Halloween Ball and Contest

in Events

The Halloween Ball and Contest was a “female impersonator’s ball” held at the Circle Ballroom on October 31, 1961. The Halloween event, created by Jaye Joyce and staged “in the style of New York’s drag balls,” celebrated Cleveland’s drag performers, and it featured a female impersonator competition, live orchestral entertainment, and a floor show. The event drew several hundred participants and attendees.

The 1961 Halloween Ball and Contest was not the first one. The first unofficial Halloween Ball had been hosted in 1960 at Babe’s Baby Grand Lounge at 5522 Euclid Avenue. This event was simply called the “Impersonators Ball” and it was hosted by “Miss” Jaye Joyce, a local drag performer who later performed at the Pearl Box Revue. (The parentheses around Miss was something she chose.) This was the first Halloween Ball and the Call and Post suggested that it was a sign that Cleveland was growing more sophisticated, most likely a reference to New York ball culture. One Call and Post reviewer commented that Karamu House could learn a thing or two from the performers, citing Joyce and another performer named Dorian Corey as standouts. Corey of course would go on to be known for the documentary Paris is Burning. The duo performed a comedy skit together and had their names listed next to each other on the Call and Post ad for the show.

The 1961 Halloween Ball and Contest featured some of Cleveland’s most well-known drag performers in their finest costumes. These included Bianca del Toro, Miss Peppermint Candy, Jan McCarver, Miss TNT Bombshell, Vikki Lopez, and many others. The Call and Post article describing the event listed eleven full names before stating that there were many others. Joyce moved the event to the Circle Ballroom because they had to turn away hundreds of people last year due to lack of space. This shows that by the early 1960s Cleveland had a vibrant drag scene.

The 1961 event began at 9 p.m. with competing performers participating in a floorshow and costume contest. Musical accompaniment was provided by the Chester High Orchestra. The grand prize was a trip to New York by plane, along with two other prizes not described in the newspaper coverage of the event. Tickets for the Ball were available for purchase at beauty salons, barbers, cocktail lounges, and of course at the door. The Call and Post also reported that another drag ball occurred on the same night in 1961 at Baby Grand Lounge. It was called the second annual Female Impersonators Ball, a seemingly direct continuation of Joyce’s previous event. However, it is unknown if Joyce was involved in this event as well as the Circle Ballroom one. 

In regard to the Circle Ballroom Halloween event, the event was sponsored by the Starmakers Club, which had hosted previous talent competitions. Its club president was a woman named Juanita Hayes and its secretary was John E. Fuster, who was also a nightclub writer for the Call and Post. Joyce would go on to host another Halloween Ball in 1962. This one was titled the “Annual Impersonators Ball and Beauty Contest.” The event was hosted at the Pla-Mor Ballroom and musical accompaniment was provided by Don Ingram’s Orchestra. There were hopes that it would top the previous year’s ball, which was a great success. This was unfortunately the last incarnation of the Halloween Ball and Contest in Cleveland.

The Halloween Ball and Contest was a beautiful celebration of Cleveland’s drag scene, where a local artist partnered with local business to provide a place for artistic and queer expression in a pre-Stonewall world. The Halloween Ball took a clear inspiration from New York City but adapted it to the Cleveland, specifically Black Cleveland, community. These Halloween nights of costumes, dancing, and prizes were an important step toward more modern movement and performances. The Halloween Ball and Contest was a stepping-stone towards Cleveland’s modern drag scene.


  • “Display Ad 5 — no Title.” Call and Post. March 9, 1963.
  • “Display Ad 26 — no Title.” Call and Post. October 28, 1961.
  • Fuster, John. “About the Stars.” Call and Post. October 22, 1960.
  • Fuster, John. “About the Stars.” Call and Post. November 4, 1961.
  • Fuster, John. “About the Stars.” Call and Post. October 27, 1962.
  • Fuster, John. “About the Stars.” Call and Post. February 23, 1963.
  • “Impersonators Taking Over Circle Ballroom.” Call and Post. October 21, 1961.
  • “Swing Duo, Winner in Thursday’s Hunt for Talent at Congo.” Call and Post. March 19, 1955.
  • Taylor, Deveen. “Four Ways Hollywood Legend Mae West Inspired Drag Queen Culture.” PBS. June 12, 2020.
10300 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44106 (Circle Ballroom)

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