Home Celebrities In Memoriam: The Legacy of Mr. Charlie Brown

In Memoriam: The Legacy of Mr. Charlie Brown

Written and edited by Mikkel Hyldebrandt

Photos by Russell Bowen-Youngblood

Mr. Charlie Brown, one of Atlanta’s best-known and most notable drag performers, died on March 22 following complications after a heart valve replacement surgery back in February. He was 74 years old. With five decades of performing, he was a pillar of the LGBTQ+ community and its rich history.

Mr. Charlie Brown hailed from Lafayette, Tennessee, where she began her career after responding to a help wanted ad for a “male lead and soundman” at the “Watch Your Coat And Hat Saloon .” Charlie was hired and, during a switch night, had to come up with a drag name. After hearing a night auditor cursing, “God damn you, Charlie Brown,” a light went off in her head, and Charlie Brown was born. Due to the Blue Laws of the day, female impersonators had to use a male name in the drag handle, so Charlie added the Mister and was henceforth known as Mr. Charlie Brown.

Over the next few years, Charlie worked in clubs in and around the south, most of the time running in and out of clubs with her drag gear hidden in trash bags so she could sneak past those patrolling the parking lot looking for gays to beat up. 

Shortly after meeting her partner, Fred Wise, they moved to Atlanta, and Charlie wasted no time getting shows at Timbers, Numbers On Cheshire, Bulldogs, Tallulah’s, The Eagle, Sweet Gum Head, and Backstreet. Her style was a mix of Las Vegas lounge meets a stripper with a great wardrobe of flashy clothes. It was then she was asked to emcee at Sweet Gum Head that she decided to add a little bitchy to her act, and soon she took the title of America’s Ultimate Bitch.

In 1990, Backstreet offered her a position on the third floor in the “Best of the Best” cabaret with Heather Daniels, the Goddess Raven,  Lena Lust, Lilly White, Lauren LeMasters, and Shawnna Brooks. The magic at Backstreet went on for 14 years, even during blackouts from storms, where the girls lit the show with flashlights and used battery-operated boom boxes until the bar bought a generator. To Charlie, Backstreet was the Grandma of Atlanta’s LGBT community, and its closing is still mourned by many today.

After that, Charlie went to Underground Atlanta, where she partnered up with Masquerade to bring us Charlie Brown’s Cabaret. According to Charlie, the Underground was done in by negative press from the AJC, and after it closed, she decided to hit the road for a while and performed around the West Coast, ending up in 2010 as the host/emcee at the Horizon Casino in Lake Tahoe.

Charlie returned to Atlanta six months later and went to work at Blake’s On The Park until Lips came to town, where she was offered a position with them. Charlie met Yvonne of Lips NY when doing promo for HBO’s Charlie Brown’s Cabaret on HBO’s Dragtime; no stranger to television, she also appeared in several episodes of MTV’s Blind Date and the Travel Channel’s Forbidden Places. You can still watch Dragtime episodes on YouTube.

Charlie continued hosting and performing at Lips and other venues around town until she semi-retired—but she would still perform on Saturdays and Sundays at Lips! When the new Atlanta Eagle opened, she was asked to once again come out of semi-retirement to perform there, and later, in 2022, the city of Atlanta honored her with its highest award and distinction, the Phoenix Award.

Charlie’s legacy as a drag icon, entertainer, advocate, and mentor has left its mark on countless people. When asked once if she had any advice for up-and-coming drag performers, she conveyed the advice that the show director had given her herself at her very first bar: “Make sure you have a good, regular job first, and start doing it as a hobby. Before you jump in, make sure you like it and it’s what you really want to do. Learn how to make your own costumes, do your hair and make-up, and stay humble. The day you think you are a star, you’ll never be one.”

The outpouring of love and grief over this momentous loss has been felt all over Atlanta. Lips Atlanta posted that they were “eternally grateful that this fabulous queen was a part of our lives. Charlie will be remembered forever and always hold a special place in our hearts!”

The Atlanta Eagle went dark for its regular showtime from 9 to 11 p.m. to honor and respect Mr. Charlie Brown’s legacy. This gave people space to gather, share their stories, and toast a true Atlanta legend.

Mr. Charlie Brown recently completed work on his memoir, “B***h of the South: How I Survived Vietnam, the AIDS Crisis, and MAGA Drag Bans,” co-authored with Atlanta journalist Richard L. Eldredge. The book is set to be released later this year in commemoration of Brown’s 75th birthday.

Our hearts and thoughts go out to Mr. Charlie Brown’s close ones, especially his husband, Fred Wise. We mourn the loss of a prolific figure and the light that has now gone, but we will forever carry the legacy and love of Mr. Charlie Brown.


Exit mobile version