By Andy Armano | www.AndyArmano.com
A bright light in the Wilton Manors gay community, the singer and songwriter LeNora Jaye opens up with OutClique about finding artistic fulfilment in South Florida and the surprises the gay community had in store for her. She has been entertaining crowds at Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar since 2012. Prior to COVID-19, she was highlighting the Tuesday Night Motown/Disco/Soul Groove Session, the Sunday night 80s/90s MegaMix Show, and the Jazz Brunch. She was also performing with South Florida Legends as a live tribute performer singing as Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and Chaka Khan. She has released her own original music which can be heard on Spotify, YouTube, and Apple iTunes. Fans can look forward to a safe, socially-distanced return to Geogie’s Alibi on the horizon.
Andy Armano: You’re a native New Yorker, and you used to live in Atlanta. How did you land in South Florida?
LeNora Jaye: Yes, I am a proud New Yorker. Before moving here, though, I was living in Atlanta and I had already released an independent album and was working with various independent music producers, one of whom lived in Victoria Park. I began performing on cruises and when we were in port here, he took me around and I loved, loved, loved the energy. It reminded me of the vibrancy of the East and West village in New York.
AA: And your musical journey has really blossomed here and you’ve been able to be a full time artist here.
LJ: Yes. I had no idea that would happen. In a very short time here, I accomplished what I had struggled for years to do in Atlanta. There was a lot of serendipity and the universe was on my side.
AA: How did you land your first gig at Georgie’s Alibi?
LJ: It was my friend Armand’s coaxing. One night he took me to Alibi, and he said, “You need to sing here.” And I was just like, “Armand, you’re out of your mind. There’s no way on earth that they’re hiring me to sing here.” Armand insisted I submit a demo video to the owners. We shot the demo video right in his living room on an HTC phone, with me singing Patti LaBelle and Whitney Houston! The manager of Alibi is Jeff Pinsky and he is kind – he gave me the email addresses of the owners.
AA: What response did you get from Georgie’s Alibi when you sent the demo?
LJ: They contacted me immediately to say they wanted me to perform. There were some renovations going on at that time, so it would have to wait a while. One day, Jeff hit me up and said, “LeNora, when can you start a jazz brunch?” And I was like, “Oh my God. Oh my God!” I was so happy, and that’s how it started.
AA: You’ve really grown into your role at Geogie’s Alibi and increased your presence since then.
LJ: Yes, I inherited the Sunday night show from Cashetta, the wonderful performer who we lost. Later, I inherited Tuesday night from Deborah Hampton. It has been wonderful to grow, and at the same time it is very important to me to represent soul, jazz, and R&B in the community because incarnations of black music is where my heart lives. Antonio Edwards also performs at Alibi and he is like my brother. We refer to ourselves as the soul of Wilton Manors.
AA: Had you performed at a gay venue before?
LJ: No. I was so happy with how I was embraced. When I started at Alibi, I knew they already had incredible entertainment, but I also knew they didn’t have anyone who was doing jazz, soul, and R&B. And that’s my niche. I mean, I can sing anything and I was trained in opera. And, still, I wanted to represent what was not currently being represented at Alibi. And that, for lack of a better expression, was black music, right? And it just blossomed.
AA: Did it surprise you how you were embraced by the gay community?
LJ: Yes! It is so powerful. I am a cisgendered, straight black woman. I’m just a girl standing and simply singing. And, I get so much love, support, and kindness from the gay community. I have met some of the most wonderful, upright, honest people that I have ever known in my life. I never imagined I would find myself in this beautiful, accepting, magical world that is Wilton Manors, Florida.
AA: You are such an ally to the LGBTQAI+ community. You really give back.
LJ: I am given so much, so it comes naturally to me. Like, any time there is a fundraiser I am there. Before moving here, I was just living my life, dealing with what it means to be a black woman in America, which is enough, right? Yet, once I learned what the gay community faces, it added a dimension to it in my battle against ignorance. I had no problem with grabbing my sword and shield.
I tell you again, since being at Alibi, I have been embraced by some of the most awesome people who are lifelong friends, who are like family to me, and who’ve been nothing but loving and supportive to me. I have been given so much.
AA: You really inspire me. I really believe in the intersectionality of our communities ─ people of color, women, trans, gay. As a white cisgendered gay male, how can I be a better ally to people of color?
LJ: I respect that and appreciate that. The biggest thing is to listen. Allow your people of color, women, and trans communities to express themselves. Do not create a narrative for them. Listen to them and take their experience and viewpoint as seriously as they take yours because we are all one at the end of the day. We are literally in this together. We have to fight for one another.
AA: Since you were new to the gay culture, were there any surprises?
LJ: Many! [Laughs] When I got to South Florida, I was still an indie soul, very much. Very Bohemian. The people at Alibi were like, “Honey we love you, but we need some razzle-dazzle and we need some cleavage, and then need some heels.” I was all for it. I went for it. I ran to TJ Maxx for sparkly dresses and boots.
AA: How has COVID-19 affected you? It must be especially hard on you because your art is about human connection and sharing moments with others.
LJ: The isolation is difficult. I miss the human interaction. I miss the guys making me laugh and telling me new things. I miss my coworkers tremendously. It has definitely made me appreciate how important that is. Earlier this year, Antonio and I were saying to each other, “We need a break!” We were so busy. Antonio recently reminded me of that and said, “But I didn’t mean like this!”
AA: I know you have continued performing and have been successful with online performances. The state is starting to open up more. What are your plans for the near future?
LJ: We have been carefully trying to work things out with Alibi to possibly restart the shows. My whole concern has been for public safety. I wanted to make sure that we could do it safely and responsibly, and the venue is doing their very best to ensure that. I’ve been doing online shows, as you mentioned. And, I’m working on original music again.
AA: That’s exciting!
LJ: I’m excited. Between making cheesy snacks, and watching Netflix, I have been feeling a renewed purpose and perspective.
AA: You are an absolute joy. Thank you for taking the time to talk with OutClique.
LJ: So have you. You’ve been so nice and so kind, and trust me when I tell you, it’s not always that way. Just the fact that you’re talking with me today and OutClique is interested in what I’m doing is a huge deal for me.
AA: Oh, well, you’re the huge deal! Your art is a huge deal and what you give to the community is a huge deal. You bring us together. You entertain and lift spirits. Your positive energy just radiates from you! We need so much of what you’re giving!
LJ: I am proud and honored to be a part of it.