Bob Jamerson is ready to take Baton Bob national.
“I want to become a household name like Lady Gaga. They won’t even know who that heifer is by the time I’m through. And I don’t even sing,” Jamerson said, howling with laughter.
What Jamerson does do — as his character Baton Bob — is march to the beat of his own drummer through the streets of Atlanta, blowing a whistle and twirling his baton with the grace of a college majorette.
Jamerson is set to tell the story of Baton Bob through “The Myrtle Hat Tour,” a one-man performance that combines the stories of his mother’s many church hats into the story of how Baton Bob came to be. The tour is named for his mother, Myrtle Redd Jamerson.
Many know the Baton Bob character was born after 9/11 when Jamerson lost his job as a flight attendant. Looking to bring himself some joy, he revived his hobby of twirling a baton and taking his show onto the streets of St. Louis, his former home city, for others to enjoy as well.
When he moved to Atlanta, Baton Bob became a hit with all residents — gay and straight alike — who enjoyed seeing a grown man in a tutu and tiara twirling a baton and tooting his whistle to let passersby know the “Ambassador of Mirth” was in their midst.
“This spirit is bigger than I am. I am only the vehicle,” Jamerson, 60, says of Baton Bob, while seated in the spacious home he shares with his partner, John Parker. Jamerson says one day the Atlanta home will become a Baton Bob museum to preserve his legacy.
“When the universe came to me with this opportunity [of being Baton Bob] and asked, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ You know what I said? Bitch, bring it on,” Jamerson said.
“And I have been biting at that bit for 10 years. I have a 10-year anniversary in November and I never dreamed when this venture evolved I would still be doing this and taking it to this magnitude.”
‘I can lift a lot of souls’
A native of rural Martinsville, Va., Jamerson said he loved watching Sunday college football games. But not for the football. He preferred the half-time shows where the majorettes strutted their stuff on the field and twirled batons high into the sky to the cheers of fans.
“I loved when UT played. They had 20 majorettes. I wanted to learn to do that. I was just following my spirit to what attracted me,” he said.
At age 7, Jamerson asked his grandmother to buy him a baton when she went to town. She told him she didn’t have any money for a baton and he could make his own baton from an old broom. So he did.
In high school, he was a drum major. But during his senior year, he asked the band director if he could be a featured male twirler.
“And this is in rural, small-town Virginia. I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean to my mom and dad and homophobia in the black gay community,” he said. “And I experienced all that growing up.”
The band director told Jamerson simply that if he could come up with a uniform, then “go for it,” Jamerson remembered.
“Looking back on it now, he was pretty hip,” Jamerson said. “I had no clue about prejudice back then.”
His mission when he took the football field at halftime? “To tear it up and give the majorettes a run for the money — and I had so much fun doing it. Then I just kept doing it as a hobby.”
Jamerson said now is the time for Baton Bob to become bigger than just Atlanta. He believes the world is worse today than it was after 9/11 and everybody needs a moment of joy, even if it comes from a man with a tutu and a baton.
“I think there’s a dire need for it. People are looking for anything to make them feel good even for a damned minute. People are coming for a piece of joy and sometimes all it takes is a moment,” he said. “I think I can lift a lot of souls.”
‘She’s going to steal the show’
Jamerson said he’s been asked why Baton Bob disappeared for the past two years. He is now coming back on the scene by posting to his Facebook page and Twitter account where he will be so his fans can come see him in action.
He said that time was spent trying to clear up legal problems that included his mother, Myrtle Redd, and father being put into an assisted living facility by a niece who had power of attorney and who refused to tell him where they were.
“The Myrtle Hat Tour” is a tribute to his mother and her unconditional love. It utilizes 10 of her hats to tell the story of what happened to her as well as how Baton Bob came to be.
“One of my favorite things on Sunday mornings was watching her transform herself for church. She had the hat, bag gloves, shoes — all matching. She’s where I get my sense of style and how I learned to put an ensemble together,” Jamerson explained.
Jamerson is eternally grateful for her acceptance for him as a gay man.
“I know she’s very proud of what I’m doing,” he said.
His mother will attend “The Myrtle Hat Tour” show in Atlanta on Aug. 10.
In fact, she will be part of the show.
“The moment I play over and over in my head is the minute I introduce my mother and bring her onstage. I don’t know if at that moment when my emotions sink in — showing where we came from to where we are now, how I will be,” Jamerson said tearfully.
“I told John the best way for me to handle it is to exaggerate the experience, to make it part of the show as opposed to me getting stuck in that moment,” he added. “I’m going to make it part of the show and I can release the emotions and keep going.
“She’s going to steal the show. I know she is. I’m setting the stage for her,” he added.