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"Always live your truth and never let anyone steal your joy" - Rayceen Pendarvis
Rayceen Pendarvis was born Raymond William Chandler to a magnificent pair of loving and supportive parents. As family tradition would have it, Chandler also became the latest addition to several siblings who all shared the same first initial. Raised with middle class values, Chandler’s formative years were spent in the Washington, DC neighborhood of Brentwood (named after Robert Brent, the city’s first mayor). Although Chandler has traveled to various places all over the world, the nation’s capitol has always been home.
As a young child, Chandler attended the neighborhood grammar school and later graduated from McKinley High School. Looking back on a marvelous upbringing, Chandler recalls “I had a wonderful, accepting mother, who allowed me to be who I was, who I am. She always taught me that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. So I thank God for my mother.” As for Dad, Chandler remembers “I thank God for my Dad. I wish he would’ve lived to see me get to this point in my life....”
Those formative years were considered somewhat unique. From a early age, Chandler was remarkably forthcoming about issues of individuality and sexuality. When questioned about “coming out of the closet,” Chandler replied “Essentially, I was always out.” When others around you experience your honesty and see you standing in your truth, that makes it easier to dialog with anyone.” Indeed, Chandler would go on to continue standing in that truth, and has alwasys encouraged others to do the same.
Looking back, Chandler remembers “I guess I am a leader 'cause I'm definitely not a follower. I'm one who creates my own path. I think I've always been that way. Listening to my mother early on, she said I could walk in a room at two or three years old, and I would just immediately walk up to everyone and introduce myself, sit down and talk to people, I'm just drawn to people and people's energy.” Those early attributes would later manifest themselves into playing a pivotal role in future career endeavors. Without question, Chandler was destined to become a prominent figure in society and eventually leave a lasting mark on the planet.
As a young person navigating new and exciting experiences, Chandler eventually discovered the House/Ballroom scene and decided to embrace its liberating culture. The somewhat underground social gatherings were established by LGBT African-American and Latino members who absolutely loved and adored the scene with a fierce passion. Filled with uniquely creative talent, the “Houses” would compete with each other in various categories such as Voguing, Runway, Realness, Fashion and more. Following in the footsteps of numerous “ball kids,” Chandler ultimately made the decision to join a house and to also take on its name. This life-affirming-moment was largely inspired by a memorable encounter with the iconic Avis Pend'avis, house mother of the legendary “House of Pend'avis.”
Although raised by a strong, loving, and supportive biological family, Chandler often referred to the elder Pend’avis as a second mother. The young protégé remembers her as having a nurturing spirit similar to that of Chandler’s own biological mother. Indeed, both women processed a wealth of knowledge and a desire to see people do their best! Chandler left that initial meeting feeling inspired and challenged to be better and ultimately adopted the house name (although spelled slightly different). After replacing Raymond with Rayceen, and moving full steam ahead with the newly created name Pendarvis, the rest, as they say, is history!
By way of the House/Ballroom community, Pendarvis established a second home and a brand new family. The camaraderie House members share is like no other and the bonds that are formed transcend time, place, and age. When biological families fall short, the ball community can help pick up the slack! Pendarvis credits those initial experiences as contributing to the early development of various career endeavors. When looking back, Pendarvis remembers, “The Ballroom community taught me how to improve on the microphone, to be a comedian, and to stand on any stage and be articulate,” Without question, the veteran emcee has definitely honed those skills, and would most certainly make the elder Pend’avis extremely proud!
Although Avis Pend'avis eventually answered a “higher calling”, Rayceen Pendarvis and fellow house members continue to carry on the illustrious traditions of the House/Ballroom community.
To say that Rayceen Pendarvis is a typical gay rights advocate would be a gross understatement. The LGBT icon is literally a walking billboard for independent, free-spirited, open mindedness. At times, the career Pendarvis enjoys can appear to be a 24/7 non-stop gay pride parade! From the signature turban head wraps, over the head garments, and “take me as I am” presence, Pendarvis literally lives a unique personal truth. Any issues adversely affecting the LGBT community also affect Pendarvis and many of the people the “Earthmother To The Gays” considers “family.” Being strong enough to stand tall in the mist of widespread homophobia, racial degradation, and societal intolerance, is a virtue Pendarvis is proud to possess. As a well-known Equality Advocate, Pendarvis aims to bridge the gaps that keep people from living in harmony, and sums up this meaningful life's work with one simple phrase, “I believe in bringing people together!”
The public persona of Rayceen Pendarvis is that of a “one-of-a-kind” dynamo, whose public image has graced the cover of magazines displayed on newsstands across the country. When not presiding over the monthly festivities associated with The Ask Rayceen Show or hosting numerous LGBT and mainstream events, Pendarvis can often be found gracing the red carpet of many charitable, educational, and humanitarian social gatherings. The DC socialite has been known to jet-set from one event to another, all while taking a moment to “shine a light” on others who are revered in the community. The mere presence of the “Goddess of DC” often serves as a form of moral support for aspiring associates and friends, and Pendarvis receives enormous pleasure in contributing to their development and growth. The towering icon is also known for utilizing considerable power and influence to help elevate the status of various events by agreeing to donate significant time and talent in a variety of capacities.
One thing is certain! If Pendarvis is there, then you have definitely MADE IT, or you are surely ON YOUR WAY!
Most fans and followers consider Rayceen Pendarvis to be a mentor as well as a mother figure. So much so, the revered maternal figure is often referred to as the “EARTHMOTHER TO THE GAYS!” While the DC icon cherishes the thought of providing the community with a loving source of motherly guidance, Pendarvis has also set aside a significant portion of time and devoted it to the challenging task of raising kids. Indeed, the social spotlight that Pendarvis gracefully glides through from day to day has not been at the expense of a meaningful personal life.
The experience of parenting children, and all that it entails, has been a wonderful chapter in a long and somewhat unique life. When briefly speaking on the subject Pendarvis stated, “I’m a father of five, can you believe that? And a grandfather of two. I helped raise my brother’s children…Which took a lot of my time, but it allowed me to teach them about a lot of things. They watched me go to rallies, they watched me put together condom kits..I took them to meetings. I exposed them to so many things about our community, and taught them the importance of equal rights for everybody. And that’s been a great joy!”
Today, Pendarvis continues to enjoy being a proud parent and has even settled into the new and exciting role of becoming a very proud grandparent!
Although many people may never find “true love,” Rayceen Pendarvis has certainly been blessed to have had a wonderful and loving companion. For two glorious decades, Pendarvis and David Davis have thoroughly enriched each others lives. The couple were fortunate to share a special relationship that not only reaped significant rewards for the two of them, but also showed those around them the sheer possibilities that love and commitment can achieve. Davis was an avid singer and performer who shared music as a personal passion with Pendarvis. Sadly, their relationship was cut short upon Davis’ death in 2008.
When reflecting on their wonderful love affair, Pendarvis recalls “I had the greatest love of my life.....[for] twenty years… He was the greatest partner I ever could have asked for. I buried him…on my birthday, it was one of the saddest things in the world I ever could have done. I thought that my heart would fall apart, but my children kept me together, my family kept me together, people who knew about him, my community, my co-workers......because we showed people the power of our love! And having him in my life for 20 years was a blessing. It allowed me to show our community, and especially young people, the value of love. And that you can have it, and you’re worthy of it, and you deserve it!
In honor of their incredible love affair, the following song by dance divas “Two Tons O' Fun” is appropriately dedicated to the loving memory of David Leon Davis (June 21, 1969 – January 08, 2008).