Art News

Remembering Ed Gillespie, Denver Trendsetter in Fashion, Art and Music

Friends will gather at Beta Nightclub on Sunday, October 6 to celebrate Ed Gillespie's life.
Friends will gather at Beta Nightclub on Sunday, October 6 to celebrate Ed Gillespie's life. John P. Houston
A living room. The sidewalk. Any available hallway.

Everywhere was a catwalk, as far as Ed Gillespie was concerned.

"His life was a runway," says Natalie Tatum, Gillespie's friend and colleague of about a decade.

Loved ones will walk the runway one more time in honor of Gillespie on Sunday, October 6, as part of a memorial event celebrating his life. Gillespie died on September 4, at the age of fifty.

Friends who organized the celebration have tried to incorporate as many of Gillespie's passions as possible. After a more traditional memorial service, there will be art, music, dancing and of course, the fashion runway.

Professionally, Gillespie was best known as a hair stylist. He cut and styled hair for customers and created dramatic looks for photos and fashion shows: women with gravity-defying Afros, or ponytails contained in long plastic tubes.

"He's not only tapping into fashion and tapping into hair extremes, he was tapping into his culture," Tatum said. "He was true to himself. True to his roots."

But Gillespie wasn't just a trendsetter when it came to fashion and hair.

Concert promoter Francois Baptiste first saw Gillespie in the ’90s, at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. Baptiste was a college student who organized events at the venue.

He noticed a man who showed up regularly — always distinct, always fashionable and always surrounded by a crew of women. The man got in free everywhere and always got VIP treatment.

The man was Gillespie.

"If Ed and his crew were at your event, you knew you had a good event," Baptiste says.

After graduating, Baptiste worked on a public-television music video show Gillespie hosted. It was there the two men became close friends, like family. Baptiste's children considered Gillespie as their uncle.

In fact, about twenty years ago, Baptiste got a call from the mother of his oldest daughter. They were at Ed's house. The girl had just taken her first steps, she said.

Gillespie got on the phone: "He told me, 'I saw it with my own eyes! She's walking! She's walking!'" Baptiste recalls, his voice imitating the excitement and pride he remembers in Gillespie's. "He just had his own way of putting things. For him to get to witness that? I'm always grateful."

While his creativity filled any space he entered, friends recall that Gillespie encouraged them to make art, hone their crafts and do their best work possible. He pushed for musicians to play better. For parties to be cooler. For makeup to be more original.

As word of Gillespie's death spread, friends from all of his communities came together. They knew any event in Gillespie's honor would need to reach for the same vibrancy as his life.

Beta Nightclub agreed to host the celebration before its grand reopening later in October. At least nine DJs will spin throughout the night. The party begins at 4 p.m. and ends at midnight.

Be a Good Person is printing a limited run of T-shirts with Gillespie's picture on them. Profits from the shirts, as well as money raised on GoFundMe in excess of what's needed for the funeral and to support Gillespie's family, will be used to create a scholarship.

The scholarship will fund training for promising cosmetology students, Baptiste says.

The event is open to anyone wishing to celebrate Gillespie's life. Attendees are encouraged to dress as they believe Gillespie would and to show off their outfits on the catwalk.

"I hope everybody can come out to this event and hug it out," Baptiste says. "Share stories about this guy. I hope people walk away, take his energy and continue to spread it. The positivity. The helping hand."

The Celebration of Ed Gillespie's Life takes place at Beta Nightclub, 1909 Blake Street, on Sunday, October 6, from 4 p.m. to midnight. For more information, go to the In Memory of Ed Gillespie Facebook page.
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