Rayceen Pendarvis is an emcee, entertainer, activist, SWERV magazine columnist, former ANC Commissioner, and lifelong Washingtonian. Over the years, Pendarvis has hosted numerous fundraisers, pride festivals, arts festivals, talent showcases, fashion shows, balls, and other events. Furhermore, the Queen of the Shameless Plug frequently moderates panels and appears as a panelist at various conferences dealing with social justice and LGBTQ equality. In addition to a regular column in SWERV, Pendarvis also has written articles for Tagg, Unite Virginia, and TUV magazines.
The Goddess of DC has been honored by the community many times over the past several years, including awards from NYC’s Latex Ball, The DC Center for the LGBT Community, Casa Ruby, Empowerment Liberation Cathedral Church, and the Community Church of Washington, DC. In 2016, Capital Pride selected Pendarvis to be a recipient of the Heroes Award and appear in the annual Capital Pride Parade.
Later that year, despite not being ordained or ministering in a traditional capacity, Pendarvis was voted Best Clergy in the Washington Blade’s 2016 Best of Gay DC Awards. A tireless advocate, promoter, and champion of various causes, Pendarvis has earned the monikers “Queen of the Shameless Plug” and the “Goddess of DC.”
Rayceen Pendarvis can be seen regularly as the host of The Ask Rayceen Show, a free, monthly, live event on first Wednesdays (March-November) in DC. In addition to live music, show segments include panel discussions, interviews, competitions, improv comedy, and audience participation games. All are welcome and admission is always FREE.
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To further explore the extraordinary life and career of Rayceen Pendarvis, click below.
The professional career of Rayceen Pendarvis is one that constantly grows and evolves with each new endeavor. Although well known as an openly gay emcee, activist, entertainer, writer, entrepreneur, and so much more, Pendarvis is never interested in limiting professional career boundaries or creative reach. Despite this, “the Earthmother of the Gays” is also very conscious of not abandoning the basic moral integrity that has become the foundation of a meaningful life's work. For this reason, the consciously minded equality advocate has repeatedly refused financially lucrative projects that did not uphold positive values for the LGBT community, or society at large. Only creative ventures that are deemed uplifting and non-stereotypical are given the green light from the Pendarvis camp. This ensures that each new undertaking and every new avenue explored will be represented in the most admirable way. It's especially important since most of the people and causes that Pendarvis is passionate about are greatly undeserved.
With a heartfelt mission and clearly defined goals on the agenda, Pendarvis looks back on a body of work that resonates with meaningful intent. With a strong moral compass to guide the way, and a genuine heartfelt sense of advocacy, Pendarvis declares “I think it's important that you make the time that you're born and the time that you die and the dash in between account for something.” Indeed, Pendarvis is continuously working to make his “dash” in life, a throughly meaningful one!
Below are highlights of the many career endeavors Pendarvis has proudly taken on during the course of an amazing career.
Rayceen Pendarvis is probably best known as a professional emcee more than all other career achievements combined. Throughout the past several decades the "Goddess of DC" has hosted a wide-variety of local and regional events (most notably The Ask Rayceen Show), and continues to remain an in-demand and extremely active emcee. Furthermore, Pendarvis is also frequently commissioned to serve as a panelist or judge for several community forums, balls, pageants, and more, throughout the metropolitan Washington, DC, area and beyond.
Below are highlights of the many social gatherings the veteran master of ceremonies has had a prominent association with throughout a long and successful career.
Monthly community festival & live entertainment event.
Hosted by Rayceen Pendarvis.
Rayceen Pendarvis is one of Washington's most admired gay socialites and has presided over numerous LGBT events throughout the past several decades. Over time, Pendarvis and fans began wishing for a more permanent way to celebrate and express the unique heritage of the local community, thus the idea for The Ask Rayceen Show was born. Aiming to give local residents what they were asking for, the prominent socialite began igniting an innate entrepreneurial spirit to make this dream come true. Pendarvis describes the show's genesis by stating “It came from years of being part of pride celebrations, balls, and pageants; after these events I felt inspired to find a way to affirm our community beyond annual events."
To the great delight of many, The Ask Rayceen Show officially debuted on May 4, 2012 at the Arleigh and Roberta Burke Theatre within the US Naval Heritage Center in Washington, DC. Finally, those who were interested in having more local entertainment, art, literature, panel discussions, talent shows, fun & games, and more, could visit a local venue and rely on a permanent host to make it all happen. The monthly show also became a wonderful place to simply gather and network in a setting that took pride in welcoming not only the LGBT community, but members of the general public as well. Organizers billed the unique and creative endeavor as an “innovative alternative” to the traditional social gathering.
