Billie Lee (1920 – 2011) had at least two landmark accomplishments in his long lifetime, sometime in the late 1950’s he opened the first gay bar in Miami, called Billie’s Backroom at the Mayflower Hotel; and he was a gay comedian and singer in his club. His only album was recorded at Billie’s Backroom, with the unmistakably naughty title: A Daisy Chain Ain’t a Piece of Jewelry.
He retired in 2000 at 80-years-old.
Born Adam Walter Straub in Westchester County, New York., Lee was known by his stage name: Billie, after Billie Holiday, his favorite singer.
He came to Miami Beach in 1948, at 28-years-old, after six years in the Navy, where he fought in the Pacific during World War II.
A singer and a comic, Lee played clubs and hotels in Miami, where he became pals with some big names in showbiz, including Martha Raye. He was acquainted with dozens of personalities; the walls of his house were covered with autographed pictures of famous people, according to his friends.
Lee was known for his risqué routines. His act included a song titled Dating Ain’t A Piece Of Jewelry. Performing in the Catskills, Las Vegas and California, Lee eventually tired of living out a suitcase and focused on opening his own place in Miami Beach.
Billie’s Backroom dared to be a place where men could dance with men and women with women. Lee: “If we got caught, we went to jail.”
Lee lived for 40 years with his partner, Ed Fuccello, who died in 1999. In need of money to help pay medical bills for Fuccello, Lee took a job at The Hideaway in Wilton Manors, whose owner Ray Dragani hired him despite his advanced age, saying:
His sister was shocked. She thought he’d get a young stud in.
On Lee’s last day behind the bar, the improbably named Dragani said:
…people just came out of the woodwork to honor him, including the mayor of Wilton Manors, who gave Lee a key to the city.
Lee joked with the patrons:
A lot came by just to see if I was still living. I’ve never been accused of being dull.
Lee left this world in 2011 at 92-years-old. His drink was Crown Royal and Coke.