1962: Clipper Cowbridge

1963: The Swiss Invasion

1965: Marilyn Kaye

1969: The Fold

1970: Yorgi

1971: Devon Shire

1972: Sandee Saunders

1976: Rockfinger

1978: The Spooky Bunch

1979: Decoupage

1981: Bleep

1984: Tiger Love

1985: Laryssa Foxxx

1986: Smasher of Things

1987: Suthrn Cuzn

1989: ~pianogirl~

1990: Razorflesh

1995: Breaker Bear

1996: Action Plus

1998: J Lounge

2001: Eesk

2004: Lazarus Project

Decoupage: Clubbo’s Disco Queens (1979)

Clubbo artists Decoupage

FOR A BRIEF MOMENT in the late ’70s, Decoupage brought a glittering veneer of discothèque glamour to Clubbo.

Fronted by dual divas Marilyn Green and Joanne Tarkenton, Decoupage dripped high style and seductive pop hooks. They were dance-floor faves from Frisco’s discos to Manhattan’s hotspots, not to mention thousands of junior-high gymnasiums and Kiwanis halls in between.

Decoupage is best remembered for the song “Black and White TV,” an anthem of personal growth and transformation. But is “Black and White TV” really about television? And why is that one woman’s voice so deep?

“Black and White TV”

“Black and White TV” lyrics and credits


You’ve heard the urban myth: “You know those chicks in that disco group, Decoupage? Well, they’re not chicks!”

True or false? Both. Partly. Kind of.

It all started in 1967, when Joanne Tarkenton and Maurice Green first met in a Dallas, Texas fifth-grade classroom. That year, the US Supreme Court finally struck down longstanding laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Even if these 10-year-olds had known what “miscegenation” meant, the ruling would have held little interest. But nine years later, when blonde Joanne fell in love with brown-skinned Maurice, the two became all too aware of prevailing Lone Star attitudes toward interracial relationships.

Tired of the bad vibes, the pair moved to New York City in the summer of 1977, arriving just in time for the blackout. Joanne landed a gig as a singing waitress at the legendary Petrino’s on 45th Street, while Maurice bused tables at the Maxi, a restaurant and nightclub in Chelsea.

The Maxi’s business lunch crowd was about as subcultural as Gerald Ford. But on Thursday nights, the club hosted raucous drag-themed disco events. Maurice befriended several of the performers, who persuaded him to try on their clothes and makeup. The results were stunning: Maurice was a handsome-if-slight man, but he was a knockout en femme.

When a headliner cancelled on short notice, Maurice’s friends literally had to drag him onstage. Several standing ovations later, Maurice — rechristened Marilyn — was booked as a regular. The following Thursday, Joanne stopped by after work and joined Marilyn onstage for a few numbers. They were, of course, an instant sensation. “After that night,” Joanne recalls, “we pretty much never sang solo again.”

With the help of Tommy Palmieri, a precocious Juilliard dropout who’d written charts for several other performers at the Maxi, the couple assembled a band and cranked out a few original tunes. Palmieri, speaking via phone from Las Vegas, where he currently serves as music director for the critically hailed revue Pantz in Motion, says the music came together almost effortlessly.

“The hardest part was finding a name that wasn’t already taken,” he recalls. “Jo wanted to use ‘Montage.’ Taken. Then Mare wanted to call it ‘Collage.’ Taken. Then I went, ‘Wow — what about “Decoupage?”’ And what do you know? That one wasn’t taken.”

Clubbo artists Decoupage

Marilyn discovered that the female role suited her offstage as well, and she took to living full-time as a woman. Rather than feeling alienated, Joanne found the transformation strangely exciting. “I thought it was just great,” she said recently. “Now the sweet guy I adored so much was also my best girlfriend. And we could share clothes.” Kinkier than their gender-bending (at least by 1970s club-scene standards) was their steadfast monogamy. Their friends teased them about their lack of interest in other partners, Palmieri recalls: “They were frickin’ freaks!”

Decoupage gradually migrated from the drag circuit to mainstream discos. “We didn’t want to be trapped in a box,” says Marilyn. “So we made a conscious decision not to emphasize the drag aspect of our performance. We weren’t trying to hide anything — we just wanted to succeed on the strength of our shows and our songs.” New fans simply assumed they were seeing a female duo. Which they were. The most common rumor that swirled around Joanne and Marilyn was that they were a lesbian couple. Which they also were.

According to Clubbo lore, Bo Bogerman, who signed the act, didn’t realize they were anything other than biological females until he saw the name Maurice in the contract paperwork. The discovery terminated his emerging habit of patting Marilyn’s rump.

The sole Decoupage album, Dress Rehearsal, was released in May 1979. The title track was an instant club smash, but the second single, “Black and White TV,” was initially seen as a dud. It’s hard to believe today, after the song’s decades-long reign as an anthem of diversity and empowerment.

But disco’s days were numbered. Hair got shorter. Clothes got blacker. New wave clubs replaced discothèques. And Clubbo dropped Decoupage. Before packing away their platform shoes, the duo returned to their hometown to play a final gig at Razzle Dazzle Dallas, the city’s gay pride celebration, in June 1981.

It wasn’t the only turning point for Joanne and Marilyn. Marilyn decided to undergo sexual reassignment surgery, a process she completed in 1986. In 1992, the couple moved to Saranac Lake, NY, as partners in a small Adirondack bed-and-breakfast. They’ve continued to make music together, working in the professional MIDI studio they constructed in the inn’s 130-year-old icehouse. They turned a profit with their self-produced 1992 New Age release Dreamsilk, creatively marketing the disc through airport bookstores and body-care shops.

There’s a final fairytale twist to the story: After 29 years together, Joanne and Marilyn returned to Texas in 2001 — to get married.

Why tie the knot after so long? “We wanted to make a statement after the 2000 election,” says Joanne. “We’re both of us Texans by birth, though it’s not something we wanted to admit while Bush was in office. The ceremony was about reclaiming our roots, and pointing out how ridiculous all those laws against same-sex marriage were.”

Following the September 2000 example of Jessica and Robin Wicks, Marilyn and Joanne were able to bypass the legal obstacles then faced by most same-sex couples. Texas law had established that chromosomes, not genitalia, determine gender. So although Marilyn and Joanne were a long-term lesbian couple, on April 7th, 2001 a San Antonio justice of the peace pronounced them man and wife.

“It’s as stupid as the old miscegenation laws,” Marilyn says. “And thank goodness all those laws are finally dead. We’re all just people in the end, all just citizens paying taxes and looking for happiness in our lives. Who that does harm to, I’ll never understand.”

“Black and White TV”