A “little kid from Raleigh” was part of a group that taught the world a new kind of dance in the 1970s, and he has been bringing joy to audiences ever since.
Randy “RJ” Jones, who attended UNC Chapel Hill and UNC School of the Arts before becoming the Cowboy in the Village People, will be back in Winston-Salem next week to perform his greatest hits and talk about his 1980 film, “Can’t Stop the Music.”
The sixth annual OUT at the Movies Int’l LGBT Film Fest will have a film topic for most every mood and interest: From the festive to the tragic, from the clubs in New York to a groundbreaking AIDS ward in San Francisco.
The festival, organized by Rex Welton, will kick off Oct. 2 with a private party for contributors and filmmakers and wrap up with an awards party Oct. 6 after the screening of the final film.
Jones will attend the fest as a juror and will perform at one of the festival parties, where he’ll be backed up by male dancers.
A fictional origin story of the 1970s-’80s music group, the Village People, “Can’t Stop the Music” stars the band, as well as Valerie Perrine and Steve Guttenberg (on roller skates no less).
“The producer wanted to do an over-the-top ’70s take on the over-the-top MGM musicals from the 1940s,” Jones said. “It’s silly, but the quality of the production really holds up. It cost $26 million, which was a lot of money in the ’70s. The cinematographer won several Academy Awards for his work in other films.
“The musical numbers stand up very well. Our costumes were by the great designer Theoni V. Aldredge. The white costumes for ‘The Milkshake’ number cost about $22,000 apiece, and we weren’t allowed to sit down in them, so we used leaning boards like they did in the old Hollywood movies.”
When he was at UNCSA, met Agnes DeMille, a great dancer and choreographer who helped found the school. Jones joined her dance company and toured the world for two years.
“I give credit to the great state of N.C. for my education,” Jones said. He studied theater, film and communications in Chapel Hill and contemporary dance at UNCSA. “I’m a huge proponent of public education. I was just this little kid from Raleigh, and right out of the gate, I was on an MGM soundstage. It was a magic fairy-tale life, and I would never have imagined it.”
While Jones is in Winston-Salem, he plans to look in on some dance classes at UNCSA.
“To have the opportunity to come back to the school that was such an important part of my education to do a Q&A. ... I’m so proud that Rex (Welton) and I got connected, and he wanted to bring the film and me here.
“It’s going to be like old home week.”
Jones said he thinks that people with different politics and ideas should be able to talk to each other.
“I have a wide range of people that I know,” he said, laughing. “I had dinner the other night, and Janine Pirro was on my left and Ivana Trump was on my right.” Trump is President Donald Trump’s former wife, and Pirro stars of Fox’s “Justice with Judge Jeanine.”
“We are a nation of e pluribus unum,” Jones said. “We are not a tribe. We are a nation. We have one flag, not two. You can’t have a full and adventurous life if you seek out only people who look and think like you.”
Jones started his show business career as a fashion model along with Grace Jones and Jerry Hall, and he has continued to sing, dance and act in films and on stage.
“I like communicating, meeting new people; I’m curious about them. It is a wonderful thing to have stories to tell and then see and experience an audience’s reaction,” he said. “They can think or feel that someone else has had that experience of joy, love, sorrow.
“I’m blessed with a library of material, and there’s nothing better than to do ‘YMCA’ and see people act like a bunch of elementary school kids,” he said, referring to the song that made the Village People famous.
“I never do a show without closing it with ‘YMCA.’”
“Can’t Stop the Music” will be shown at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at UNCSA.
Jones and Will Grega, his husband of 35 years, live in New York and have homes on the N.C. coast and in Florida.
OUT at the Movies Int’l LGBT Film Festival will screen 27 movies, including features, documentaries and shorts at Wake Forest University and UNC School of the Arts. OUT at the Movies will host 10 Q&As; five parties; appearances by 27 filmmakers, actors and documentary subjects; and one panel discussion.
“Our first-ever panel discussion/salon will be moderated by the amazing Eden Lane,” Welton said. “The topic is LGBT Filmmakers and Filmmaking.”
- 11 a.m. Oct. 5 at UNCSA: LGBT Filmmakers and Filmmaking. Eden Lane was the first openly transgender person in mainstream television broadcasting in the U.S. Mary M. Dalton, a professor of Communication and Film Studies at Wake Forest University, will be among those on the panel. The discussion/salon will be at. Admission is free.
- 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at WFU. “Proper Pronouns,” a documentary about four transgender pastors in N.C., will be screened as a work in progress screening. One of the filmmakers, Meg Daniels, is a graduate of Wake’s documentary film program and one of the subjects, Liam Hooper, is a graduate of Wake’s School of Divinity. Admission is free. A Q&A and reception will follow.
- 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at WFU. After screening of “5B” at the Byrum Welcome Center, Dr. Sam Pegram of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center will moderate a Q&A with two of the film’s subjects, and WFU will host a reception. Pegram spent a year working on the AIDS ward, 5B, at San Francisco General Hospital in the 1980s. The hospital staff learned how to care for the people who were suffering from a new and then-terminal illness. Their lessons were adopted by medical centers worldwide.
- 7 p.m. Oct. 5 at UNCSA. The Triad Pride Performing Arts will perform two songs before the festival screening of “Gay Chorus Deep South.” William Southerland, Triad Pride’s artistic director and conductor, will lead a Q&A with one of the film’s subjects, Ash Blow, after the film.
The full festival schedule, film synopses and trailers are at www.outatthemovies.org.