On Friday, Dec. 14, family, friends and fellow cast members of RuPaul's Drag Race came together to perform in a memorial tribute for Sahara Davenport (Antoine Ashley), who passed away suddenly in October. Harmonica Sunbeam was the MC for the show, and she did an admirable job of keeping things moving while still knowing when to pause and allow the swell of emotions to crest and ebb over the exuberant yet melancholy audience. Sahara's mother, Angela Ashley Reddish, spoke to the crowd and thanked them for their support. Several family members performed, and it was Sahara's longtime friend and drag sister Deja Davenport who first brought the crowd to their feet. Deja channeled Sahara, dancing her signature moves, culminating in a high-jumping split that brought the house down! As the crowd roared their approval, Deja broke down and left the stage in tears. She would not be the first or the last performer of the night to do so.
Instead of trying to hide their grief, the performers put their emotions on full display in a heartfelt tribute of love and remembrance. Vocalist and drag sensation Jackie Dupree struggled to keep control while belting out a rousing rendition of "I Will Always Love You" by Sahara's favorite singer, Whitney Houston. Fellow Drag Race cast member Milan helped organize the show and danced a beautifully choreographed piece as part of the tribute. The original Drag Race winner, BeBe Zahara Benet, performed a dazzling "diamond" medley, and Princess Janae seemed set to steal the show with her powerful performance of the gospel number "Try Jesus," which moved Sahara's mother and family members to tears. But then Sahara's lover and friend, Manila Luzon (Karl Westerberg), performed. Set to Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" Manila delivered the most vulnerable, emotionally honest, heart-rending performance of his career. Manila's conflicting emotions were clearly evident: the love, the loss, the grief and, finally, the acceptance. It was a tragic performance, yet at the same time it was transcendent and hauntingly beautiful.
In every way it was a tribute worthy of Sahara Davenport. Sahara was taken from us much too soon, but she left a legacy of love and talent that will continue to reverberate for years to come. Monday, Dec. 17, would have been Sahara's 28th birthday. Rest in peace.