Madame La Rochelle: 17/05/1964 – 01/01/2009

The much-loved face of Simply Blue nightclub in Johannesburg, Madame La Rochelle, has passed away.

The drag performer, real name Russel Phore, died of an undisclosed illness in hospital on New Year’s Day, according to Simply Blue owner Jerome Camp.

Phore was born on 17 May 1964 in the small town of Tarkastad in the Eastern Cape. He moved as a little child to Windhoek, Namibia, where he grew up. He later came to Johannesburg in 1992 at the age of 28.

During his early life in Johannesburg Russel was known as Rochelle to his friends. Driven by his passion for the stage he helped form a drag group called the Pussy Cats; along with the late Leoness and late Rachel.

After the death of both Rachel and Leoness, Rochelle re-invented herself as Madame La Rochelle.

When Simply Blue was conceived as one of the only gay nightclubs catering to people of colour in the city, the owners approached Madame La Rochelle to be the face of the club – a position and status she gladly accepted.

“Madame worked effortlessly in ensuring Simply Blue’s success, considering that a black-owned gay club was unheard of. Five years later Simply Blue is still successful and has broken so many barriers and stigmas,” says Camp.

La Rochelle was cremated in a beautiful, solemn and well attended ceremony on Monday. Her ashes will be returned to Namibia where her mother and sister live and will be buried at an official funeral at the end of January.

Simply Blue passed on a message to Mambaonline received from an individual known as Miss Tilly, which reads:

“To friends and family of Madame La Rochelle – She was a great leader to all of us and a best friend and a role model to all of us. She spread lots of happiness and love to everyone because she was sincere and always willing to wipe away a tear to bring joy and share a smile with anyone in the club. God Bless and let Madame rest in Peace.”

Simply Blue has launched a drag group called the Blue Belles in memory of Madame La Rochelle. The Blue Belles are made up of Brooke Logan (a protégé of La Rochelle), Lala and Foxy.

The nightclub has invited all those who are interested to attend a memorial service for La Rochelle at Simply Blue on Friday 9 January at 8pm. Entrance is free and there will be an open stage for anyone to perform or offer a word of remembrance in celebration of the performer’s life.

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