PERPETUAL CHANGE -The TG Forum Interview with Rev. Yolanda
by Pam DeGroff
TGForum: You are ordained through One Spirit Seminary, correct?
Rev. Yolanda: Yes.
TGF: Is this organization entirely non-denomination, and inter-faith in focus?
Rev. Y: Yes. The founding story I’m not sure of, but look at their website.
TGF: What primarily lead you to start making your spiritual journey and to incorporate your music into it?
Rev. Y: I really have always been on a spiritual journey, and becoming Yolanda to begin with was part of that journey. I was interested in spiritual matters as a young boy in Alabama and became a Christian (in the traditional sense) when I was 16. As I discovered that traditional Christianity did not approve of me as a GLBT person, I dropped out of the church but began the inner journey that created Yolanda. As you may remember, Yolanda was nurtured and encouraged through my involvement with The Radical Faeries. The Faeries themselves are a spiritual movement in the GLBT movement based on Pagan and Earth Based Goddess practices. We do Pagan and Wiccan ritual and meet together in outdoor settings, wearing drag and incorporating aspects of The Goddess.
About seven years ago, when I met my now husband (who is also a Radical Faerie), we began to explore a book called A Course In Miracles. The study of that book began to make profound changes in our lives that had a healing effect on our relationship with Christianity. (My husband is a Baptist preacher’s kid.) As we began to realize that Christ and Buddha and Goddess culture and all major spiritual pathways were leading in the same direction just with different terminology, we began to explore the idea of going to seminary. I found One Spirit and went through the program first. I graduated last June 2011. Glen is in the final year of the program and graduates this June. Our intention is to create a spiritual ministry together using our combined talents — drag and music being a major piece of that for me.
TGF: Growing up, was Gospel music part of your family background? Was your family church oriented?
Rev. Y: Yes. My Dad was a TV and radio announcer and I was also a Gospel music DJ as a young man in college. We loved gospel music when I was growing up. Our favorite brand of Gospel music was the country style with bluegrass mixed in.
Everyone was church oriented when I was growing up. It was the centerpiece of the community. That didn’t necessarily mean that people really believed or even understood their personal connection to the Divine. It just meant that everyone I knew as a child went to church on Sunday.
TGF: The spiritual path that you’ve on now, would you say it’s closely associated with Christianity, or does our own spirituality draw from different disciplines/traditions?
Rev. Y: It does draw from many different directions, but most closely related to Christianity in that I consider Jesus as my favorite teacher. Notice, I did not say anything about Savior, or sins, or hell, or death, or punishment. All of that is stuff Jesus was not about. The sins and hell and needing to be saved for it all was created by the church as a form of governance (Google: Nicene Council) What really reconciled me with the teaching of Jesus is my interest in A Course In Miracles.
TGF: Musically, how much of your own spiritually do you incorporate into your presentation with Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour?
Rev. Y: My spiritual point of view is all over The Gospel Hour. That’s one reason I am doing it. What I am doing is taking some old familiar Gospel songs that have a bright, positive message, and just singing them without too many changes. Songs like Do Lord, This Little Light, I’ve Got The Joy, I’ll Fly Away, Turn Your Radio On. Other old songs, I change the words to reflect my viewpoint more specifically. For instance, How Great Thou Art, I have changed the 2nd verse to:
“Sometimes I walk in 6 inch heels or platforms
And then sometimes in manly rugged boots
I know that God is ever present in me
And now I say, my God, how great thou art.”
I’ve also written a whole new set of songs that are in the musical genre of country gospel, but have lyrics based on A Course In Miracles, and I mix the songs together in the show.
TGF: In contemporary Christian music, especially rock and other current musical trends, there’s always a struggle with the balance of ministry versus entertainment. Do you feel the same type of directional pull? Do you consider yourself an entertainer, a minister, or both?
Rev. Y: I believe that there is no separation between myself as an entertainer and myself as a minister. My entertainment activities are my ministry. For example, I recently was asked to perform at a gay bar in The Village that has many drag shows. The host of the evening had me as a guest performer. The host was aware of my recent ordination as a Reverend, and was fascinated by that. He had me sing and interviewed me live in the bar. I chose music from an upcoming Gospel Show. It was terrific to see everyone in the bar singing along with Do Lord and I’ll Fly Away as well as with my original songs Freedom and We Are Angels. There was a seamless transition from entertainment to ministry and back and forth. I believe it’s all in my intention as a performer/minister. I know that Spirit flows through me wherever I am and however I am dressed and my intention is to be a channel of blessing whenever I open my mouth — performing or not.
