Legendary Charlotte drag queen Boom Boom LaTour dies at 63

This meme appeared on Facebook after Boom Boom LaTour’s death Monday.
This meme appeared on Facebook after Boom Boom LaTour’s death Monday.

The mourning began during the July Fourth holiday, as word spread that Boom Boom LaTour had died. On Facebook, friends and fans called him a drag queen legend and shared videos of old performances. Then they began sharing a meme – a photo of a resplendent Boom Boom in shiny evening gown and big hair. The caption: “Boom Boom Forever.”

Over five decades, Boom Boom LaTour, also known as Ricky Carter, performed up and down the East Coast, but especially in Charlotte, at clubs such as Oleen’s and The Scorpio. He became one of the city’s most famous drag queens, an LGBT pioneer whose early performances were as much political statements as entertainment.

Carter was 63 when he died at Carolinas Medical Center. In 2015, he’d had a major heart attack that paralyzed his left side. He’d been improving at home. But on Monday, he spiked a sudden fever. Hours later, he was dead, said his sister, Christy Carter.

Boom Boom’s performances, especially in the 1970s, provided a safe place where people who were gay or transgender could be themselves, says Joshua Burford of UNC Charlotte’s Cultural Resource Center. They also functioned as political acts, he says, reminding society that LGBT people existed – “we are visible, we are here” – though most LGBT people weren’t out of the closet in those days.

Recently, Burford launched an oral history project to record stories of local LGBT figures who thrived despite prejudice and persecution. In November, a UNCC oral history interviewer recorded Boom Boom LaTour’s story.

In April, I had the chance to meet Carter while I was researching a story about his best friend, Danny Leonard, aka Brandy Alexander, another pioneering drag queen, who had died in March.

During our interview, Carter described growing up on Charlotte’s west side of town, near the airport, “the redneck side,” as he put it. His family ran the Hickory House, a barbecue restaurant, originally on Thrift Road, then on Queen City Boulevard. He attended West Mecklenburg High, a popular kid who was voted senior class president. Though he wasn’t openly gay, classmates knew he was different. “I was always talked about, but nobody could put their finger on it,” he said. “I was the most popular gay on this side of town for many, many years.”

When he began performing in 1970, many people didn’t understand the concept of drag. Often, drag queens are male entertainers who dress like women. Many are gay men who wear women’s clothes only when performing onstage. Depending on the context, friends may refer to them by their given name or drag name, by “he” or “she.” Drag queens can also be transgender women.

But in the early 1970s, local ordinances still required drag performers to wear some men’s clothing. Like many performers, he obeyed by wearing men’s underwear. When he and other drag performers shopped for gowns in local department stores, they often took along Christy Carter, his little sister. She’d try on items, which they’d then order in larger sizes. She got a lot of nice clothes and jewelry out of the deal, she says.

“He was the first one who taught me how to put makeup on, the first one who taught me how to dress,” she says.

As a performer, Carter relied on comedy and over the years accumulated shelves of awards for his female impersonation skills. His best-known number was “Twelve Drunken Days of Christmas,” a skit he performed annually at The Scorpio.

“Boom Boom has always been there for people, from the very beginning,” says Shane Windmeyer, a drag queen who performs as Buff Faye. “Boom Boom was a connection from the early days in drag in Charlotte and the young drag queens coming of age today. She was very much like a grandmother to everyone in the drag community.”

Christy Carter agrees. “He would do whatever he could for anybody. He never judged anybody, never held grudges.” Being different himself, she says, “he was always for the underdog.”

Ricky Carter is survived by his sister, Christy Carter; two nieces and a nephew. Visitation will be 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday at at Forest Lawn West, 4601 Freedom Drive. A memorial gathering for Boom Boom LaTour will begin at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Chasers, 3217 The Plaza.

Pam Kelley: 704 358-5271