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GINNI CLEMMENS
Memories of Clemmens
by Marie J. Kuda
2003-02-26

This article shared 2783 times since Wed Feb 26, 2003
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I met Ginni in the early 1970s before she came out publicly and before I knew she was a performer. With our respective partners we were in a Fair Fight Workshop for lesbian couples run by therapist Leigh Kennedy and her then partner Susan Edwards, of the Lavender Woman newspaper collective. We learned of Ginni's association with the Old Town School of Folk Music and started following her around to performances at the Earl of Old Town, Second City, and cabaret venues of the day. Ginni was adamant that we very obvious dykes keep low key and not expect her to acknowledge us.

In 1972, I did an interview for The Paper with Linda Shear, Chicago's first out lesbian performer, who took to task Ginni and other performers around town who got the paying gigs by playing straight. Ginni was to do the opening act for Margie Adams' first local performance (at DePaul University). Posters were already circulated and the show only hours away when it was leaked that a group of lesbian-feminist separatists planned to picket the performance because men would be admitted. Ginni pulled out at the last minute, and Mary Ann Pelc (who performed as Sister Blues) filled in, taking the brunt of the vociferous picket.

When Ginni did come out, it was with a bang. Through her connection with Old Town she brought many performers into the gay and lesbian cabaret scene. She sang folk and blues frequently at Marge Summit's His 'n Hers. 'You Can't Make a Turtle Come Out' and 'Wild Women Don't Get the Blues' were signature songs until she wrote and performed her 'Fat, White Dyke Over Forty.' In performances she introduced her audiences to the history of gay and lesbian lyrics in the songs of Ma Rainey and other great artists of the '20s through to the 'Pancake Blues' of Kitty Barber and 'Piney Creek Woman' by Nancy Schimmel, daughter of the legendary Malvina Reynolds.

In 1980, after releasing records of her own, Ginni helped produce Gay and Straight Together, an album of original music under the label Open Door Records featuring herself and friends like Kristin Lems, Dev Singh, Wacker Drive, Lori Noelle, Trish Alexander and others. The album included a number by Merle Markland, Ginni's 80-year-old groupie, who sang 'Dirty Old Woman Lookin' For a Thrill' at many of Ginni's last performances in Chicago. I wrote the liner notes for that album, but lost touch with Ginni after she moved to Hawaii. We exchanged only a few letters some years back which included her invitation to visit. My memory of her will always be smiling, wearing that soft fedora hat and a 'Wild Women' button, at peace with herself singing: 'I am what I am, I look how I look, and baby, I eat what I cook'.


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