Church with a 2 Drink Minimum
An Interview with Reverend Yolanda
by Aron Bederson
I have known Rev Yolanda since 2012 where we were both participating in an interfaith church service and community, Sanctuary NYC. It was at this time that I became aware of Rev Yolanda’s musical talents, as I witnessed them in the Church service and later at performances of her music at various venues in the city. I also got to know her through a weekly class she runs with her husband Rev Glenn Ganaway on the Course In Miracles. Warm, generous and fun, I have witnessed Yolanda’s continued growth as an artist and a person with a spiritual practice. Rev Yolanda hosts the successful series “Church with a Two Drink Mininim,” currently running at Don’t Tell Mama, and I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rev Yolanda about her musical and spiritual journey in the cabaret industry.
Can you talk a little bit about the musical influences growing up in your family and in Muscle Shoals Alabama?
The Muscle Shoals area is populated by an abundance of musicians and visual artists/painters and is called the Hit Recording Capital of The World. When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, a large portion of Top Ten Radio hits were recorded in Muscle Shoals by artists like The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Cher, Percy Sledge, and many more. Helen Keller and W. C. Handy were also born and raised in the area.
I began studying music, painting and drawing at a young age with local artists and was encouraged to develop my own unique vision, which combines LGBT culture, drag performance art, personal spirituality, and a love for “Old Time Gospel Music.” I’m influenced by pop, rock, blues, gospel, country, and folk, but don’t self-consciously follow any one tradition… combining them all into a hybrid of my own.
Did you always have a spiritual practice? Tell us about the journey that led you to becoming Rev Yolanda?
I have always had a conscious connection to The Divine. I remember noticing my connection as a young child, pre-kindegarten years. I was raised in church and always liked it. As a teenager I became VERY involved in ministry as a performer in a Christian Bluegrass/Folk band called The Amplified New Testament. My life goal at that time was to become a music minister. I have now reached that goal as an adult after going to One Spirit Interfaith Seminary and graduating as Rev. Yolanda in 2011. Since then I have taken on the role of Music Minister by creating Church With A 2 Drink Minimum, and co-creating our weekly Miracles class with my husband Rev. Glen Ganaway, as well as touring the country to perform at a variety of churches and denominations. .
You have had many incarnations as a performance artist and spiritual leader. How does the musical about your life that you have been developing reflect all of this?
The musical chronicles my life events and adventures from Alabama to Florida to NYC to Vermont and back to NYC within the context of a fictional “Church with A 2 Drink Minimum” called The Church of the Alien Love Child. When you walk into the play, you are walking into a church service at The Church of the Alien Love Child and you are there on a very special day- the day where the annual Passion Play “The Passion of Rev. Yolanda” is being performed. My family’s nickname for me is Tony, therefore we meet “little Tony”, NYC Tony, Radical Fairie Yolanda, Roger and of course me as Rev. Yolanda. A different actor plays each incarnation as we encounter parents, teachers, Aliens and Angels…. all in the service of self-discovery. Its filled with my original music that spans rock, pop, Broadway, gospel and a touch of jazz fusion.
How did your time in Vermont shape you? Where do you see yourself in the future?
Moving to VT in 1993 was like finding home. I had never felt at home anywhere I have ever lived (including NYC). Although I do love NYC with a HUGE love, it is not where I want to live out my life. As I enter my 60’s, I plan to move back to VT for my forever home.
My first experience with living in VT gave me my voice as Yolanda. I had just begun calling myself Yolanda in 1993, and almost immediately I found the Radical Faeries and moved from Greenpoint Brooklyn to a former ski lodge in Northfield VT to live in a commune with this amazing group of gender fluid artists. People began calling me Yolanda on a regular basis. I created a rock band called Yolanda and The Plastic Family, while also creating a TV show on Public Access TV with a drag queen named Cherie Tartt. The Cherie and Yolanda Show became a phenomenon in VT as people had never seen gender variant people on TV before in VT. We caused quite a stir and my band became very popular. In late 1999 and early 2000, I began to get invites to play in NYC at CBGB’s at an event called HOMOCORPS. I kept playing at CBGBs and finally decided to move back to NYC in 2001. My time in VT gave me confidence enough to tackle the NYC scene!
How did Church With a Two Drink Minimum evolve?
After I graduated from One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, I created a show called Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour (2014) and one right after called Be The Love (2015). Both shows won MAC Awards. In those shows I had a joke that said “Look at us having Church with a 2 drink minimum”. People laughed and afterward told me that if church were really like my show- they’d come. SO- my husband and I decided to give it a try and Church with A 2 Drink Minimum was born 4 years ago on the Lower East Side at Sidewalk Cafe – which is now closed. We are currently at Don’t Tell Mama and will start back up on March 22, 2020.
You have received two MAC awards! What is your take on the Manhattan cabaret scene and your relationship to it?
I LOVE MAC and the NYC Cabaret scene! I am so grateful to the community for my 2 MAC Awards!!! They are HUGE accolades for me and I am honored to have received them.
The Cabaret community is filled with amazingly talented artists that thrill me every-time I go to a show. I see an immense amount of creativity when I see a MAC show. I’m always filled with joy at the way my talented friends create events that expand what Cabaret can be. I love it when I go to a show with music that I think I already know, and the artist reveals something totally new to me through their interpretation. I proudly claim my membership in the MAC Community and thank everyone for their continued love and support.
Church With A Two Drink Minimum will be at Don’t Tell Mamma’s: Sun March 22 and April 12 @ 3 PM and at The Unity Center of NY 213 West 58th St Sun May 10 @ 3pm
The single and video Wahe Guru was released today Feb 14. They are from the CD Yolandananda to be released on May 10 at Church With A 2 Drink Minimum – info with Wahe Guru video and single here: www.yolanda.net/YolandaNanda
You can listen to and purchase Rev Yolanda’s music here: http://www.yolanda.net/audio
Yolanda is also a fine artist, and paints abstract expressionist paintings. Her paintings on canvas and clothing are in private collections all over the world. You can view and purchase paintings here: https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/roger-mapes
Photo Credit:Alina Oswald