Just Trying To Be Tony

He's said goodbye to the dresses, the makeup, the wild living. But Baltimore DJ Tony Boston is still learning just where he and Miss Tony part company.

January 31, 1999|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff

When he decided, finally, that it was time to end the life of a woman he loved, Tony Boston knew the perfect place was church, in front of God and the whole congregation. It would be a gesture as big and dramatic as the woman herself.

After all, there was no hope of hiding his plan. Nearly everyone in Baltimore knew this woman, or at least had heard of her. She could walk into a room, all brassy, sassy 350-plus pounds of her, and bring you to your feet, singing, dancing, laughing. Or to your knees with a stabbing glare or an unkind word.

By night, she was a glitzy after-hours nightclub diva; by day, a raspy-voiced early-morning disc jockey for Baltimore's most-listened-to radio station.

Her name was Miss Tony, and he had indulged her excesses, her man-chasing, her wild ways most every day of his adult life.

For 12 years, they'd been closer than brother and sister. But he'd had enough. So here he was, standing at the front of this narrow brick church in Northeast Baltimore, awash in sweat and triumphant in her death. At his feet lay a heaping pile of her sparkling gowns, mink coats and short skirts -- a rumpled, glittering testament to Miss Tony's demise. He'd snatched them from a bedroom closet just hours before, determined he'd exorcise all traces of her.

He felt he had to explain, but as he spoke, his raspy voice betrayed no regret, no remorse, no desire to ever again be the man who, until just that day, had worn these clothes proudly. As he looked out at his newfound brothers and sisters in Christ, there was only fire in his words.

"Never again!" Tony Boston cried out, and the congregation, moved by this remarkable afternoon of death and rebirth, erupted into shouts of praise and song.

Looking back on that afternoon last April, Tony Boston should have known that killing off Miss Tony was not going to be that simple.

During his 12 years in drag, Miss Tony had brought him so much he had cherished -- fame, friends and a fair amount of money, things he likely never would have achieved without her. For a kid who'd grown up in Sandtown, this was the big time. As Miss Tony, people knew him, knew his name. He could say and be whatever he chose.

Miss Tony was about fun. Starting back in the late '80s, Miss Tony would come alive several nights a week, meeting her fans in after-hours nightclubs like Club Fantasy, Odell's and Paradox. Most likely you'd find her in the middle of the dance floor, vogueing, gyrating and singing amid flickering lights and bass-heavy, funky music.

Miss Tony danced like nobody else. She would fall on the floor and roll around. She loved to get dragged across the dance floor by anyone willing to be her stage prop, smiling and singing the whole time.

"It was almost like a circus act," says Deborah Whitaker, an old friend of Boston's who is an intake specialist for the Office of Public Defender. "Before I met him, people would say, 'Girl, you have to see Miss Tony!' I could never believe it until I saw it."

"Miss Tony was like a character," says Teddy Douglas, a dance music producer better known in Baltimore club circles as DJ Teddy D. "Everybody would come out and see Miss Tony, and he would be the life of the party. He had the outrageous outfits and hair."

Those who talk about Miss Tony sometimes say "he," sometimes "she." Cathy Hughes, his boss at 92Q-FM (WERQ), once tried "shim," combining "she" and "him."

But make no mistake, says Tony Boston. Miss Tony was a man, and there was never any plan to change that fact. Miss Tony was an all-out, unrepentant drag queen, a man who admired women and their ways and strove to be a souped-up, extra-feminine version of them.

Miss Tony was gay, too. Always had been, long before he thought of putting on the hair, nails and makeup. At times, Tony Boston will tell you, Miss Tony had an unquenchable lust for men. She favored thuggish types, so-called "yo boys." They were rough and tumble, sometimes on the wrong side of the law, and, by all appearances, straight. Miss Tony got a rush pursuing -- and attaining -- men who were not openly gay. It made her feel irresistible.

And friends and family say that more often than not, Miss Tony got her man.

"She was bold," remembers Jason Gilmor, a Baltimore clubgoer who saw Miss Tony on the prowl. "She would walk up to a guy, circle around him like he was prey, and give him the eye.

"Her eyes said it all, man. You knew what she wanted and -- I still don't believe it to this day -- the guys, big drug dealer-types, would be seen in the neighborhood with her later that week. ... You knew what had happened between the two of them."

It was at the clubs that Miss Tony also met Frank Ski, a popular radio DJ who made appearances on weekends. In 1991, Miss Tony would begin a collaboration with him, becoming his chief cheerleader and dancer. It gave her a stage to perform some of the club music she'd recorded, songs about relationships and urban life such as "What's Up, What's Up" and "Pull Your Guns Out."

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