Jamaican-born drag queen remembered as a legend in Canada’s gay community

Known for her riveting performances in which she imitated the likes of Diana Ross, Shirley Bassey, and even dancehall star Lady Saw, drag Queen Michelle Ross is being hailed as a legend in Canada’s gay community following her passing.

Born in Jamaica, Michelle Ross as she was known in Canada’s gay community, died late last week.

While her cause of death is unknown, Ross, believed to be in her mid-60s, is being hailed as a legend with many reflecting on her raw talent as a drag performer.

“If you were booked in a show with her, it was understood that you were the intermission or the smoke break. People were there to see Michelle! Her shows were a drag master class. She held her audience captive!” said one of Ross’ colleagues who paid tribute to her online.

Ross’ impact wasn’t just felt on the drag scene, according to a University of Toronto associate professor, Michelle’s work helped to break down a lot of myths and stereotypes surrounding black, gay people, particularly men.

“Michelle has been performing since the late 1970s. There are all of these myths about black queer people and black gay men in particular. But here’s someone who, from the mid-70s right into the 2000s, has been a constant in the queer community,” Professor Renaldo Walcott told the CBC.

“She lived through the AIDS and HIV epidemic and has been a constant for black queer people to see and other queer people to see. That, in and of itself, is remarkable,” he added.

Ross gained a cult-like following through her performances throughout the early 70s in Toronto’s gay village located on Church Street, where she was known for her outlandish performances.

It is these performances fans and others say they will miss the most.

“Our village, our city and our world has lost Michelle Ross. Michelle was legendary for her kindness, friendship, commitment, style and raw talent. May she continue to inspire us all. Xo,” read a post by the queer-focused Canadian bookstore, Glad Day.

“It is with a heavy heart that we share the legendary Michelle Ross has passed away. Michelle wowed audiences at Pride Festivals past with electrifying performances and this year’s Rise Up! event. We’ll cherish her memory for years to come,” added Pride Toronto, the organizers of Canada’s largest gay pride parade, as they paid tribute to Ross.

Other major heavy weights including Toronto’s Mayor John Tory also paid tribute to Ross who he called “Toronto’s most iconic drag mother”.

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Toronto’s most iconic Drag Mother, Michelle Ross. A staunch advocate for the BIPOC and LGBTQ2S communities, Michelle was beloved by many here and abroad,” tweeted Tory.