Atlanta drag legend Charlie Brown writing memoirs

Charlie Brown and his co-author Richard Eldredge. (Paulo Aguila)

Charlie Brown is taking his 50 years of stories from Atlanta’s drag scene and putting them to the page with the impending release of his memoirs.

The self-proclaimed “Bitch of the South” is currently shopping the project around to prospective publishers. It will cover not only his time onstage in Atlanta, but also his childhood in rural Tennessee in the 1950s, coming out while serving in the U.S. Air Force at the height of the Vietnam War, his “baby drag” days in Nashville, his nearly-50-year relationship with his husband Fred Wise, the birth of the Charlie Brown persona and his return to the stage this year after several health issues.

“I crawled my ass out of the country and my daddy always told me, ‘Look before you leap,’” Brown told WABE. “So I became streetsmart and got into fun things, got into some messes. It’s all about me growing up as a country boy and becoming an internationally-acclaimed entertainer.”

Brown performed at the long-gone Atlanta gay bar Sweet Gum Head in the 1970s and hosted a cabaret show for 15 years at Backstreet, the iconic 24-hour dance club that closed in 2004. He opened his own club in Underground Atlanta after that. He’s performed at several other Atlanta venues in the years since, including Lips Atlanta and X Midtown.

The book project came about after longtime Atlanta journalist Richard Eldredge interviewed Brown and Wise for a Backstreet oral history in Atlanta magazine’s Pride issue in 2020. Brown also appeared in drag at the magazine’s virtual Backstreet reunion party.

‘“The next morning, I texted to thank him and he responded to ask if I might be interested in continuing to help him tell his story via a memoir,” Eldredge told WABE.

Brown had recently suffered a stroke, had a fall that resulted in multiple injuries and had just turned 70.

“I recognized the importance of getting these stories down, especially since we had lost so many people from Charlie’s generation due to the AIDS epidemic and, now, to COVID,” Eldredge said.

Brown and Eldredge have known each other for nearly 30 years, so the trust to tell the story was well established.

“I kept him informed of all the stuff going on Backstreet, so I’m very aware of his history and what he could do,” Brown said. “And this was right as the pandemic was setting in and no one was going anywhere.”

Eldredge interviewed Brown and Wise over the phone weekly for eight months.

“Fred and I sat here and we’d go back and remember all the funny things,” Brown said. “[Eldredge] just got it together, man. He opened doors I hadn’t thought about in 20 years.”

Eldredge describes the book as “an incredibly funny first-person memoir written in Charlie’s voice.”

And for Brown, it’s somewhat of a love letter to Atlanta.

“Atlanta’s been wonderful. I’m so thankful that we had the opportunity to go through the period we did and be there and help the growth of it and open doors for the younger entertainers,” he said.