By Steven Louis Brawley
August 18, 2018: The St. Louis LGBT Project has bestowed the title of “Oldest Performing Drag Queen in the World” to John Chaney, who has performed as Bonnie Blake in St. Louis since the late 1950s. Chaney turned 90 on August 18.
Chaney bests by two years the current Guinness Book of World Records’ “Oldest Performing Drag Queen” Walter Cole (Darcelle XV) of Portland Oregon, who was born in 1930 and did not begin performing until the age of 37. The Project is reviewing Guinness’ application process to formally nominate Chaney in this category.
Chaney remembers doing a show around 1959 at the Snake Pit bar in downtown St. Louis. He was a popular member of the local drag show circuit on the east side of the river in the 1960s and 1970s.
Chaney was part of the first set of drag performers at the French Market gay bar in Soulard in 1972.
Since the late 1950s, Chaney has helped pave the way to mainstream drag performances in area gay bars during eras where anti-masquerading laws were on the books in St. Louis.
It did not become legal to do drag in St. Louis until 1985, after the laws were challenged.
He has operated several former gay bars including the Gallery Lounge and Blake’s. Since the late 1960s, he has also been the proprietor of John’s Furniture and Antiques on South Broadway.
Chaney still performs with local drag queen and drag king legends and is known for his love of country music, most notably Loretta Lynn.
Photo courtesy John Chaney.