‘I never realized that I’d mean something to people all these years later’
I’ve talked about in these TransGriot electronic pages about trans masculine gospel singer Wilmer Broadnax, who was a major star from the 40’s to the 70’s.
Now it turns out that we are now getting another piece of our Black trans history revealed in the person of R&B singer Jackie Shane.
She was born in Nashville on May 15, 1940. While Nashville is world renowned for its country music scene, it also had a thriving blues and R&B music scene centered on the clubs on Jefferson St.
Shane was surrounded by music from an early age, and according to the 2010 CBC Elaine Banks radio documentary I Got Mine; The Story Of Jackie Shane, as a teen she stayed with Marion James, Nashville’s legendary Queen of the Blues.
She moved to Montreal in 1960, and a chance 1962 encounter with the Washington DC based band Frank Motley and the Motley Crew, known as Frank Motley and the Hitchhikers north of the border led to her becoming the lead singer for the group, relocating to Toronto with them in 1961 and as their lead singer subsequently taking Toronto’s music scene by storm.
Shane and the band would occasionally head south for US gigs in Boston, Nashville and Los Angeles, but it was Toronto where they were making their money. Toronto’s music scene was centered on Yonge Street, and they were tapping into the hunger Canadian audiences had for R&B and soul music.
Shane’s first single was a cover of the Frank Barrett Motown classic song Money, but it was the song she released later in 1962 entitled Any Other Way, that hit number two on the then influential CHUM radio music chart that led to her taking the Toronto based music scene by storm .
In addition to performing at Toronto’s Sapphire Club , there was this 1965 performance on Nashville’s WLAC-TV’s Night Train show
As the 60’s inexorably moved into the 70’s the bookings dried up and Shane left Toronto in 1971 returned to the States and lost touch with her bandmates. She turned down an offer from George Clinton to become part of Funkadelic and began caring for an aunt in Los Angeles. She returned to Nashville around 1996 after the death of her mother as people wondered what happened to her.
Rumors abounded that she had been violently murdered in LA or committed suicide until she was found by saxophonist Steve Kennedy living in Nashville in 2005.
Thanks to that 2010 CBC radio documentary, there has been renewed interest in Jackie Shane’s career and life,and she’s still alive and kicking in Nashville at age 77.
And yes, Jackie, your life means plenty to all of us trans peeps all these years later as a Black trans woman living her life. doing what she loved and being unapologetic about it.
It also means that another piece of our Black trans history has been uncovered for us to enjoy and appreciate.