St. Louis is Melinda Ryder’s hometown, but she has been Kansas City’s own for decades.
Bruce Winter began his drag career in 1975 and moved to Kansas City two years later. At that time, Winter said, there was no female impersonation in any of the local gay bars. Kansas City had had a history of female impersonators entertaining straight audiences, but Ryder was a pioneer in bringing the art to clubs that catered to the LGBT demographic.
A few years after relocating to Kansas City, Winter met Kirk Nelson, hairdresser, make-up artist, costume designer and “all around fabulous drag husband.” The two have been together for 28 years, both on stage and in life. If you’ve seen Melinda Ryder wear it, chances are that Nelson has lent his creativity to it.
In addition to other achievements, Ryder has reigned as Miss Gay Mid-West America 1979, Miss Gay Kansas America 1982, Miss Gay Missouri 1984 and Miss Gay Show Me State USA 1989. Nationally, she was second runner-up to Miss Gay America 1984. She was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zoey Awards in 2008.
Locals may know Ryder from her performances and emceeing at Club Cabaret, Starz on Broadway, Frisco Club, The Edge, Sidekicks, Missie B’s and many other venues around the city.
The charity and community organizations that Ryder works with include Show Me Pride, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and No More Homeless Pets.
Since 2002, Winter has survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma twice and pre-leukemia once. He has undergone two stem cell transplants and is now four years out with no signs of disease.