Who was Moi Renee, the late drag queen sampled on Beyoncé’s new album?

Moi Renee
Moi Renee (Photo: YouTube)

Beyoncé dropped her new album, Renaissance, yesterday. The general verdict seems to be that it’s a club and house-influenced selection of bangers. The 16-track collection showcases the iconic superstar letting her hair down.

Music-wise, the album has several queer references, first indicated by Big Freedia guesting on the introductory single, ‘Break My Soul’.

Beyoncé herself has also thanked her late gay, uncle Jonny on the liner notes of the vinyl version. She calls him her “godmother” and “the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.”

A writing credit on another track has also shone a light on a lesser-known figure from drag history.

‘Pure/Honey’ lists Moi Renee in its songwriting credits, delighting fans of this late, cult figure and his underground classic, ‘Miss Honey.’

Moi Renee: Jamaica to Philly to NYC

Renee was born in Jamaica but moved to Philadelphia as a child. One person who grew to know him well was Beau McCall, a former friend and now a respected visual artist and designer in his own right.

“We grew up in the same southwest Philadelphia neighborhood as teenagers,” McCall tells Queerty over the phone. “I was actually introduced to him through a few of my friends in the neighborhood and we developed a friendship from there.”

They met around 1978-79, when McCall was 19.

After High School, Renee had his heart set on moving to New York City.

“He came to New York in the early 80s,” recalls McCall. “When we got out of High School, he came up with the idea that we should both move to New York together. But he was a little more adventurous than I was, and at the time I didn’t take him up on his offer. I was more concerned about where we were going to live, how we were going to get employment. He just, on a whim, left me!”

Renee was hungry for New York City and all it might offer. It also offered him a chance to discover his real self.

“I met him as Sam,” says McCall, of when their paths first crossed. “And then his nickname in Philadelphia, they would call him Peanut. But his family called him Reni. So when I came to New York, they called him Renee, but I didn’t know him as Renee until I got to New York.”

Making a name for himself in NYC’s nightlife

McCall stayed behind in Philadelphia and formed a short-lived punk band with a couple of their mutual friends called Strange Beauties. Renee would occasionally return home. He told McCall watching the band perform inspired him to think about getting up on stage himself.

Around 1987, McCall also relocated to the Big Apple. He moved in with Renee for around six months. McCall found his friend was already making a name for himself on the club scene.

“He used to work in this club called Midtown 43. And at the time, I needed a job, so he got me a job in the club and I worked in the coat check.”

By the early 90s, Renee was studying at the prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. At the same time, he was also a regular performer at clubs such as The Shelter, Tracks, and One Hot Spot.


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It was at The Shelter that Renee really carved out his own niche. He became known for his super-camp performances, and in 1992, released the track ‘Miss Honey’.

Released only on 12” vinyl, the spoken-word dance tune became a ballroom classic and an early example of a ‘bitch track’: a subgenre of house.

The track was heavily played in gay clubs at the time, which led to Renee being invited to perform on The Sybil Bruncheon Show on the public access Gay Cable Network.

You can watch that ‘Miss Honey’ performance below.


One fan was Michael Musto, the long-time reporter of NYC’s club scene (and Queerty contributor).

“I have a long-running movie club and we always watch snippets before the feature film, and ‘Miss Honey’ is one of our favorite snippets,” he says.

“Her neon green soft serve ice cream-style hairdo and neon white lipstick are as astounding as her hilariously shady attitude and her blase backup dancers.

“What I love about the song is that there is no context as to who Miss Honey really is and why Renee is so upset about her lateness,” he adds. “But it ultimately doesn’t matter since we’ve all had a Miss Honey of some sort to contend with in our lives.”

Unfortunately, it was Renee’s only music release.

Renee was found dead in a hotel room in 1997. Authorities ruled his death to be from suicide. Some of those close to him dispute this. McCall says he’d heard his friend had been murdered.

“He just did not possess that in his personality,” recalls McCall. “Suicide would be the last thing that he would attempt to try to do to himself, so I have a hard time believing that.”

McCall published a book of photo collages last year called Rewind: Memories on Repeat. It features images of friends he has lost, including Renee.

A Moi Renee collage by Beau McCall
A Moi Renee collage by Beau McCall (Image: Beau McCall)

One of his Moi Renee images is currently on view in NYC at The Center, in a show called Queer Cuts.

To promote the book, McCall recently chatted about Renee on YouTube.

“One of those people who had the ‘It’ factor.”

Asked for his overriding memories of Renee, McCall tells Queerty of his friend’s charisma.

“He had a humungous personality. He was one of those people who had the ‘It’ factor.”

The two would go dancing at the legendary nightclub, the Garage.

“It must have held about 1,500 people. I see [Renee] on his lonesome command the attention of everybody who was in attendance at the club. It was amazing how he would just get on a dancefloor and turn the place out. It was just fascinating. I would stand there and watch the energy and the rhythm that he would explode all over this club.

“There was just something very fascinating about his character, the way he spoke, the way he walked, the way he walked into a room and just commanded people’s attention. He was amazing.”

Despite Renee’s passing, ‘Miss Honey’ has lived on as an underground classic. In 2018, a bootleg reworking by Eats Everything hit Spotify, bringing the previously rare track to the streaming generation.

Beyoncé’s ‘Pure/Honey’ sampling of ‘Miss Honey’ brings Moi Renee to the attention of millions more.

Related: Beyoncé’s ode to a drag icon, the second coming of Lesbian Jesus & more: Your weekly bop roundup

McCall says he was unaware until Queerty reached out to him that his old friend was making waves again.

“When you messaged me this morning, that was the first time I got the news,” he says before we end our call. “So I immediately went and bought [Renaissance] off iTunes, and I had an emotional breakdown. I cried like I was a baby. He meant so much to me.

“It’s beautiful. By Beyoncé sampling this, people all over the world are going to be familiar with him and his contribution. He was an amazing person.”