Harmonica Sunbeam: The Mastermind Behind Hudson County’s Drag Queen Story Hour

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One local event that has drawn a lot of attention within the community — Drag Queen Story Hour. Spearheaded by Harmonica Sunbeam, a local drag queen and entertainer, the event is designed to help spark a love of reading in younger generations while also promoting diversity, self-love, and other important values. Of course, besides being the face behind this event and planner extraordinaire, Harmonica also plays a big role in the Hoboken and Jersey City community. Hoboken Girl got the chance to sit down with Harmonica to discuss goals for this year, what a typical day for this entertainer looks like, and more.

harmonica sunbeam

Tell us about yourself. 

I am the North Jersey coordinator for Drag Queen Story Hour which is a nonprofit organization where drag performers go to schools, libraries, festivals, and parties to read to children about respecting others who are different, providing positive queer role models, and promoting literacy. I am also a host, comedian, and entertainer who’s been in the business for 30 years here in the states as well as abroad.

Tell us about Drag Queen Story Hour and its origins.

DQSH started in San Francisco with Michelle Tea around 2015 and made it’s way to the Brooklyn Public Library thanks to Rachel Aimee. It is now an international phenomenon with chapters all across the US and abroad.

What is your biggest source of inspiration?

My biggest source of inspiration initially came from my mom who was a single parent of two kids. She struggled to make ends meet and to assure us of a decent upbringing. Although she passed away when I was 16, the lessons she instilled in me are still with me to this day.

What is the best part about what you do?

The best part of what I do is giving folks the opportunity to forget whatever problems they may be facing and enjoy life. As far as DQSH goes the best part is bringing two different communities together for a fun and educational experience.

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harmonica sunbeam drag queen story hour

What are your goals for this year?

My goals for this year have changed slightly due to COVID-19, but it has also given me the opportunity to re-evaluate them. In addition to writing my own children’s book, I would like to get a new website and expand my relationship with New Jersey libraries and schools.

What’s a typical day look like for you?

A typical day that does not involve a gig will pretty much always have some sort of drag aspect to it — whether it’s material shopping, going for a fitting of a new costume, rehearsing new songs, or responding to booking inquiries. I also try to be physically active in some form and give myself some downtime to ease my mind and body.

What does a typical day look like for you when you do have a gig?

It usually starts with a very close shave and a shower. Then I move on to planning a look from hair to heels. At some point makeup is done and a set list is prepared if it’s a show, books are chosen if it’s a DQSH and balls are sanitized if it’s bingo. The only thing left is to make a grand appearance and wow whoever came to see me be it live or virtually.

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What is your favorite part about being an entertainer?

My favorite part of being an entertainer is being my own boss and expressing my artistry in the way that brings me joy.

What brought you to this line of work?

By the time I turned 21, I had already dabbled in drag via the ballroom scene (think, Paris is Burning, Pose) and after attending my first drag show, I was hooked.

What has been the highlight in your career so far?

A very big highlight in my career was working with Beyoncé at the now-defunct Roxy nightclub in NYC in December 2004. It was a dream come true, and the following month she even called to wish me a happy birthday. I didn’t realize it was her, so I ignored the call, but she left a message which I saved and put on CD so I can play it every year as if it was brand new.

Do you have anything to say to anyone who has been unsupportive of Drag Queen Story Hour?

The only thing I have to say to anyone who is unsupportive of DQSH is you are welcome to your opinion but I implore you to actually see the program in action before forming jumping to conclusions.

Tell us about another business in the area you admire.

I like Little City Books and the Hoboken Public Library because they allowed me to do DQSH there without giving it a second thought. Also, a big shout out to the Jersey City Free Public Library and WORD bookstore for welcoming me with open arms and JB’s Bakeshop for making awesome sweet treats.

harmonica sunbeam hoboken

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 What is your favorite restaurant in Hoboken or JC?

My favorite restaurant in Hoboken is La Casa on Newark Avenue.

What is your favorite boutique in Hoboken or JC?

I’m not much of a boutique shopper myself most of my drag clothing and jewelry are made by people I know.

What do you love most about where you live?

I first moved to Jersey City to be closer to NYC but then I slowly realized how diverse and accepting it was as I got older and more outgoing with my drag.

How long have you lived and/or worked in Hoboken or Jersey City? 

I’ve lived in Jersey City for over 25 years which consists of five years near Grove Street and the other 20 by Journal Square. Now I’ve worked in Hoboken over the years at Excalibur and The Cage two LGBTQ establishments which are now sadly closed.

What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Hoboken or JC?

Last year for Pride I was booked to do some work at The Lutze in JC and found it to be a very nice place that I have since been back to on several occasions.

harmonica sunbeam jersey city

What is your favorite place to work out in Hudson County?

At one point I was a member of World Boxing Gym as well as 24 Hour Fitness but now I have a gym membership in NYC.

Where do you go out with friends in the area?

I love going to Liberty State Park and the pier at Exchange Place.

What is something you think needs to come to the area?

I think Hoboken is ready for another gay bar. Jersey City has Six26 and Pint, but there’s room for more. Also, a bowling alley would be cool, too.

Is there anything else you want to share about Hoboken or yourself? 

I am hopeful that NJ continues to keep our COVID cases down so that our healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed. We shouldn’t live our lives in fear, but we should exercise caution for our safety as well as others.

Keep up with Harmonica on Instagram at @hsunbeam, Facebook, and via email at harmonicasunbeam@gmail.com.

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Written by:

Arielle is a born-and-bred Jersey girl and like a true NJ native, half her diet consists of bagels and the other half pizza. As a graduate of both American University and City, University of London, she’s been a passionate writer ever since she wrote her first “book” in the first grade. When she’s not furiously typing away at her keyboard, she spends her time ticking places off of her “to travel to” list, trying any and all new foods, and trying to stop herself from spending too much money at Zara.