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    A Toast to Divas

    By Jan Wahl–

    Diva is defined as “a famous female opera singer,” “a female singer of popular songs,” or “a self-important, temperamental, and difficult to please person. Descriptive words include princess, goddess, empress queen. Behavior is being the center of everything and middle of everyone.”

    Whew! When I think of my favorite divas, I am not thinking like this. I am filled with admiration.

    Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Mae West, Diana Ross, Bette Midler, and others could grab our attention in the best ways, and hold us close. Such performers have the talent to shine from within, bringing light with them as we follow every move. They are larger than life and fabulous.

    The Richmond Ermet Aid Foundation will bring a celebration of divas to us in The Diva’s Toast on May 20 at the Marines’ Memorial Theater. This organization, founded by two mothers whose sons died of HIV/AIDS, raises funds for HIV/AIDS services, hunger programs, and aid for underserviced seniors. I have loved it from the beginning. For the upcoming event, cast members from the touring production of Funny Girl will join the amazing Bruce Vilanch along with … wait for it … Melissa Manchester! Tickets are at

    Ken Henderson and Joe Seiler head up this hard-working charity. They give it their all and have for many years. Ken and I spoke by phone recently, since he and Joe are now based in Palm Springs, although they are constantly here in the Bay Area.  Ken told me for the San Francisco Bay Times: “We are doing different kinds of events down here in the desert: house parties with themes like Pink Saturday, Mardi Gras, Art of the ’60s, and Margarita Madness. In the Bay Area, we put on shows like the upcoming Toast to Divas.”

    He continued, “The cast put the show together, choosing songs not from the show that they love to sing. It is a great chance to do things they do not normally get to do. Melissa Manchester always brings it, and Bruce will be his usual hysterical self. Over the years we have highlighted Carole Cook, Jane Russell, Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly, kids from American Idol, and local greats like Jason Brock and Steve Knill.”

    Here are a few of my other favorite divas, and projects featuring them: Divas & Drinks @ The Academy SF (the San Francisco Bay Times monthly event series), Dreamgirls, Madonna in anything, Tina Turner, Liza Minnelli, Mariah Carey, Lena Horne, Andra Day, Ann-Margret, Janelle Monáe, and the youngest performer to achieve EGOT status—Jennifer Hudson—who was so fabulous in Dreamgirls. I also add Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard

    Certain movies make it clear that their stars might not be playing divas, but our eyes and hearts go right to them as if they were.  Some that come to mind include Queen Latifah in Chicago, Dolly Parton in 9 to 5, Cher in Moonstruck, and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born.

    Life would be duller without divas. Hats off to all their fabulousness. 

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian and film critic on various broadcast outlets. She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Off the Wahl
    Published on May 9, 2024