Dina Jacobs reflects on a her 53-year career.
By Donalevan Maines
At 70, Dina Jacobs is a year younger than Broadway’s reigning superstar, Bette Midler.
Both hail from Honolulu, Hawaii, and both gals are still glowin’, they’re still crowin’, and they’re still goin’ strong, with Jacobs holding court as Houston’s grande dame of drag.
Jacobs credits her longevity, as a professional drag queen since age 17, with looking lovely for the times.
“I stay current with my fashion, hair and makeup,” she says.
She’s also a perfectionist when it comes to pantomiming a song.
“Audiences want to see that your lip-syncing is pristine and perfect,” she explains. “If you study your craft and work hard at it, you become your own greatness.”
When Jacobs began her career—sneaking in, underage, to The Clouds, a gay bar in Honolulu—all of the entertainers performed live.
“You either sang or you danced. I sang,” she says. “Plus, I’ve always liked talking, so they made me the emcee.”
The star-struck high school student chose “Dina” for her stage persona’s first name, after the late actress (and heiress) Dina Merrill, and took the last name of a popular local radio-station deejay, Ron Jacobs.
Dina Jacobs first saw the art of pantomime when fit was performed by a traveling comedy troupe who entertained at a club where she was performing in Hawaii. She liked it because the act was funny.
In the late 1960s, about the time when Midler fled to New York City and began singing to gay men wearing only towels at the Continental Baths, Jacobs moved to California.
“In Los Angeles, the Hawaiian queens forged a lot of changes and broke down a few doors,” she says. “This was before Stonewall.”
In the 1970s, Jacobs traveled internationally and crisscrossed the United States, performing in some places with laws saying every show had to have at least “one real girl,” she says. “So we had a stripper.”
Jacobs, born in 1947, waited until she was 30 to begin her medical transition.
“I wanted to make sure I still had a full head of hair when I got breasts,” she explains. “In the public eye, I am a woman. People call me ‘ma’am’ and ‘she.’ To my family, I am ‘she’ and ‘sister’ and ‘auntie.’ I like to be considered transgender. I have the compassion of a woman and the mentality of a man.”
Jacobs became a star at the famed Chicago drag club, The Baton Show Lounge, then moved to Atlanta in 1975, the day after being crowned Miss Gay Chicago.
In 1981, she made her Houston debut as a contestant in the Miss Gay USA pageant at Numbers. Singing “My Way” with piano accompaniment, Jacobs placed as second runner-up. But Houston wouldn’t let Jacobs go, so she stayed to perform at The Copa nightclub, alongside Hot Chocolate and Tasha Kohl, and the late Donna Day and Naomi Sims.
Jacobs returned in 1985 as the acting Miss Gay USA to crown Michael Andrews as the next Miss Gay USA, a pageant that would become today’s Miss Gay USofA.
Jacobs, who’s won about 70 titles in pageantry, took a sabbatical from showbiz to return to Hawaii and rear the children of her siblings.
“That is my greatest achievement,” says Jacobs. “My greatest achievement has nothing to do with drag. I was their nanny, and I taught them to be honorable. Without honesty, you are just an empty shell.”
About 10 years ago, Jacobs entertained a phone call from former Houston entertainment impresario Tye Blue, who lured her back to the Bayou City to headline the “Legendary Ladies” show at F Bar.
She currently performs at Hamburger Mary’s, and hosts karaoke at Neon Boots. In July, she’ll head to Provincetown, Massachusetts, for her annual summer stint there.
Earlier this year, Jacobs was feted at a 70th birthday show in which she was joined by longtime friends Tasha Kohl, Tiffany Arrieagus, and emcee Bubba McNeely. Jacobs performed two Shirley Bassey favorites, “This is My Life” and “I Am What I Am.”