As hundreds packed themselves into Bass Street Landing in downtown Moline, IL, on a warm June afternoon, Alan Daniels was readying himself for yet another performance. The routine is a familiar one for the Rock Island native turned drag queen.
Cinched in a yellow bejeweled gown with a Vegas-style feathered headpiece, Daniels emerged on stage as Anjila Cavalier and performed a lip-sync to Crystal Waters’ hit song “100% Pure Love.”
Known for elegant costumes and stunning live vocals, Anjila makes the stage her home. Her performance history ranges from Florida to southern Illinois, the Quad Cities, Mason City, Ia., and Omaha, Neb. Sunday evening, Daniels will perform onstage as himself at Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities in Davenport. The 5 p.m. performance, at 2930 W. Locust St., will feature Daniels’ take on Christian music, through vocals and piano.
Among her accolades: Miss Gay Kentucky USofA Classic in 2020, Miss Rainbow 411 Continental Elite in 2018, and Miss Mardi Gras in 2015.
“Anjila is an absolute standout performer,” said Mason City Pride lead organizer Meg Markos. “Her stage presence and command of crowd are phenomenal. She was one of the most talked about performers of the whole night.”
A performer since birth, Daniels always knew he belonged in the spotlight. Dressed in drag? Well, that’s a different story.
“I embarked on this journey 35 years ago because of a dare, actually,” Daniels said. “I was at a talent show at (the former) JR’s Nightclub in Rock Island, just sitting there being hyper-critical. Someone next to me had a friend in the show and they didn’t like what I was saying, so they challenged me to do the next show the following month.”
Daniels had never done drag before. He relied on his experience as a former singing waiter at Circa 21 and his time in the costume department there. A mere month later, he was lip syncing to Janet Jackson’s “Control.”
“I ended up winning the contest,” Daniels recalled. “That’s when I figured there might be a future for me as a drag performer.”
Rock Island native “always a musical child”
Daniels was raised in Rock Island and spent most of his childhood living with his grandmother, Helen. He was always a musical child, singing from an early age and learning how to play piano. But it was his grandmother’s taste in music that became the foundation for Daniels’ own interest in performing.
“Because of my grandmother, I grew up with all the classics like Carol Burnett, Sonny & Cher, Barbara Mandrell… anything that had to do with music on TV, I was watching.”
Yet Helen’s influence went beyond her grandson’s taste in music. Daniels also credits his grandmother for his ability to sew.
“My grandmother was a seamstress, so every day after school I would go to her sewing shop,” he said. “I know how to make all of my costumes because of her.”
Even the Anjila Cavalier character is inspired by his grandmother.
“A lot of my aesthetic as far as what a classy woman should dress as comes from my grandmother. That’s why Anjila is so well put together,” he said.
Besides his grandmother’s influence, Daniels says his time in the military also helped inspire his artistry. At just 17, he enlisted to serve in the Army for four years and the National Guard for three years.
He initially worked as a cook but later auditioned for the Army band. Daniels would spend the next few years touring, visiting such places as Tel Aviv and Santorini. “It was an incredible experience,” Daniels said.
Daniels known to put “kindness first”
“You can read his dedication when he performs,” said longtime friend and fellow drag performer Joe Brooks of Daniels.
Brooks first met Daniels over 40 years ago at Olivet Baptist Church in Rock Island. The two quickly became friends and have performed together several times in drag.
“You can see the work that he puts into his performance. And I’m not just talking about the lip syncing and the dance,” says Brooks. “I’m talking about the details, you know, about what he does. And people can see that. It just shines through.”
Daniels is always happy to lend a helping hand, adds Broosk, especially to younger queens who are new to performing.
“In this business, you get a lot of shade, but Alan isn’t that guy. If he sees a queen that’s trying, he will help them become who they want to be. He has several drag children, and he takes good care of them,” Brooks said.
For Daniels, helping other queens is the right thing to do—especially in a world of drag that is always changing and evolving.
“Back in my day, we worked together as sisters. We didn’t try to step on each other’s necks,” Daniels says. “So if I see somebody struggling, I want to help. I don’t like seeing people being mistreated or bullied.”
Tribute to grandmother’s influence includes love of cooking
Outside of drag, Daniels enjoys cooking and considers it another passion in life.
“Everybody in our family cooks and cooks well,” he said. “As early as five years old, I was cooking with my grandma. By eight, I was cooking meals. My grandma would sometimes come home late, and I already had dinner made.”
To this day Daniels still cooks for his grandmother. Helen, who is now 95, lives in an apartment directly beneath her grandson.
“My grandmother is my biggest cheerleader,” he said. “I take care of her. We’ve all got eyes on her.”
As for the future, Daniels plans to fill it with his passions while staying true to himself as a performer.
“We’re all just here to have a good time and live the life we got to live,” he said. “I’m just trying to live my life like everybody else. I will always pride myself on my truth and on being me.”