Remembering Jackie Shane: Celebrating the life of a pioneer in Soul and LGBT+ representation.

      The famous transgender and African-American soul-singer of the 1960s, Jackie Shane,   passed away on Feb 22 of this year, 2019. Her passing not only robs the world of an extraordinary musician, but an icon to the transgender community as well.

      Jackie Shane was born on May 15, 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee in the segregated Jim Crow South. During later interviews, she stated the reason that she moved to Canada was because she witnessed a group of white men go after a black man. She knew that she had to get out of where she was born and go to someplace where she would be safe. Also, at the age of five, Jackie identified as more of a girl than a boy.

      This was done in part by her accessorizing with makeup, sporting high-heels and having a handbag. Because of this, she was often ridiculed and mocked by her classmates, particularly a schoolyard bully who hit her with her a rock while she was passing by. In retaliation, she went after him- and the teacher who tried to separate the two- with a jump rope. Even at such a young age, she proved to the world that she was not going to be bossed around.

      In 1960, at age twenty, she moved to Montreal, Canada on the invitation of Herbert Whitaker, a famous saxophonist, to watch Frank Motley and his Motley crew perform. She was invited to perform a set piece where she sang songs by popular artists at the time, which included the likes of Ray Charles and Bobby Bland. Following the performance, her fame quickly grew in popularity and it wasn’t long before she released a cover of singles among them was, “Any Other Way.” This take on a classic song helped launch her career to a wider mainstream audience.

      The reason that this song helped her gain notoriety was that she puts her own spin on the lyrics. One song that she covered had the lyrics, “I am gay,” which, to the outside world, meant that she was happy, in the LGBT world meant that she was transgender.

      She managed to accomplish all this while still staying true to the music; but what made her popular was her unique vocal range in which she was able to produce such deep notes and still sound elegant at the same time (If you have not listened to her music before and would like a recommendation as to what song you should listen to, I would choose this one).

      She also released a slew of other popular songs, each one of them a cover of the original. The titles are, “Comin Down,” “I’ve Really Got the Blues,” and even a recording of “You Are My Sunshine.” She even managed to get booked onto the Ed Sullivan Show, but turned the offer down stating that she would not perform without her makeup.

      The Ed Sullivan Show, which ran from June 20, 1941 to June 6, 1971 and was hosted by Ed Sullivan, was a famous day-time television show that hosted such acts as The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Walt Disney. Basically, getting on that show was an achievement of its own and for her to turn it down like that showed how dedicated she was to her music and her identity, and was not willing to bend over backwards just to please certain people.

      In conclusion, Jackie Shane was both a transgender activist and a popular jazz musician who put a spin on classic hits and showed extraordinary bravery in aversion to a world that would not acknowledge how she expressed herself. She was also a pioneer in transgender rights by not allowing society to dictate what she could do and living her life voraciously and with ferocity.

      Sources:, Wikipedia, The Guardian, The New York Times

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