My interest in the work and life of Ray Bourbon began around 1993 when I ran into a battered copy of his lp “An Evening in Copenhagen” in a stack of records next to some rusty farm implements in a Yadkinville, North Carolina flea market.
After hearing his rapid-fire delivery and remarkably gay routines, “The Wedding” and “The Raid”, I was curious about who this guy was. I found a brief reference to his eventful life in the book Gay New York and started digging to find more of his records and about his life.
In the 1990s, researching Ray was difficult. Now, many archival materials and newspapers are being digitized and there are many more digital resources that make it easier to research someone like Ray, who worked all over the country and in Europe. It was even hard to track down his records until eBay and community forums on the web allowed me to get in touch with other collectors.
In the 1990s, I made three feature-length films about the gay community. Originally, I thought Ray would be an ideal subject for another documentary. Ray was a major figure in pre-Stonewall gay life, but was virtually forgotten today. I introduced friends to Ray’s recordings and story and they too were amazed that someone with his talent and interesting life had simply been forgotten over the years.
But I soon discovered that there were few people left who knew him and little surviving visual material documenting his life and performances that would make a documentary possible. So, I decided to create a web resource collecting what I could find about Ray and network with others who appreciated his unique contribution to Gay history and the theater.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been contacted by a number of individuals over the years who contributed recordings, articles, and other material to the project. For all of these people and the help they’ve provided, I’m very thankful.
After more than twenty-five years of research, I’m still discovering new things about Ray.