An Obituary for Henry Kalmar

Submitted into Contest #26 in response to: Write about a character who was considered a prodigy when they were young.... view prompt




French Quarter Scene Magazine, February 2014

Welcome, dear readers, to our special Ghoul Patrol issue, featuring an exclusive article by series creator and longtime FQS contributor Placid Calms, plus a reprint of his obituary for the one and only Henry Kalmar VI, our beloved Rainbow Brother forever. We hope you will enjoy this inside look into what we believe is going to be an exciting and deeply meaningful new television program with the potential to change lives. Ghoul Patrol will be filmed right here in New Orleans and will feature music and cameos from the surviving members of Fancy Trash.

My niece Naomi O’Hannagain, editor of our youth publication Scene Stealers, will be joining Placid to offer her own perspective on Ghoul Patrol and our native sons, Henry Kalmar VI and VII.

I now turn you over to Placid and Naomi.

With love,

Amalia Virgle

Editor-in-Chief, French Quarter Scene

Naomi’s Notes

Hey, Scene Stealers! Scene Queen Naomi here, thrilled to be joining my Uncle Placid for this very special issue. I’ve literally known this man since I was born, and every day I think how blessed I am to have my hero be one of my best friends.

Uncle Placid is going to talk about the inspiration behind Ghoul Patrol and we’re going to reprise the special memorial segment that he created in honor of his friend and NOLA music scene icon Henry Kalmar VI last year. We’re also going to be chatting with HK VI’s nephew, up-and-coming jazz-rap scene-stealer Henry K VII. I know a lot of you are looking forward to that, and I am too. I haven’t met HK VII in person yet, but I’ve chatted with him over the Internet a couple of times, and he seems super chill, so I’m looking forward to this.

That’s enough from me for now. I’m going to turn you over to Uncle Placid to get this party started. Peace.

Scene Queen Naomi O

Placid Speaks

I remember the day that I decided I was finally going to stop messing around and make Ghoul Patrol happen for real.

It was January 8, 2013, which was one of the worst days of my life.

Anyone who knows anything about the NOLA music scene already knows why, but I’ll tell my story again for the newcomers.

I was at the Church of Christ the Redeemer for the funeral of my schoolmate and dear friend Henry Kalmar VI. The openly gay blues and jazz icon was, of course, the polarizing vocalist and multi-instrumentalist with and co-creator of Fancy Trash. Depending on who you ask, this New Orleans act is either beloved or reviled for igniting the careers of many of today’s proudly gay musicians.

Henry committed suicide by an intentional overdose of heroin on New Year’s Day 2013, the tenth anniversary of his sister Teriza Tanner’s murder at the hands of her second husband. I received permission to attend the funeral and interview family members during the reception afterward. I was very grateful for the opportunity to say goodbye to my old friend in person. I promised to keep the interviews low-key and respectful.

While I was looking at the casket containing the body of my old buddy and listening to the Reverend give his send-off, I started to daydream. I’ve always had a very strange and vivid imagination, and Henry encouraged my crazy ideas. The next thing you know, I remembered a wild story that Henry, Teriza, Teriza’s husband Tony Tinker, Henry’s boyfriend Luis Leguizamo, my boyfriend Duncan Quinones and I came up with one drunken and stoned winter night in 1993.

It wasn’t long after the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie came out. The movie was panned by critics, but I dug it. I said that I had an idea for a TV show or a play, but instead of a cute high school cheerleader, the vampire slayers should a group of fabulous queens.

Tony said the vampire thing had been done to death. I asked him what sort of monster my glamazons should hunt, in that case, because ghosts had already been done too.

It was Henry who suggested ghouls, and Luis and Duncan, our psychic guitar twins, looked at each other and said in unison:

“Couldn’t you just see Henry and Teriza as the ghoul patrol?”

My idea never died, although it got put on the back burner for a long time. Everyone I was in the room with on that night is gone now. Tony was murdered in 1995. Duncan died from complications of Hep-C in 1998, with me holding his hand as he took his last breath. Teriza and Luis were both murdered in 2003, and Henry committed suicide in 2013.

I’m the only one left of the little group who conjured up Ghoul Patrol on a night in a time and place that seems like a dream now, but I’m not alone. Fancy Trash jazz master and innovator Tomas Toledo, who was Henry’s lover from Valentine’s Day 2010 on, has provided me with much-needed financial backing. Teriza and Tony’s son, up-and-coming jazz-rap-rocker Henry K VII, has given me the green light as well. HK7 is a dead ringer for the uncle who called him “my badass little shadow.”

The love and support I’ve gotten for this project makes me feel so blessed. Even though I still mourn my friends and will every day of my life, I believe that this little tribute will not only honor them but educate my audience about the violence and misunderstandings that claim too many lives every day.

We need to keep fighting to end homophobia and racism. We need to listen to women and children who say they are being abused. We need to provide better resources for victims of domestic violence and not turn a blind eye. We need to end the stigma and provide better resources for people suffering from depression.

