Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Gene Pearson

Benjamin (Gene) Pearson, Jr., was born in Yorkshire, England, on June 11, 1899, and moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1911. Rejected for service in the Canadian army after being drafted in 1918, due to his poor physique, by 1920 he was performing throughout Canada and the United States with Gus Hill’s Minstrels, one of the last of the large touring minstrel companies. Pearson gained fame as a singing female impersonator after joining the touring troupe The Originals in 1923, an offshoot of the famous concert party troupe The Dumbells. The Originals barnstormed across America and Canada during the mid-1920s, and Pearson earned a reputation for his fine voice, dubbed the “Canadian Nightingale” or the “male Galli-Curci”, and for his large and expensive wardrobe. Though still popular, The Originals stopped touring in 1926. Pearson appeared in Mae West’s play Pleasure Man, which opened on Broadway in 1927 and was immediately closed by the police as being indecent. The court case dragged on until 1930 before charges were dropped. By then, Pearson’s career was in decline. He was involved with Florenz Ziegfeld’s musical comedy Hot-Cha! (1932), but died suddenly of pneumonia on December 10, 1932, in Cleveland, Ohio. To learn more about Pearson’s life and career, see here: Gene Pearson, the Canadian Nightingale, 1899–1932, by Donald W. McLeod.