Interview: Tampa Pride on the River headliner says she'd ask Ron DeSantis 'to just stop hating people'

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click to enlarge Pepper MaShay (born Jean McClain) has also been a studio musician for over 40 years.
Pepper MaShay (born Jean McClain) has also been a studio musician for over 40 years.
To say that Tampa Pride on The River’s headliner, Pepper MaShay, is a Dance music Diva is both true and misleading.

While she’s best known for her song “Dive In The Pool,” featured on “Queer as Folk,” MaShay (born Jean McClain) has also been a studio musician for over 40 years, recording with everyone from Whitney Houston to Mick Jagger to Phish under her other moniker, “Sister Jean.”

It wasn’t until the 1990s, when she was singing with Vonda Shepard at a club, that a Swedish man approached her at a show and suggested she go to Europe. She was working on her first dance demos when her ex-manager suggested a name change.
“I got freckles, and he said ‘Pepper’ would be great as your first name.’” She added the last name MaShay (though some misprints spell it ‘Mâché’) and her Diva name was born.

MaShay spent the bulk of the ‘90s in England, creating Deep House and U.K. garage with DJs such as Joey Negro (now Dave Lee), Artful Dodger, and Thunderpuss. While she was performing as Pepper MaShay, she still worked and toured at the same time as “Sister Jean,” and even went on two international tours with “House, MD” star Hugh Laurie, who’s also, apparently, a blues musician.

“We went everywhere with Hugh,” she said, noting trips across Asia, South America, and Europe. I asked if there was a favorite place for her.

“It would have to be Ukraine. I became like a promoter of that country. This was in 2013-2014, right before and during [the annexation of] Crimea. And I would ask the young people, ‘What are your aspirations in life?,” MaShay explained. “And they would tell me, ‘We want to be able to have our own freedom, we want to be able to decide our destiny and not be worried about our homeland…and I would take that message back to Twitter to let [people] know that those people over there, we need to help them.”

While many celebrities use Twitter as a way to connect with fans or promote their work, MaShay’s Twitter (@peppermashay) is almost exclusively political.

“Twitter gave me a voice,” she said, noting that before the social media network, she was active at emailing whitehouse.gov and calling politicians. To MaShay, there is no difference between politics and dance music. Dance music has always been blacker and browner and queerer than most spaces and has often blended different types of music together.

To MaShay, there is no difference between politics and dance music.

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MaShay, who is a part of the LBGTQ+ community, sees the current Republican party as one the rejects the multiculturalism that it rooted in dance music.

“[Republicans] are looking more towards Viktor Orban of Hungary, who is totally against mixed race people, which is a lot of us here…,” she said. “It’s just the idea of everybody carving out their territory on how they’re going to make it through life. And a lot of us feel that we should do it together instead of apart.”

It is this spirit of collaboration that MaShay loves about dance music, and is excited to debut new tracks for her Pride on The River Set. This year, MaShay will be performing with Cuban DJ Marisol Musick, who brings in Latin, reggaeton, bachata, and tribal music to the tracks. (“It’s like Bad Bunny,” MaShay tells me.)

This will be MaShay’s second Tampa Pride event in two years, after performing at Tampa’s 2021 Pride parade. While MaShay loves Florida, Florida hasn’t been kind to the LGBTQ+ community over the past two years. With the “Don’t Say Gay” bill now in effect and the ban on trans youth healthcare in full swing, I asked Pepper what she would say if she was stuck in an elevator with Ron DeSantis.

“I wouldn’t cuss him out like I would have maybe 30-40 years ago,” she says with a grin before turning serious.

“I would just want to get inside his head and figure out ‘what is it about LGBTQIA people that you’re against?’ And I would also ask him to just stop hating people. Hate, to me ,is the poison of a human’s mind and body and soul. And when you project that out into the world, it just contaminates the whole human spirit, Darling.”
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