By Carrie Maxwell
Imported Taste dance group co-founder and LGBTQ icon Troy Winston died Dec. 26, 2019 due to congestive heart failure. He was 56.
Winston was born June 15, 1963, on the South Side of Chicago and moved to the Cabrini-Green projects when he was a toddler. He attended Richard E. Byrd Elementary School and graduated from Wells Community Academy High School. Winston took classes at Wright College, Truman College and Columbia College Chicago for a brief time before embarking on a career as a licensed barber specializing in men's haircuts.
In 1982, Winston and the late Martin Rodriguez created the dance group Imported Taste, while they were in high school, for young people of color and LGBTQ folks to compete for the title of Best Dance Crew at teen clubs Rainbo Roller Rink and Jenals as well as other venues. This was his claim to fame throughout the '80s.
Winston is survived by his siblings Anton Winston, Robert Winston, Stacey Winston and Autumn "Kissy" Haynes; stepfather Jose Haynes; dog Lil Bow Wow; and countless chosen family members and friends. He was preceded in death by his mother, Sarah Francis Winston Haynes.
"Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, James Brown, Celia Cruz, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Troy; the world has lost another legend," friend Curtis Shed stated. "You will always live on in all of our lives. I love you so much and will hold your hand again one day."
"Troy was an icon within our community," said longtime friend and Imported Taste dancer Melanie "Angel" Rolon. "He was an openly gay man with talent beyond words. Growing up in the late '70s and '80swhen times were changing with music, dance and society itselfTroy embraced it head on. As long as you could dance, Troy admitted you into his Imported Taste group. Troy took freestyle and House music and combined them into dance routines to share with the world. Other dance groups would compete against us but that did not stop everyone from being the best of friends/family and these bonds are still going strong to this day.
"Additionally, Troy was a huge advocate for helping people experiencing homelessness. He would dress up like Madea and go to Lower Wacker Drive with donated cooked food and feed as many homeless people that he could. Troywith the help of his former employer, Yohel's Barbershopdid haircuts for the homeless along with feeding and clothing them while they waited for their turn. Troy had a huge heart and was a person that befriended anyone who graced him with their presence. He will be deeply missed."
"In the early '90s, a friend of [Troy] rented him a bar that he named Troy's Bar on Milwaukee Avenue," said longtime friend Rogelio Velazquez. "This was a place where he could showcase his drag skills. Troy was the ultimate performer. His favorite drag performance was taking on the persona of his idol, disco queen Donna Summer, of which he bore an uncanny resemblance.
"Troy's drag performances were a natural outgrowth of his time with Imported Taste where he became a larger than life persona. His popularity only grew with his love for dance and his exuberance for living life to the fullest. If only Hollywood could have gotten a hold of my friend, he would have set that town on fire. He did appear as a guest on the Bonnie Hunt talk show in 2008 and later told me that was one of the highlights of his life. I will truly miss my friend."
"Troy was the epitome of a Chicagoan," said longtime friend Byrd Bardot. "He was known and loved from the North Side, West Side, East Side and the South Side. Troy was true 'club royalty'. He made the entire city his playground and gave love to everyone he came across; especially on the dance floor and will be greatly missed by myself and everyone else who knew him."
"Do not get me wrong: Troy was not a saint," said longtime friend and Jenals owner Al Cisneros. "He had flaws. However, he also had the gift of gab, and his personality was larger-than-life. He did not go to parties; he was the party. He was not just someone you knew, he was everybody's friend. The biggest sin he ever made was leaving a hole in the lives of so many by leaving too soon. I will miss him dearly."
"Troy was one of a select few that I can honestly say has been to just about all the major events I have done over the past four decades," said yet another longtime friend, Tony Bitoy. "I am going to miss his energy and spirit on my dance floors. I would say rest easy but we all know that will not happen. Because we know as soon as you walk through those pearly gates, Troy, you will be saying, 'Let's get this party started.' So shine on brothershine on."
A dance party memorial in celebration of Winston's life happened Jan. 11 at L.A.M.A., at 3519 W. Fullerton Ave. A funeral service took place at Leak & Sons Funeral Homes.