Ghoul Patrol may not be able to solve these problems, but I hope that through my scripts I am able to shine some light on them, and I hope that I do justice to the memories of my dear friends. I love all of you forever.

Placid Calms

An Obituary for Henry Kalmar

Part I: In the Beginning

Henry Horace Kalmar VI was born into a family of jazz musicians and voodoo practitioners in New Orleans on December 2, 1971. He was welcomed into a life that would be wonderful and terrible but never dull by his doting parents and two-year-old half-sister Teriza. Henry’s father, Henry Kalmar V, was a multi-instrumentalist known on the scene as Universal Wisdom for his ability to sing like an angel and make damn near any instrument swing like hell.

Henry and Teriza’s mother, Xena Tanner, could cast a spell over an audience with her powerful, seductive voice. There were those who suggested that she seduced Henry V through supernatural means. Henry VI neither confirmed nor denied the rumors that his mother was a voodoo priestess, but he did say that the only magic she needed to get her man was her own naturally compelling presence.

Although Henry V was not Teriza’s father, he loved the little girl as if she was his own. And although both Henry V and Xena were passionate and hot-tempered personalities, they were fiercely devoted to one another and to their children. The younger Henry joked that his folks probably knew he was gay from the time he was two years old.

“They got home movies of me chasin’ the boys, tryin’ to give ‘em a kiss,” Henry laughed. “And when they seen me dressin’ up in Mama’s clothes and givin’ her and Teriza a run for their money, they knew for sure that I was something special.”

As Henry and Teriza grew up, they never had the patience for formal schooling. The only school they were interested in was found in the plentiful jazz and blues clubs in New Orleans and at the drag queen revues. Their parents enrolled them in the New Orleans School for the Arts where they not only passed their classes but thrived in the artistic environment.

“Henry passed every class with flying colors, and he’s flying out of here on a rainbow unicorn Pegasus!” Teriza declared proudly on Henry’s graduation day in 1988.

“Not without my mahogany Valkyrie sidekick,” Henry retorted as he bumped hips with his sister. “It’s gotta be you and me, T. The only way to go-go is up, and we’re gonna shake it to the top!”

There wasn’t a prouder family than the Kalmar-Tanners on that day. Henry often said during the difficult years to come that if there was one moment that he could freeze in time, it would be that one.

“There was so much hope, so much promise, so much mothafuckin’ JOY!” Henry proclaimed in an interview fifteen days ago as marijuana smoke billowed around his face and tears flowed from his bloodshot eyes. “If I had to be stuck at one moment in time for all eternity, it would be that moment. My parents were so happy, and I was over the god damn moon. I had my sister, my best friend, my mothafuckin’ soul mate by my side, supporting me like she always did from the time I was born. I just wanna go back and be in that moment forever.”


Henry Kalmar VI and Teriza Tanner were prodigies, they were professionals, and they were pretty. They already had an established reputation as up-and-coming royalty on the blues and jazz circuit, but they wanted to be known for a style all their own rather than riding the coattails of their ancestors. As well as their parents being musical heavy-hitters, Henry’s paternal grandfather, Henry Kalmar IV, and Henry and Teriza’s maternal grandfather, Wyatt Van der Zee, had been members of The Tantalizers, a respected act on the Chitlin Circuit until their untimely deaths in an auto accident on the way home from a New Years performance in Birmingham on January 2, 1965.

It was Teriza’s idea to capitalize on Henry’s flamboyant homosexuality by putting him at the forefront of a band comprised primarily of outrageously attired gay men. Henry and his boyfriend Luis Leguizamo declared Teriza a genius, and immediately began circulating ads announcing that “only the most uncloseted, flamingly gay homos and friends of fairies need apply. Must be able to sing and/or play an instrument. Come show us what you’ve got.”

Thus, Fancy Trash was born.

Some of the group’s critics were unhappy about the fact that Teriza was straight. Henry shot down their digs with the statement that “we needed a queen bee with T’s organizational skills to keep this hive of honeys on our toes. We so busy keeping it fabulous that half the time we forget where we at. My sister T, she naturally fabulous, and she got her head on straight. So, don’t you be draggin’ my girl, or you can drag your unfabulous ass right the hell out of our show.”

It was a well-known fact that anyone who dared speak ill of Teriza would quickly end up on Henry’s bad side, and it wasn’t easy to get back to his good side once the damage was done. Henry was fiercely devoted to his older sister and extremely overprotective. When Teriza started dating Tony Tinker, the percussionist for Kentucky Slim, Henry took Tony aside for a chat from which Tony emerged visibly shaken. Tony’s sister Iona recalls that moment.

“Henry told Tony ‘I know you a dog. You got a reputation from Mercury to fuckin’ Pluto for all the girls you done fucked, and I hear y’all probably got you five different kids by as many women. If I ever hear that you been zoomin’ my sister, if I ever hear that you ain’t true, I will rip your liver out your asshole, cook it up on the barbecue, and feed it to you. If you gonna be dating my sister, you don’t get to act like no dog. Is we clear on this?”

