the idea that I should do a pageant before I went to college, and thus Aria was born! I’ve been fortunate to have been mentored by some of Atlanta’s finest in female impersonators like Envy Van Michaels, Alexandria Martin, Celeste Holmes, Tahjee Iman, but most the most influential was my drag mother and friend, the late Tanisha Cassadine. While I have won and placed in my share of pageants, I am most proud of my most recent accomplishment of earning the title as Miss Gay Black America 2018!

Tell us a little bit about the background for the Miss Black America pageant?
It is not who we are that make us a Symbol of Excellence; it is what we do and have done. Black America Pageantry System was born in 1979-80 with the intent to provide the black gay community with a vehicle to be recognized nationally within the competitive world of Female Impersonation. Our Founder Miss Erica Terrell saw a need for our Black community to learn excellence through fair competition and service. Our very first queen was Miss Teri Livingston who also became a co-owner from 1980-89.

In 1989-1990, through the vision of Mr. Tommy Hill, a new opportunity was created for Male Lead entertainers who did not want to pursue Female Impersonation, thus birthing the first gay black National Pageant for Male Leads – Mr. Black America.  The Legendary Delvis Stevens was the first to capture and wear the crown of Mr. Black America and currently resides in Atlanta, GA and he will join the annual celebration held in March.

Mr. and Miss Black America was united under one umbrella in 1999.  Al Milan Dupree and Stasha Sanchez were the first crowned couple. Keeping with that same spirit of inclusiveness and diversity, Mr. Ron Dupree created a new division for plus-sized female impersonators in 1995, and we call it Miss Black America Plus today.  Stacy Smith along with Brian Hayes and Gerald Stevens created Mr. and Miss Black America Newcomer in 1996 with the goal to teach and inspire a younger generation of gay youth about the FFI and male lead industry – the franchise is now owned and operated as a sole proprietor under Mr. Stacy Smith. Through the vision of Bennie Mosley and Christopher Higgins, we are excited to launch Black America Jr And Jr Miss. It is our goal through this franchise to mentor young entertainers concerning the total business of the artform on and off stage.

Black America Pageantry still thrives today as the 1st and oldest Black National Pageant for Black Gay Female Impersonators.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary this year, what progressive milestones has Miss Black America achieved in those years?
At MBA, we strongly encourage participants and winning courts to give back to our communities.  We truly believe that a reign without service is simply a “title.”

We were the first system to implement Community Service as a Platform. We were the first system to become involved in the political fabric; speaking before Congress on the effects of HIV within the Black LGBTQ community. The first system to actively initiate and partner with State and local HIV prevention and treatment social programs. One of our stand out performers would be Tina Devor; because of her accomplishments, she was honored by the city of Atlanta, and March 17th was declared Tina Devor Day for her service as Miss Black America.

What’s a challenge the pageantry system faces?
Being Miss Black America is a business, and just like any other business you’re faced with difficulties or issues. One constant issue would be the pressure to set ourselves apart from the long line of other systems! But we pride ourselves on being the first and laying the foundation for so many other black funded, organized, and run pageantry systems!

Social Media has also allowed us pageant to reach international status. We consistently hear from people all over the country and even the world about the talents of our Kings and Queens.

In the light of February being Black History Month, how do you see the need for a pageant like Miss Black America?
Pageantry is an extension of society. With that being said, with the adversities that African-American, as well as many other minorities, are facing, we must continue this work! It’s more than pretty gowns and winning crowns. It’s the idea that though one may be met with impossible odds success is a possibility! I often think of my work as Miss Black America as a consistent way to give back. So as long as there is a need to inspire, there is a need for MBA.

Tell us about upcoming projects, next pageant?
I would like to personally invite all of Peach’s readers to our annual celebration. March 15, 16, and 17 we will be celebrating our 40th Anniversary in Atlanta at the Ramada on Capital Ave! As for myself, I have some ideas as to where I’ll be going next, but I’d rather surprise you guys. Stay tuned to see what comes next!

Learn more at www.mbapageant.com