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Click below for the transcript.
This week’s Patreon bonus episode is one that, for the longest time, I actually had scheduled as an episode of the main podcast, because the story of Jackie Shane is a fascinating one, and she was a major talent. Sadly, though, I just couldn’t find a way to tie her in to the main narrative enough to justify her inclusion in the main podcast. But had I been able to, this would have been a much longer episode. So today, we’re going to look at “Any Other Way” by Jackie Shane.
[Excerpt: Jackie Shane, “Any Other Way”]
Jackie Shane, who died last year, was never someone who had a huge amount of success, although she made a few TV appearances in the sixties. She didn’t have the kind of connections to other performers that allow her to be fitted into the narrative, and that is in large part because she was the earliest prominent trans performer — who came out as trans — that I have been able to discover.
This is not to say that she was the first trans performer — I’ve talked in the main podcast about how Little Richard was almost certainly a closeted trans woman, and there was a whole history of drag in Black variety shows, especially, that often involved performers who we would now consider trans. Up until relatively recently, there was much less distinction between the identities that we now separate under the LGBT umbrella, and many trans women at the time would still think of themselves, or be thought of by others, as being gay men.
But this isn’t a podcast about identities, and they’re also not something that I’m particularly expert in, being as I am a cis het white man. I merely mention this to explain why Shane was for a long time regarded publicly as a gay man, or a female impersonator, and it was only shortly before she died that she confirmed her gender publicly. That’s not to say that she was ever closeted — far from it — but she was out of the spotlight for many decades, and those were the decades in which the labels we use for different LGBT+ identities changed.
From a very early age, Jackie Shane did things her way, rather than the way the adults around her wanted. She was asked to join the choir at her church when she was eight, and agreed, but on condition that she didn’t have to listen to anything the minister said, and that she wouldn’t give any money to the collection. She also refused to join her school’s track team, even though she was the best runner in the school, because she wasn’t going to do anything just because of school spirit — she wanted paying.
She started out singing gospel music, and was particularly impressed by the phrasing and delivery of Ruth Davis, of the gospel group The Davis Sisters:
[Excerpt: The Davis Sisters, “Twelve Gates to the City”]
Her first musical performances were with a travelling preacher and con artist, who sang gospel songs — she would hit metal chairs while he sang, adding percussion. She soon moved on to the drums, playing with an R&B trio who got their own local radio show, on which she would play drums standing up, while also singing. She also became friendly with Little Richard’s band, the Upsetters, and later claimed to have shown Chuck Connors the drum pattern that was used for Richard’s records “Rip It Up” and “Slippin’ and Slidin'”.
That trio never made records on their own, but they would often back up other acts, like Lillian Offitt, who had a top ten R&B hit in 1957 with “I Miss You So”, on which Shane played drums:
[Excerpt: Lillian Offitt, “I Miss You So”]
She became part of the house band for Excello Records, as well as performing regularly on the chitlin’ circuit, but eventually she got tired of the bigotry in the Deep South and moved up to Canada, where they didn’t have a context for her at all — there were relatively few Black people at the time in Montreal, where she was based at first, or in Toronto where she later settled, and with no other context for a gospel-voiced Black trans woman a rumour went around that she was related to Little Richard.
She started singing with a band led by a trumpeter called Frank Motley, who had played with Dizzy Gillespie, and whose big gimmick was playing two trumpets on stage at the same time, and she cut a few singles. Her first, a version of “Money”, didn’t do much at all:
[Excerpt: Jackie Shane, “Money”]
But her second was more interesting. The original version of “Any Other Way” was by William Bell, on Stax records:
[Excerpt: William Bell, “Any Other Way”]
Shane took the song and gave it a very different reading, especially on the line “Tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay”:
[Excerpt: Jackie Shane, “Any Other Way”]
That became a local hit, and it later made the lower reaches of the Canadian national charts when it was reissued in the mid-sixties. Around this time, Shane also recorded a live album, which was released several years later, and which shows the power of her soul vocals:
[Excerpt:Jackie Shane, “Barefootin’ (Live)”]
But while “Any Other Way” was a success, the follow-up “In My Tenement” wasn’t, and Jackie was unhappy that she didn’t get to pick her own material. She also missed out on other opportunities — for example there was a possibility of a booking on the Ed Sullivan Show, which she missed out on because she refused to present as male for the performance.
Eventually, she gave up on performing altogether, and moved back to Tennessee to look after her sick mother in the early seventies. She spent much of the next few decades trying to put her performing career behind her, refusing to talk to anyone about it until the middle of the last decade, when she started to be rediscovered by a new, larger, audience. A two-CD set of all her recordings came out in 2017, and there was talk of her making a return to the stage, but sadly she died last year, aged 78, before that became possible.