“We good,” was all Tony said, Iona recalled laughing.

“His eyes was big and round like a couple of spotlights,” Sister Iona remembered wistfully. “I knew he was really into Teriza, ‘cause after the threat that Henry laid down, ain’t no man with a lick of sense gonna try and play that lady. Henry wasn’t kidding neither. You could see it in his eyes. He would put the hurt on anyone who hurt Teriza. ‘Course once Tony showed that he was true, him and Henry was pals after that. That was back when things was good, long time ago.”


There were seven years of smooth sailing. Fancy Trash was big on the Glittering Chitlin Circuit, a group of venues throughout the South that catered to mostly gay and mostly black audiences. Teriza and Tony got married, and Teriza gave birth to Henry Horace Kalmar Tanner-Tinker on January 6, 1995. Sadly, Tony was knifed to death nine months later by a group of gay bashers when he stepped out the back of New Orleans’ Ice Lounge for a smoke during Fancy Trash’s Tricks and Treats Halloween Ball.

Teriza spiraled into a deep depression after her husband’s death. This was followed by several years of reckless and self-destructive behavior and a string of unsuitable partners. Henry K VII, now eighteen years old and looking like a mirror image of his late uncle, recalls when his mother brought his stepfather, Blago Yakolev, home for the first time.

“It was my sixth birthday, 2001,” Henry K said. “Momma wasn’t home. I had been hanging with Uncle H and Uncle Louie for most of the day, playing games and decorating for my birthday. It was going on five when Momma got home, and when she came in, she was holding hands with a sleazy white guy with greasy black hair, a dirty white t-shirt, and bad tattoos. Uncle Louie had this look on his face like ‘uh-oh,’ ‘cause he knew the shit was about to hit the fan. I knew it too, ‘cause you could tell that Uncle H didn’t approve of Momma’s new boyfriend.

Momma was smiling and laughing, and I kind of figured she’d probably been drinking or smoking something, ‘cause she laugh a lot when she get high. Blago was acting friendly, spreadin’ it on thick, but I knew him and Uncle H was gonna tangle. Both sets of grandparents came over, and everyone was trying to keep it nice for me, but I could see how it was. And then came the moment when Uncle H took Momma out of the room. They didn’t know I could hear them, but I could.

Uncle H told Momma that she was insulting Daddy’s memory dragging in trash like Blago. He said it was probably killing Daddy’s parents to see their grandson’s Momma with that greasy-ass Russian thug. Then he started to cry.

‘I’m worried sick about you, T,’ Uncle H said, while Momma tried to tell him not to cry. ‘You been drinkin’ and smokin’, and not just cigarettes or Mary Jane neither. I know you been smoking crack, and I get it, I do. You ain’t been the same since Tony was killed. But you ain’t gonna be able to replace a good man with a fuckin’ hood rat. Please, T, you kick that Russian Mafia wannabe mothafucka to the curb. Then you let me take you to get some counseling a’ight? Not just for you, Baby Girl, but for Little H. He deserves to have his Momma around when he grows up.”

Henry K stopped, took a drag on his cigarette, and wiped his eyes.

“I wish she’d listened to Uncle H, Man,” the young man mused, his cool, smooth voice shaking like tremolo. “I wish she’d listened. She been dead since I was eight years old. My sis, Xia, she didn’t really get to know Momma at all. She was only a year old when my fuckin’ stepdad dropped us off at his sister’s house on New Year’s Eve. He said he was taking Momma home to try and fix things between them, but I knew she was gonna end up beat down or dead. That was ten years ago, and now Uncle H is lying there in a fuckin’ coffin ‘cause he’s been dying every day since Momma died, and he started dying even a little more when Uncle Louie got murdered on the fucking fourth of July that same year.

Xia and me, we were happy when Uncle H hooked up with Uncle Tommy T on Valentine’s Day 2010, but it was too late. Uncle H’s eyes was always haunted, you know. It was like two big pieces of his soul was already with Momma and Uncle Luis. I always knew it was only a matter of time.

I’m only eighteen, but I’ve already lived way more than most people twice my age. I kind of don’t wanna be alive right now, but I’ve gotta stay alive for my little sister. She only ten years old. I’ve gotta be an example for her, and I’ve gotta help Uncle Tommy hang in there. Me and him, we’ve gotta work together. We’ve gotta work together to stop the hate and the violence. Yo, do me a favor, man. You tell the people reading this magazine that Henry K VII is coming. You tell ‘em that Tomas Toledo is coming. You tell them that me and Uncle Tommy are bringing the message loud and clear, so everyone is sure to hear.

The violence stops here, Man. The violence stops here, today, with me.”

I believe Henry VI is looking down from Heaven at his nephew and smiling. Henry’s life may have had much heartbreak, but this determined young man, his nephew, is a great source of joy that he can be proud of forever.

Placid Calms

French Quarter Scene

January 31, 2020 21:26

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