Dana Rogers

March 12 2015

Age 51, Houston

Beloved and Extremely gifted Jazz Singer, Dana Lynn Rogers entered Heaven's Gates on March 12, 2015. She was the featured Vocalist for The United States Army Jazz Ambassadors from 1992-1999. She is survived by her mother, Donnie Smith, her brother, Richard Rogers and her niece, Sasha Joldzic, of Houston, TX, and many other relatives. Dana is also survived by her Jazz Houston Musician Family, United States Armed Forces colleagues, musicians and loving friends from around the world. Dana was born in Port Arthur, TX and raised in the orchestra pit with her father, the late Bill Rogers, orchestrator, conductor, and contractor for the Sinatra family for over 35 years.

While earning regional recognition in Houston and in Las Vegas, Dana caught the attention of master-mentor Shelly Berg, two-time president of the International Association of Jazz Educators. Upon Berg's recommendation, Dana was recruited and retained by The U. S. Army Jazz Ambassadors, who showcased her internationally (1992-1999) as their featured vocalist and clinician. North American performance venues include The Kennedy Center, Caesars Palace, The Sands, The Frontier, "Monday Night Jazz" at The Four Queens; appearances with Frank Sinatra, Jr., Toots Thielemans, Bill Watrous, Carl Fontana, Buddy Childers, Hank Levy, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, Nancy Zeltsman, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (playing piccolo on "The Stars and Stripes Forever"), The Four Freshmen and Two-Time Grammy-winners, Floyd Domino and Johnny Gimble.

Dana was kind, considerate, compassionate, and very spiritual. She loved Gospel Music and prayed constantly "out loud" for those she loved. She wrote many prayers to God and prayed specifically for friends and family.

From the "What a World" column of Nancy Ford

March 14, 2015

The Other Side of the Coin

I'm not a collector, but I have this one coin, a silver piece. According to an online appraisers' site, it's worth less than fifty dollars, but to me, it's priceless. I use it as a decision maker. Heads, I go out to the club; tails, I stay home with popcorn and a movie. Simple stuff like that.

Originally the coin belonged to my friend, Dana Rogers; I acquired it in a move. Truth be told, Dana was more than just a friend. She was my first 'serious' girlfriend and I, hers. We met at a show in a seedy little bar in Montrose in 1982; I was doing comedy and she was singing. As is the case with most 'show biz' type couples, our relationship was like an Altoid in a Coke bottle - explosive, thrilling, brief and messy - but it turned into a 33-year friendship.

Barely 20, Dana's first steady gig was in the quiet bar cabaret of the Copa, Houston's supreme drag disco at that time. Night after night, she'd sing pristine arrangements of show tunes and standards with John Day & Company, a super-gay tight harmony trio. She learned how to 'read' an audience, from Copa drag divas Naomi Sims, Hot Chocolate, and the imperially profane Donna Day who could have made RuPaul blush.

"Do I come to your job to slap the dicks out of your mouth when you're trying to work?" Dana would say, defending herself and her artistry from the steady stream of unappreciative queers looking for blow and blowjobs. A moment later would find her offering a transcendent version of "Over the Rainbow" that would have made Garland herself sob. She. Was. So. Good.

To this day, I've never in my life heard a voice like Dana's. But don't take my word for it.
Get a load of these: Soundcloud / and Facebook video

Dana and I had been together for barely a year before AIDS tightened its stranglehold on our community. Of the hundreds of gay men in our not-so-little circle - close friends, colleagues, audience members - less than a handful survived. Around that same time Dana began her own struggle, with alcohol. Aside from two or three very brief slips, she remained sober for more than 30 years. That's strength.

One of Dana's most epic performances was for Houston's 1983 Gay Pride Festival held at the Summit, now the site of Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church(ish). Tina Turner - yes, that Tina Turner - was the headliner. Dana opened for her, singing the National Anthem appropriately dressed as the Statue of Liberty. I can still hear the gleeful squeal of delight, both her own and the audience's, as she raised her voice, and that torch over her spiky crowned head, in prideful celebration.

Uncle Sam must have been listening. A few years later, Dana and her immaculate voice were recruited by the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors to be that revered big band's lead vocal soloist. She traveled the world singing the Great American Songbook with the Ambassadors until Don't Ask Don't Tell, every LGBT soldier's nightmare, suffocated her spirit and her will. Following her release from the military, Dana's VA-prescribed medications did little to assuage the effects of her unrelenting post-traumatic stress disorder. But despite her tremors, hallucinations and paranoia, she could still sing. Somehow, when she sang and she still filled the room with her brilliance, her symptoms temporarily disappeared, and she found comfort and security.

In late February, 2015, experiencing mania and sleeplessness, Dana was briefly admitted to the VA hospital, but released despite the protest and pleading of friends. The next day she went to an Academy store, completed the appropriate paperwork, passed the background check, purchased a gun, and became one of the 22 U.S. veterans who commit suicide every single day.

Back to that silver coin. In 1983 or 1984, a gentleman named Michael O'Brien, one of Dana's most ardent fans, gave the piece to her in a card, with a handwritten note imploring her to recognize the brilliance of her talent, and to follow that light wherever it would take her. Michael had several of these silver pieces, and distributed them among those who had touched his life as AIDS was beginning to take it. But rather than be enslaved by his illness, Michael, like Dana, made his exit on his own terms.

For more than 30 years, that coin remained a staple of my living room décor, displayed among family photos and mementoes on a bookcase. All that time, it was right there, handily available for those moments of indecision. I flipped it less than a week ago, trying to decide between heads, Italian and tails, Chinese.
I've turned this house upside down, but that coin is nowhere to be found. Swear to God.

I'm not saying Dana took it with her; maybe it'll turn up eventually. But if she and Michael are having a heavenly head-or-tails tournament with it, trying to decide if they should spend the day sitting on a cloud or a riding a comet, that's OK with me.




gallery and text courtesy of Nancy Ford