Brandl Skirvin addressed envelopes and helped decorate tents for Anita Madden's extravagant parties in the 1980s. Now, as board member of a Lexington-based nonprofit, he has made it a priority to bring back a major Kentucky Derby Eve celebration to Lexington.
JustFundKy was created in 2006 by Debra Hensley of Lexington and Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone with one goal: to help eradicate discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people across the commonwealth. The nonprofit will host "Gatsby: a Derby Eve to Remember" at The Grand Reserve, 903 Manchester Street, in hopes of reviving the tradition of the area's famous Derby Eve parties while serving a greater need.
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Starting in the 1950s, Lexington became famous for Derby parties hosted by some of Kentucky's horse racing families, with Anita Madden's gaining the most notoriety. Her soirées attracted several thousand in their last few years, including various Hollywood personalities, and were known for their male dancers and scantily clad women.
Decorations were elaborate. One year, when the theme was "The Fun Also Rises: An Evening with Ernest Hemingway," the centerpiece was a 68-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower with a red light on top. Guests were invited to show up as their favorite Hemingway characters.
"I wanted to bring that tradition of Derby Eve back to Lexington, and I wanted to do it in a big way," said Skirvin, JustFundKy's party co-chair, "so I'm confident that our party will be the best show in Central Kentucky, no holds barred — the best party, with really great entertainment."
This is the second year for the JustFundKy Derby Eve party, which is intended to be an annual event. The organization is expecting 400 to 600 people, who are urged to wear 1920s Gatsby attire.
The party will be catered, and there will be an open bar. Ballet dancers will swing over the dance floor. Performances will be by Hepcat Swing Dancers, the Walnut Street Ragtime Ramblers and the Imperial Court of Kentucky. A highlight of the night will be Joe Gauthreaux, a New York based disc jockey.
"It will be off the chain," Skirvin said.
But the party serves a greater purpose.
Proceeds will go toward the organization's endowment fund. Twelve organizations will receive grants totaling about $40,000 during a pre-event reception at 7 p.m. Scorsone said grant winners go through a lengthy process of submitting a proposal and screening. The money is used to "help groups that are doing the education work around the state."
"We think education is the key to help break down discrimination and promote fairness for everybody," he said.