Community fundraiser David James Barron could have let his father’s death last spring derail his 20th year of singing at benefit shows in local bars.
Instead, it inspired him.
“I feel his spirit,” says Barron. “He was always very supportive; now there is no physical realm holding him back. I went through a grieving period; now I am going through a rebirth. I’m growing again.”
On August 18, Barron notched his 200th benefit performance when he sang “The Lord’s Prayer” in a “religious-type show” at Tony’s Corner Pocket. No way could he stop and savor that milestone, however, because he’s committed to a year of duties as the 2019 Daddy of Montrose.
“The song that nails how I’m feeling right now is “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin,” he says. Silent cinema’s iconic “Little Tramp” composed the song as an instrumental for the finale of his 1936 comedy Modern Times. Lyricists Josh Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added words that include “Smile, what’s the use of crying? You’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you’ll just smile.”
Barron began performing at benefits after his first partner contracted AIDS and passed away in the 1990s.
“I vowed that I would do anything and everything possible to raise HIV awareness, and also raise money,” he says. “I met a producer who encouraged me to use my talent in these shows where people would tip me and I would donate the money. That is what got me started.”
The Houston native excelled in drama, choir, and band at Westbury High School, where he graduated in 1980. He went to broadcasting school and became a radio disc jockey in Pampa, Texas, gaining a loyal following when he created a countdown show “like Casey Kasem.” Also, he remembers getting a demo from a new act called The Judds, and playing their song “Mama He’s Crazy” on the small-town AM station. “I said, ‘Call in if you like it,’ and the board lit up,” he recalls.
Next, Barron worked at an easy-listening FM station in Lake Charles, Louisiana, before returning to Houston, where he’s been the office manager for a small family-owned air-conditioning company for the past nine years.
Barron is active as an actor on local stages—including five shows that were directed by the late Joe Watts, who was widely considered “the father of gay theater in Houston.”
Barron’s father was in the hospital for 14 days before he passed away on March 24. “Our family is very close. The entire family was by his side [that weekend]. Each of [his sons]—there are four of us—has a special place in Dad’s heart, and we all have our nicknames, too. Dad called me Jimbo, and I called him Pal. I sang Laura Story’s “Blessings” at Dad’s funeral.”
When Barron decided to enter the Daddy of Montrose contest on Father’s Day at Michael’s Outpost, one of the first people he told was his friend Heather Gabriel, whom he calls “the singing seamstress.”
“She is very talented at making costumes, and she made me a shirt of pleather (a leather-looking type of material) with a shiny collar and armbands made into the shirt” for the presentation category of the competition. “I wore black pants, which she made pizazz-y by putting jazzy stripes down both sides to give it a tuxedo-ish look.”
He returned to the stage for a speech in which he wore his father’s Baylor University T-shirt. “I cried backstage,” he says. “Tears of joy; I felt God’s presence.”
A month earlier, on Mother’s Day, Viola Degradable Dion-Debris was crowned the 2019 Mother of Montrose. Subsequent contests were scheduled to pick the Boy, Girl, and Pup to complete the Houston gayborhood’s “First Family” for 2019.
At 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 13, they will appear as the “altogether ooky” stars of a PWA Holiday Charities benefit called “An Early First (Addams) Family Halloween Show” at Michael’s Outpost.
As the Daddy of Montrose, there is no slowing down in sight for Barron’s fundraising performances. “I am in this for the full year. I’m stepping up my game, taking a risk and doing songs that are out of my league from what I thought I could do. I want every performance to be better than my last performance,” he says.
This article appears in the September 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.