Entertainer Harry Hodges, a.k.a. Ginger Grant, passed away the week of Sept. 10 in Chicago. Hodges, performing under Grant's persona, was a longtime emcee at The Baton and a close friend of its owner, Jim Flint.
Flint called the death "a complete shock. I was devastated for several days."
Hodges had some health problems, but his death was unexpected and sudden, Flint said, adding that he and Hodges planned on going to Florida together in a few weeks. Hodges was buried in a private ceremony Sept. 14. A remembrance of his life is planned at the Baton on Oct. 1 from 7-9:30 p.m.
Flint said that Ginger Grant was "just everything to The Baton," and that he admired how she was so full of energy.
"She might have had a bad day, but then she'd get up on stage, and you'd never know it," he recalled.
As news of her passing spread, Ginger Grant's friends, loved ones, fans and admirers took to social media to express how much she meant to them.
Writer Owen Keehnen, who co-wrote The Boy from Peoria, a biography of Flint, with Tracy Baim, said of Grant on Facebook: "On stage she was a rare combination of raunchy and sweet with a charisma that was luminous. She exuded a warmth that made her an ideal emcee. Off stage she was gracious and smart. A one-of-a-kind performer and a incomparable person."
Activist Lori Cannon added, "I first met Ging in Milwaukee, decades ago … where she was driving a truck, and me, drivng a coach bus of North Shore couples on a restaurant crawl. … Ging was backing out of an alley and not paying attentionafter the minor fender bender, she and I became pals ... she was a great gal and lot's o' fun … she'll be missed."
Entertainer Honey West recalled taking her mother to see the show at The Baton when Ginger Grant was emcee: "I remember the girls came up and said hi to her and Ginger gave her a big hug. I am sending that hug to you now, my darling."
Hodges told Keehnen in an interview for The Boy from Peoria about how he launched his career at The Baton in the mid-'70s.
"I started coming here [The Baton] in either 1974 or 1975 on New Year's Eve," Hodges recalled. "I was amazed. It was a whole new world. Nobody cared how you were or your size or color. I was so entertained … . It just looked like so much fun. I liked the entertainment and the theater of it."
He added that he and Flint "think alike. I think part of the reason we're close is we're both businesspeople, and I don't let business and friendship cross the line. I'm here when you need me. You need me to mop a floor, I'll mop a floor. … That's my work ethic. With these shows and contests, a lot of times we're [Flint and Grant] the last ones out the door at night and the first ones here the next morning, and we may be fat and old but we still do it. We're not afraid to work and we're both doers. What I don't know, I will learn."
Hodges wanted a night at The Baton to be like a "fairyland," he said, adding that when he emceed, he wanted to get the point across that, "We don't care about the color of your skin or your race or gender or anything. If you have a problem with that, when you come in, you leave it all outsidejust come inside and have a good time. It's magical in here."