Although initial shows charged a small admission fee, proceeds were promptly donated to Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc. (UHU) and The Mautner Project (National Lesbian Health Organization). Within a matter of months, the act of charging admission was soon suspended and all future shows were officially admission free - a popular tradition that remains today. Despite this, the act of tipping performers has become an ongoing tradition.
From the start, The Ask Rayceen Show was a rousing success, with two shows staged within the very first month of its debut. Within a mere few weeks, Pendarvis was approached by Turner Freeman, a film librarian, in hopes of collaborating to have the show officially sponsored by the District of Columbia Public Library. As a result, in July 2012, the show premiered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, a fitting venue for the realization of a dream sought by so many local residents. In its new permanent home, the show continued to thrive and gain additional notoriety for well over a year.
Despite a successful stay at the MLK Library, Pendarvis and fans began expressing a need to expand the show. In genuine Pendarvis fashion, a new venue was sought, and the monthly festivities were officially moved to Lĭv Nightclub after Jamil A. Fletcher (founder and publisher of SWERV Magazine) arranged a deal with the venue's General Manager Omrao Ananda Brown (and his silent partners Sashi Ysamu Brown and Tayari Jamal Starr). On March 5, 2014, The Ask Rayceen Show made its grand debut at Lĭv Nightclub in the heart of the redeveloped commercial corridor once known as "Black Broadway" (but known today as The Historic U Street Corridor). The area is considered by many to be one of the city's most vibrant nightlife hot spots, In 2011, it was designated a "Great Street among Great Places in America" by the American Planning Association, making it an excellent new location for The Ask Rayceen Show.
During its residency at Lĭv, the show truly came into its own and continued to broaden and expand. Along with the usual entertainment, literature, art, interviews, and other elements that had become staples of the rotating monthly roster, the show continued to flourish and ultimately became a place where political candidates stopped by to greet their constituents, health officials set up “health & wellness booths” to inform and educate the general public, and aspiring music artists showcased their talent within the show's listening lounge. Furthermore, in addition to patrons experiencing a great show, they now had the marvelous opportunity to also order food an drinks from the club's unique Cajun menu. This in itself was a fantastic draw that continued to add to the unparalleled experience patrons received and contributed to making The Ask Rayceen Show a monthly favorite among locals.
Although originally inspired by the need to fill a void within the local LGBT community, the show also continued to attract a diverse audience. The Ask Rayceen Show uniquely appeals to anyone seeking to have a great time – young, old, black, white, gay, straight, or otherwise, All who attend come to experience a wonderful sense of camaraderie. In an interview with Tagg Magazine, Pendarvis stated that “I’m also struck by the growing diversity of our audience, especially in terms of color and orientation. It’s a wonderful thing when people step outside their comfort zones.” Pendarvis continued by saying “we have straight men and women who volunteer their time as photographers and DJs. I’m encouraged by young people like rapper Starranko, who is a straight man with no qualms about performing on The Ask Rayceen Show not just because he wants to share his music, but because he supports the LGBTQ community.”
Due to several owner/operator situations unrelated to the show, Lĭv Nightclub eventually closed. Accordingly, the November 4, 2015 installment became the last one held at the popular nightspot. The show later returned to host one event in an adjacent venue, then ended its tenure within the Bohemian Caverns Complex.
The show's tenure at Lĭv Nightclub continued to build on a long tradition of quality entertainment that stretches back to the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance. During the 2014-15 seasons, The Ask Rayceen Show was housed within a structure that had eventually come to be known as the Bohemian Caverns Complex, a building consisting of 3 distinct venues - the legendary Bohemian Caverns (a jazz supper club), The Tap and Parlour (a southern-style restaurant), and Lĭv Nightclub (a two-story nightclub and state-of-the-art venue rental space occasionally utilized by non-profit organizations, humanitarian causes, and The Ask Rayceen Show). The historic complex was originally built in 1922 by revered entrepreneur John Whitelaw Lewis, an African-American financial pioneer devoted to promoting black solidarity and economic self-sufficiency within the African-American society of Washington, DC.
