Tajma Hall, a Chicago-based entertainer who shined worldwide, died Saturday morning, April 19, of cardiac arrest at Evanston Hospital. She was 44.
The Continental Pageantry System of Chicago, which showcases female performers and entertainment, confirmed the passing on its Facebook page: "With great sadness and a heavy heart we wish to inform every one of the passing of Tajma Hall. Forever now in the arms of Our Lord, this day - April 19, 2014."
Tajma Hall won numerous pageants around the world, including Miss Continental Plus in 2007 and Miss Gay USofA At Large in 2008, and the Miss All-American about 15 years ago. Hall also hosted the popular Hy-Drag Revue at Hydrate Nightclub in Lakeview. Plus, she has been the official MC for the annual Continental Pageant Plus & Elite for the past eight years.
"My heart is very, very heavy right now, extremely heavy," Jim Flint, owner of The Baton in Chicago and founder of the Continental Pageantry System, told the Windy City Times in an interview April 19. "I didn't know what I was going to do without her [as the MC for the 2014 event]; I just planned to use someone as a substitute for her this weekend and then she'd be back in September to do her thing again.
"We have to go on because she would want us to go on, and she'll be with us. She never will leave us because she always will be with us in memory."
The 2014 Continental Pageant Plus & Elite, scheduled to start April 20 at the Park West and culminating April 22 at The Baton, also will have a heavy heart as the 2013 winner, Whitney Paige, of Dallas, died last June of pancreatic cancer.
"It's been a hard thing for me since 9:30 this morning [when I heard the news]," Flint said. "If you look at the outpouring of [Tajma Hall's] friends on Facebook from all over the country, it's amazing. She's touched people in almost every major city in the country. She was known by everybody and was one of those people who you loved to be around."
Hydrate general manager Sean Kotwa said on Facebook that he is "at a complete loss for words at the moment. Not only did I lose a friend, a drag mother, but the world has lost an incomparable drag performer this morning way too soon! Lady Tajma Hall you will forever be in our memories and in our hearts."
Kotwa said Saturday afternoon in a phone interview that the news "is still very shocking, very difficult to believe."
"She was a very dear, sweet friend of mine personally," he said.
Tajma Hall hosted her show at Hydrate for 11 years, Kotwa said.
"I met Taj when I was 18, serving at Nookie's Tree, back in the day. She came in on Sundays and always had the same order," Kotwa said. "Then, when I first started [working] at Hydrate, I couldn't think of a drag name [to use]. She said, 'I'm going to give you the drag name that I first used: Shanita Jobs.'"
Kotwa still performs as Shanita Jobs.
"I don't think ever in her mind, or mine, we would be together for so many years," Kotwa said.
Tajma Hall, born K.B. Watkins, is originally from Fayetteville, N.C., and has lived in Chicago for about 20 years. As Watkins, she sang in her local choir, Flint said.
Jon Mindrum of Chicago wrote on Facebook, "She was actually the first drag queen I ever met ... she used to be a guest speaker in Northwestern's Human Sexuality class for one class every year. She helped educate a lot of people."
David Hackett of Chicago said on Facebook, "Not the news I wanted today! Joining Vernita [Gray] and Frankie [Knuckles] and making a heavenly trifecta. RIP my lady."
Christopher T. Guy was traveling to Chicago from Orlando for the 2014 Continental Pageant Plus & Elite. He said about Tajma Hall on Facebook, "Tomorrow is NEVER promised. I was coming to see you as we had planned when I landed in the morning. I love you so much and you brought such pure joy to my life and I will miss YOU so very much. I just don't know what else to say. My thoughts go out to all those competing this weekend and The Continental Pageantry System as well as the Gay USofA systems, but most of all her family and her chosen family which I was lucky to be a small part of. We lost one of the most beautiful souls that ever walked this earth. RIP."
Hall had back surgery within the past few weeks and was doing physical therapy to recover.
"She had been in the hospital after surgery for a few weeks and things had been dicey, but we were all hoping for an upswing," Flint said.
Jack Neilsen was roommates with Tajma Hall in Chicago and he regularly has been updating the world about her health through Facebook. On April 17, his last update, Neilsen said that, on April 14, "she was at ease with everything that has happened and more determined than ever to get through this minor bump in the road … she was laughing and carrying on." Neilsen said that on Tuesday night, April 15, he visited her and they "had the party room going."
Neilsen added that on April 15 "her spirits were the Taj we all know and love, she was eating her red jello, orange Popsicles, and cherry Italian ice."
Neilsen added, "I am so proud of her and the progress she is making ... keep your thoughts and positive vibes going for her [as] it's a long road ahead, but she has the power and determination to fight through this, not only for herself but for all those friends that know and love her."
Christopher Negron of Plainfield said April 19 on Facebook, "We lost an amazing person today!"
Monte R. St. James, of Atlanta, expressed his thoughts about Tajma Hall on Facebook, too, writing, "YOU WERE ONE IN A MILLION. IT'S SO AMAZING HOW MY GOD WORKS. ON THE WEEKEND OF CONTINENTAL PLUS, HE CALLS YOU HOME … TEARS ARE SHED, BUT TEARS OF JOY AND HAPPINESS BECAUSE YOUR FIGHTING IS NOW OVER. MANY PRAYERS TO THE CONTINENTAL FAMILY, Jim Flint AND ALL THOSE COMPETING THIS WEEKEND. NO one knows the day nor the hour."
"I met Tajma back in 2007 and we immediately hit it off over our love of gospel music," said Jimmy Kays of Chicago. "She was one of the sweetest people I've ever known.
"Last year, I approached Tajma about performing at the third-annual Over The Rainbow benefit, and she jumped on board. I had no idea she was even having back issues until after she performed that night. She was a dedicated and amazing entertainer, and I'm so thankful that our paths crossed. This is a gret loss for our community; she will be missed so much."
Kays is the founder of the Over The Rainbow annual fundraiser for cancer and a manager at Sidetrack.
Additional photo spread at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .
Funeral Services for The Lady Tajma Hall (KB Watkins) will be on Saturday May 3, 2014 at:
Mt Zion United Church of Christ
986 Ledbetter Rd, Rockingham, NC 28379
Service time: 1pm.
Chicago in solidarity with Raleigh NC will be hosting Celebration of Life services on Saturday, May 31, from 2-5 p.m., at the Center on Halsted (3656 N. Halsted Street) in Lakeview.