“Robinn Dupree is Retiring: Her Last Show”
When: 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13
Where: Zonies Closet, 1446 E. Washington St., Indianapolis
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By Jorge Dorantes
Robinn Dupree is accustomed to the spotlight.
For the last 40 years, Dupree – a local drag icon – has mesmerized audiences across the Midwest with performances of famed soul singers the likes of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle and Diana Ross. Off stage, Dupree is beloved for her lighthearted personality, her role as a matriarch to a community of local drag queens, and for the mentorship she has provided over the years to various drag queens, including the likes of Alana Steele, Samantha Sinclair and Vicki St. James.
Now that spotlight is shutting off: On Saturday, Feb. 13 – Dupree’s 60th birthday – the drag queen affectionately known as “Queen Mother,” is set to retire.
“It’s very bittersweet,” said Samantha Sinclair, drag daughter of Dupree. “As a community, we’ve built this relationship with her throughout all of these years of performing. Robinn adores being in the spotlight, and we’re going to miss her being there – she’s a bright shining star.”
For those familiar with Dupree, retirement comes as no surprise. Her recent ailing health has hindered her ability to continue performing. Dupree herself is frank about the issue, noting during our interview she has had as many as five strokes within the last few years.
Saturday’s performance will culminate a 40-year career as a performer for Dupree.
“I started in Chicago, at the Baton Show Lounge in 1975,” she said. “I loved their shows; my idol was Audrey Bryant. I just loved the way she looked, the way she presented herself on stage. That made me want to do it, so I did.”
Following a series of Sunday guest spots at the Baton Show Lounge, Dupree became a regular at another Chicago bar, La Cause, working with the likes of other famed drag queens as Candy Stradden. In 1985, Dupree made the move to Louisville and spent the next five years performing at The Connection. From 1990 to 1995, Dupree lived in Indianapolis; moving again in 1995 to Nashville where she achieved a high point in her career.
“I loved Nashville,” Dupree said. “When I was there, I was a big star. I was very well known for my performances.”
Highlights of her Nashville career include a performance of “He’s So Shy” by the Pointer Sisters, at which immediately following her performance, June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters rushed the stage and performed the song for the audience.
After a five-year stint in Nashville, Dupree permanently moved to Indianapolis in 2000. She has been performing locally and regionally since, simultaneously mentoring younger aspiring drag queens throughout the years, offering everything from industry advice as a professional to life advice as a friend.
Following her retirement performance, Dupree hopes to focus on resting and maintaining her health, and continuing to offer mentorship to aspiring queens as she can.
“Robinn is the type of person that loves you and loves you deeply,” Sinclair said. “She can make you feel like you have ten family members when she’s only just one.”
Freelance journalist Jorge Dorantes is a senior at IUPUI studying journalism and visual media.