Only a few years earlier, Lewis had also financed the construction of two other major institutions in the area--the Industrial Savings Bank (1917)--the only African-American bank in the city of which he was President and founder, and the iconic Whitelaw Hotel (1919)--the only lodging facility in the city dedicated to African-Americans. Due to the increasingly restrictive social and economic climate of the early twentieth century, the development of these buildings were unique in that they were financed by Mr. Lewis, designed by Isaiah Truman Hatton (one of the nation's first African-American architects), and built by Hatton's all-black pool of tradesmen. Thus, these buildings became the first all black projects of such a scale in the city's history. John Whitelaw Lewis, would go on to be remembered as one of the most important figures in Washington's black commercial development, helping to transform The U Street Corridor into a self-sufficient community and the center of African American life.
Born at Bowling Green, Caroline County, Virginia, on August 31, 1867, Lewis was the son of former slaves Gilbert Lewis and Matilda Lewis. During his childhood he was deprived of a basic education and only attended three months in the local public school. In April 1894, he arrived in Washington, DC as a foot soldier in the "Army of the Unemployed" along with several hundred other tradesmen. Eventually, he took a job as a brick carrier and ultimately organized the Laborer's and Mechanics' Realty Company in 1907. The company would grow to own valuable real estate and Lewis was one of its leading stockholders as well as its director.
John Lewis ultimately saw the need to provide financial opportunities to his own people. In 1913 he organized his co-workers to form the Laborers Building and Loan Association which ultimately became the Industrial Savings Bank, the first institution to offer banking services to African-Americans residents in the city. The association helped the working class “save a part of their small earnings” and helped finance African-American institutions that were needed in the area. Reorganized by Jesse Homer Mitchell (1891 - 1955), the bank is still owned and operated by his family today as one of the oldest black financial institutions in the nation.
In 1926, Bohemian Caverns was founded within the lower level of Lewis' third building and served as a restaurant and jazz nightclub. Under its earlier names - “Night Club Bohemia” and “Club Crystal Caverns” - the venue became a hot spot for the vibrant African-American arts scene. Over time, the club would become famous for its floor and variety shows. Based on this reputation, the venue was often frequented by many of Washington's social elite. At its cultural peak during the Harlem Renaissance, patrons would often be entertained by world-class talent, including Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Washington's own, Duke Ellington.
In 2016, at the end of The Ask Rayceen Show's tenure within the historic complex of venues, the establishment had the honor of celebrating its 90th anniversary. In their modern incarnation, each section of the complex continued to provide great entertainment, appetizing menu items, and an assortment of great drink specials. This and much more continued to uphold the long tradition that previously inspired the legendary entertainer Pearl Bailey to nick-name the neighborhood Black Broadway.
Rayceen Pendarvis and the members of Team Rayceen made their own form of unique history by expanding the historic tradition with innovative 21st century LGBT forms of entertainment previously not experienced within the walls of this legendary complex. This new and exciting chapter of this glorious legacy continued to thrive as The Ask Rayceen Show grew to become an integral asset to DC's growing gay culture. During this period, Metro Weekly (a nationally recognized LGBT magazine) selected Rayceen Pendarvis to grace the cover of its magazine. The show subsequently continued to receive favorable write-ups and accolades as it continued to build on the area's thriving entertainment legacy.
On March 2, 2016, the 5th season of The Ask Rayceen Show continued where the 4th had left off without skipping a beat. After the season premiere show in March, which took place downstairs from Lĭv at The Tap and Parlour, before the entire complex closed later that month, the show officially returned to the MLK library on April 6, 2016.. Despite the sudden shuffle between multiple venues (the July 2016 show was held at the HRC Equality Center due to scheduling conflicts), the show continued to draw a wide-variety of guests and its recurring segments continued to be as popular as ever.
The show also began to attract and retain additional long-term volunteers whose creative contributions continued to enhance the artistic value of the show. Curt Mariah joined Rayceen Pendarvis on stage as she reprised her role as the show's resident announcer. Anthony Oakes and Chris Jay stepped in to fill-in for her during the later portion of the season due to scheduling conflicts. One of several guest DJs during the shows tenure at Lĭv, DJ Honey was the resident DJ for the 2016 season of The Ask Rayceen Show. Additional volunteers, contributors, and sponsors also made significant contributions, allowing the show to further expand the entertainment value it offers to the metropolitan community.
By the end of the season, the show had once again capitalized on its growing reputation and the future continued to look bright. Despite this, the need to once again obtain a new venue (due to the pending multi-year renovation of the MLK library) forced the show's organizers to seek a brand new home.
On March 1, 2017, The Ask Rayceen Show premiered at its new venue, HRC Equality Center, located at the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign, in the heart of the central business district of Washington, DC. With a stellar roster of local talent and a solid fan base, the show aimed to continue reaching for new and exciting milestones.