Marsha P. Johnson was a street queen and early gay liberation activist who performed with Hibiscus’s Angels of Light; Miss Marsha’s impromptu banter with the audience always brought down the house, and she became a second mom to Hibiscus’s sisters.
The Angels of Light’s secret weapon, Miss Marsha, regularly whipped audiences into a frenzy. Marsha P. Johnson was a street queen and early gay liberation activist who wandered into an Angels of Light show and decided to jump onstage. Hibiscus extended an open invitation to join them anytime, for Miss Marsha’s impromptu banter with the audience always brought down the house. “After a while, Hibiscus just stopped writing for her because she’d never get to it,” Mary Lou Harris said. “She would just get a huge cheers and standing ovations.” The Harris sisters described themselves as straight girls who were socialized as gay men. “The queens were kind of my role models,” Eloise recalled. “Marsha was very motherly, even though she was kind of living on the street. She was kind of our nanny.” When Hibiscus or their mom went out, Miss Marsha would take them out for ice cream or babysit them at home. They would take turns pretending to be Barbra Streisand or Judy Garland, and also sang duets à la Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell performing “Two Little Girls from Little Rock.” Miss Marsha also appeared with the gay theater group Hot Peaches, who were part of the same circuit as the Angels of Light. While there was certainly competition among these groups—and among individual queens such as Miss Marsha, International Chrysis, or Flawless Sabrina—for the most part it was a healthy competitiveness. “There were rivalries, there was bitchiness,” Mary Lou said, “but that sort of propelled them forward to get better and better—to try to one up each other. I think it ultimately led them to creating bodies of work that led them to become important figures, which in turn led to the laws and freedoms that are just beginning to bloom today.”
From Chapter 26 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore