June 9, 1969 – Nov. 15, 2020
She was known as a straight shooter with a heart of gold. Jennifer Holiday Chanel, a former Miss Gigi’s and an employee of the bar for many years, died Nov. 15 following a month-long hospitalization. She was 51.
Jennifer grew up in Flint and graduated from Flint Central High School in 1987. She went on to study at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. It was while she was there that she met Maxi Chanel who, along with Chuck Smead and Gregory Williams, had only recently started the House of Chanel.
“We were inspired by the Houses of New York and the whole Vogue and ‘Paris Is Burning’ thing,” Maxi Chanel recalled. “So we said let’s start one in Ann Arbor. Let’s start out of our own house. First, it was just three of us, then we started adopting kids. I met Jennifer in the bathroom at Nectarine. We hit it off immediately. I said to her, ‘I love that shirt you have on,’ and she said, ‘I like yours, too.’ So we traded and we’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since. We were roommates for 18 years.”
DeAngela “Show” Shannon was also forming a house at around the same time and, as with Maxi Chanel, she met Jennifer at The Nectarine.
“The Shannons and the Chanels kind of started out together,” Shannon said. “We met way back at the Nectarine Ballroom, which is now Necto. But back then it was then just a little club in the basement. I met Jennifer and Maxi and they were starting the House of Chanel. I kind of was thinking of starting the Shannons. And we blossomed from there.”
In the House of Chanel, Jimie Blair considered himself Jennifer’s mother.
“Jennifer was always special to me,” he said. “I had nothing to do with selecting Jennifer to be my daughter. She selected me as her mother and that was the end of the conversation
“And I was proud to be her mother,” Blair continued. “A few times, in private, I had to get on her. She received it as my child and she never, not once, disrespected me. I would tell her, ‘Now, Jennifer, you understand why I did what I did, right?’ She would always say to me, ‘Yes, mother.'”
And as she started performing, Jennifer considered the legendary April Summers to be her drag mother.
“I spoke to her recently before she passed,” Summers said. “She gave the impression that she was doing OK. She said, ‘Ma, I’ll be out of here in a week or two.’ As we see, she didn’t pull through. I was shocked. I love Jennifer very much. She was just good people.”
In 1997, Jennifer won the title of Miss Gigi’s. She performed at the club frequently and, for nearly the last decade, she also worked the door for the club’s popular Fuck You Fridays. When she wasn’t with her Gigi’s family, Jennifer could often be found in the kitchen.
“She was an amazing baker,” Shannon said. “She baked so well she could have owned a bakery or a restaurant. She baked and cooked well. Every year for the past 10 years I’ve gotten a cake from her for my family for Christmas, and you had to get in line for those cakes and get on the list because they were that good.”
Jennifer, said Maxi Chanel, also loved bowling and belonged to a gay bowling league in Royal Oak for many years. She also loved to play tennis, though problems with her legs would cause her to quit.
“Even when she couldn’t play tennis, she would take us out to the court and teach us and watch us play. She also loved to play video games and was very good at them,” Maxi Chanel said.
Those who didn’t know her might have thought Jennifer to be a bit rude, said Shannon.
“She was blunt; very, very blunt. She had no problem telling you exactly what she felt and what was on her mind. She was very catty. A sweetheart, but she was going to tell you the real. She was not going to sugarcoat anything,” Shannon said. “And she was so quick-witted she would read you and you wouldn’t even know you had been read until you thought about it. Her wit was so quick it didn’t make sense.”
But, said Maxi Chanel, it was all a front.
“Anybody that knew Jennifer, who really knew Jennifer, knew what she was the sweetest, softest, biggest pushover ever. But she never presented that way. You had to get to know her a little bit. She would be very intimidating, but all you had to do was show her a little backbone and she immediately was the sweetest person you ever met,” Maxi Chanel said. “On that note, she had tons and tons of people who totally admired her, simply because she pushed you to be a better you. She pushed you. She pressed your buttons and tried your knobs to see if you were going to rise to the occasion, and once you rose to the occasion, she very much showed love and kindness.”
There are no arrangements for Holiday Chanel at this time, although a memorial service is being planned. Donations for expenses are being accepted at gofundme.com/f/JenniferHollidayChanelMemorialFund.