TGF: Musically, it seems like Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour can be easily adapted to the context of whatever organization/venue your are performing for. Was this a conscious decision, or did it evolve over time?
Rev. Y: Yes, a conscious decision. I really want to do the Gospel Show in many different types of churches, performing venues, etc., and involve those who host me. I welcome others into the experience of the Gospel Hour. I truly value audience participation as well as incorporating church choirs and soloists into the show.
TGF: Do you have a core group of musician and singers you primarily work with?
Rev. Y: The current group of musicians and singers that are playing with me evolved naturally from my church and seminary connections. I see these particular musicians almost every week as we create Celebration experiences together in church settings. This group includes GLBT and straight musicians.
When I decided I wanted to do this type of show, the piano player I had been working with at church (gay man) wanted to be the musical director for the show. That was a perfect connection because he is a Southern boy who totally understands country southern gospel music.
TGF: Any plans to record the Old Time Gospel Hour, or to tour?
Rev. Y: YES, YES, YES! RECORD AND TOUR! Call me up for your town/church/performance space, etc., I’ll come! I’ll be recording the music from the show, starting the fall of 2012.
TGF: How much new music are you creating for this project? I know that some of your existing songs, such as We Are Angels, are applicable? What kind of a musical balance do you hope to keep between your own material and tradition Gospel music?
Rev. Y: I do five old time Gospel medleys in the show. I do re-word some of the lyrics of the old tunes to be more inclusive and embracing of all people as well as pointing out some humorous points in my spiritual journey. The rest of the show will be new music that I have written in the old time gospel genre. As usual with a Yolanda show, there is plenty of laughter mixed in with sincerity.
TGF: Many of us in the larger GLBT community come from traditional church and Christian backgrounds. Most of us, due to circumstances we’re all familiar with, seemed to put our spiritual lives back in the closet we just came from when we came out. Do you feel that Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour could help the “spiritually closeted” in our communities come to terms and find a balance between the secular and the sacred?
Rev. Y: Yes I do, and that’s the other reason I’m doing the show and singing this type of music. I have had a major healing in my relationship with my traditional Christian upbringing. Believe me, I struggled with it throughout the years. BUT I found that ALL of us are spiritual beings, having a human experience. Our spiritual selves have NOTHING to do with what religion we subscribe to, and our past experiences do not have to dictate our present experiences. We can choose to move on, forgive others and ourselves, and heal from past hurts. When we make this choice, a whole world opens up before us that is so very good.
TGF: So then, any real advice in general to people within our communities who are struggling with their spirituality?
Rev. Y: Find a spiritual practice that appeals to you and do it every day. That can be yoga, reading spiritual books (try anything by Louise Hay), keeping a journal, walking meditation, sitting meditation, being outdoors and breathing deeply. Basically, anything that connects you to a sense of the oneness of life. I call that The Divine. Quiet your mind for at least 10 minutes a day, in the morning preferably.
You do not have to go to church, but you certainly can if you want to. Some great churches for the GLBT community are Unity Churches, Unitarian Universalist, Centers For Spiritual Living, MCC Churches, or any Church or Synagogue or Pagan or Wiccan group that is GLBT affirming. There are plenty of them.
TGF: What kind of reaction and/or response have you been getting from people both in and out of the GLBT community to the new Gospel Hour project?
Rev. Y: Nothing but open arms and receptivity! Everybody so far seems to just love it. I’m thrilled about that.
TGF: Will you still continue with your regular performances as Yolanda, as well as with other artists such as Robert Urban?
Rev. Y: Yolanda is really not that different than before, except as Rev. Yolanda I tend to embrace a more matronly look, reflecting the great ladies of Southern Country Gospel Music that I love. I am also conscious in my intention to be a blessing to people in my performances.
I LOVE Robert Urban. He is an amazingly talented man and always so helpful to me and the GLBT community. I cannot thank him enough for all the wonderful collaborations we have worked on. We have had some terrific shows and lots of good times. I know there are more good times for us in the future. I hope he will be interested in re cording with me again when I get ready to put these Gospel Songs together. Robert did a wonderful recording of me and my friend Rev. Chanda Rule singing the gospel classic Sweet Sweet Spirit. I will include this track on my gospel CD.
TGF: In closing, anything you’d like to say I might not have asked?
Rev. Y: ALL IS GOOD — no matter what! Remember Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” If anyone wants to contact me for spiritual counseling, please do so, email me.
For more information on Rev. Yolanda, check out the official Yolanda website, also on Facebook, Twitter, myspace, LlinkedIn, and Reverbnation. There’s a great Yolanda video of her song Control Queen on YouTube, and Yolanda is also a member of the GLBT Hall Of Fame.