In the LGBTQ community, we’re all about “labels”—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two spirit, Chanel, Gucci, Donna Karan, Tom Ford. The list is endless.
Seriously, for cabaret artist Phoebe Legere, long considered a gay icon, a so-called label is much more difficult to pin down.
Arts Garage, the funky performing space in Delray Beach where she’s appearing on Saturday, is billing her as “a transmedia video force.” With a multi-octave musical range, she nails the diverse musical sounds of Edith Piaf, Aretha Franklin and, yes, Maria Callas. Billboard called her “the female Frank Zappa.” Renaissance woman, definitely.
In our phone interview, she speaks in whispered, sultry tones that match the publicity images that portray her as a chanteuse, an exotic ingénue in a dimly-lit cabaret. But, she’s not just a singer, Legere is also an accomplished visual artist who will be displaying works in the same space. It’s all part of the complex persona she’s created.
“I’m nothing special, it’s just that my parents happened to be creative geniuses and I got all their talent together,” Legere said.
Legere grew up in a creative environment. Her mother was a groundbreaking commercial art director in the Madison Avenue tradition, before the era of computers. (Don’t get her started on the mechanization of creative pursuits!)
“She had to draw out her ideas and taught me how to do this with a pencil, pen and ink,” recalled Legere. “She had an incredibly tailored New England style of timeless classic fashion.”
While Legere’s mother went for the masculine, tailored suit, the singer also found inspiration from her grandmother, “who went for the hyper-feminine look, ruffles and lace.”
Today, Legere has three-foot-long platinum locks and embraces her naturally curvy contours—God is the ultimate artist, she says—but can still play music like a tomboy. She mastered seven instruments and formed her own rock band at 15.
After studying at Juilliard and the New England Conservatory, she spent a lot of time in South Florida playing piano at exclusive country clubs.
“I’d play golf during the day, like a golf bum, hanging out with my buddies and then at night, I’d get in my car and travel from club to club singing the music of the ‘Great American Songbook’,” she said.
Today, she still travels the country from gig to gig and show to show in her “visionary van,” accompanied by a band of French-speaking, Cajun musicians from Louisiana.
“The queer esthetic is a huge part of what I do,” she explained, speaking of her various artistic pursuits. In Delray Beach, she plans to sing some of her original songs and may even dance around the stage with her paintings. “Some who love me are visual people and others are sound people and they can all be entertained by a Phoebe Legere show. My music combines a social awareness and desire to make the world a better place with party music and gay theatrics.”
Expect a political message or two, also. And, here come more labels: Did I mention Legere is also part Native American, a committed environmentalist and has launched efforts to promote arts education?
“Artists have a moral duty to comment on the politics and science of the time. I’ve had some great experiences but the best is giving free art experiences to children. Music can actually bring the organs and body into balance and harmony. Reefs are dying, at the same time, music is dying because they’re taking it out of the schools.”
Apparently, no heights are beyond her imagination because Legere holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for performing “La Vie en Rose” at the highest recorded elevation, 18,000 feet above sea level. She hauled her accordion up the mountain on the back of a mule.
Phoebe Legere appears at Arts Garage, 180 NE 1st St. in Delray Beach, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14. Tickets start at $30 at ArtsGarage.org.