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White Party 2015: Jeffrey Sanker’s longtime love affair with the desert continues

PALM SPRINGS, California -- Jeffrey Sanker has been called the “father of the modern gay event party,” but don’t call him daddy!

“Ha! Ha!” Sanker said, laughing at the little joke. “I like ‘high priest of gay parties’ better! It sounds just a bit more youthful!”

The Miami Herald is credited with anointing Sanker with both of those titles.

Here it is 26 years since Sanker produced his first White Party in Palm Springs, and he insists that he had no clue it would become the premier party for gay men across the globe.

“The event originally started as a weekend getaway event for a lot of my LA friends. I’d seen similar types of events being done for the lesbian community,” Sanker said. “For the first few years, it was very intimate and I actually lost money. We only took up part of a hotel and a very small pool area. I always knew it would be a good event. That’s why I kept doing it.

“Did I expect it to become the largest gay dance music festival in the world with nine parties in 72-plus hours? Sometimes I look out over the event from a platform and ask myself, ‘OMG what have I done?’”

After decades of bouncing around Easter, in 2014 Sanker settled on consistency and chose the third weekend of April as White Party Palm Springs weekend moving forward. This year, that amounts to April 24 – 27.

Thousands of people will come from all over the world to attend the festivities, including pool parties, the famous White Underwear Party, the White Party at the Palm Springs Convention Center, and the Climax After Hours. The blockbuster Sunday Circus T-Dance — billed as the largest outdoor T-Dance in the world — will feature a live performance by country and pop star LeAnn Rimes.

Sanker said White Party Palm Springs is a year-round endeavor for his company, Jeffrey Sanker Presents.

“Planning and executing an event like this is a year-round job,” he said. “But it’s the best job in the world. I’m always researching and looking for new ideas. Before the party starts I’m already planning for the next year. I have great people working for me and travel the world’s LGBT events to get news idea each year.”

Sanker gets a lot of credit for “discovering” young talent, from singers to deejays. Even after a quarter-century, one such “discovery” stands out for him.

“My favorite example is from 2008, back when Lady Gaga was just starting out,” he said. “She really hadn’t performed with dancers in front of a large group before. No one knew who she was. We had her booked as the third act at the Sunday Pool Party.

“One year later, she’s the biggest pop star in the world and returned to headline the Saturday night main event, doing a full-on concert to show her appreciation.”

In recent years, two of the newer features are the naming of the Queen of the White Party and the White Party Ambassador. This year, Kelly Osbourne will be crowned the Queen and Frankie Grande will be designated as this year’s White Party Ambassador. Sanker shared how he picks celebrities for those honorary positions.

“I take a look at not only who is hot at the moment, but who would be a good fit, who people are suggesting,” Sanker said. “Of course I get lots of emails from celebrities who want the opportunity, but really it’s all about who is the best fit for the party and who can contribute to the overall ‘once in a lifetime’ experience and is passionate about LGBT causes.”

White Party has made Sanker famous around the world, and he explained how it has impacted his life.

“I can get away with mixing business and pleasure! Ha! Actually I’m very grateful and honored,” he said. “The main thing is that I get to work with some of the most talented and creative people in the world. It’s also fun having 30,000 of my closest friends go on spring break with me every year.”

Sanker first sniffed the sweet smell of success way back in the 1970s at the height of the disco era, when he learned from the best.

“As a teen when I was first starting out, I worked for Steve Rubell at Studio 54 [in New York City]. While he may not have been the best role model, he knew how to throw great parties and make every guest feel special,” Sanker said.

“We had had a lot of great times and I learned many great lessons I still use today. One thing in particular he told me: ‘The one thing you own in life is your name’ and ‘always show up for your own party.’”

Sanker took those lessons to heart, and now via White Party fame he has gained global visibility and a platform to use his own celebrity for the betterment of the LGBT community.

“I’m always delighted White Party’s visibility can lend itself to bringing visibility and support to LGBT causes,” he said. “I’m very proud to have worked with many different organizations in a variety of creative ways, including The Trevor Project and Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing (GLEH).”

Sanker said that at last year’s 25th anniversary party, they held a benefit for Desert AIDS Project with the help of Duke Shoman, a renowned photographer whose celebrity portraits were auctioned off for the charity.

“Also, we worked with Get Tested Coachella Valley, having their colorful van staffed and accessible at the entrance to our events as part of their annual and ongoing campaign,” he said. “Education is key to prevention and we have always prided ourselves on being a leader in keeping patrons safe and informed.”

His longtime presence in the Coachella Valley and the overwhelming success of the White Party have translated into Sanker being honored in 2014 with a star on the famed Palm Springs Walk of Stars. His star is embedded along Palm Canyon Drive.

“I feel very humbled,” he said. “It is such an honor to be recognized by the Palm Springs community in such a beautiful way and to have my name alongside such legends as Bob Hope, Liberace, even a few former U.S. Presidents and now Lisa Vanderpump, our past White Party Palm Springs Queen.

“My parents were absolutely thrilled and flew out to attend the ceremony!”

While Sanker is now immortalized with a star along Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs is immortalized by his White Party. It’s a longtime love affair that shows little signs of dimming.


White Party Palm Springs will be April 24–27 in Palm Springs, California.

The Renaissance Hotel Palm Springs, located at 888 Tahquitz Canyon Way will be party central as the host hotel, with the Palm Springs Convention Center, the Wet ‘n’ Wild Palm Springs waterpark and various other venues also participating throughout the weekend.

For information about Jeffrey Sanker Presents, click HERE. For a schedule of events taking place each day over the three-day weekend including featured DJs, click HERE. For all-inclusive weekend passes and individual party tickets, click HERE.

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Kevin O’Brian is a local freelance writer. He can be reached at kevinobrian2015@gmail.com. This story was originally published on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego.)