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Jackie Shane, Pioneering Transgender Singer, Dies At 78

Jackie Shane, Pioneering Transgender Singer, Dies At 78

Courtesy: Museum Of Toronto
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NASHVILLE (CelebrityAccess) Jackie Shane, 78, a pioneering transgender singer of the 1960s, was found dead in her Nashville home Feb. 21.

Shane was known for packing nightclubs in Toronto in the 1960s before she stepped out of the spotlight for decades, only to reemerge with a Grammy-nominated album when when she was in her 70s with the 2018 Grammy nomination for Best Historical Album for Any Other Way. The album reintroduced her to a new generation of fans and today there is a giant mural of her face in downtown Toronto.

Still, Shane remained a recluse since 1971 with even those who worked with her rarely hearing her voice. She was brought back to prominence with the 2010 CBC documentary “I Got Mine: The Story of Jackie Shane,” which began when the documentary’s director, Elaine Banks, interviewed Shane for a magazine.

“I thought I was well hidden. And I wasn’t!” she told Banks “You found me and things just started to happen. … I wasn’t comfortable with it [at first] but I can adjust and that’s what I’ve done.”

Shane slowly returned to the spotlight, embracing her newfound fame.

“I do believe that it’s like destiny, like that something that could not be avoided,” she said. “I really feel that I have made a place for myself with wonderful people. What I have said, what I have done, they say it makes their lives better.”


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Shane was born in Nashville in 1940 and grew up as a black transgender child in the Jim Crow South, but she became a force in music after moving to Toronto in 1959, packing nightclubs and scoring a No. 2 spot on the Canadian singles with a cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way.” Although it is about a man trying to deliver a message to an ex-girlfriend, Shane put a special twist on the song with the lines “Tell her that I’m happy / Tell her that I’m gay,” as noted by the New York Times

Shane said she identified as a female since she was 13 but was referred to as a man throughout the 1960s.

“I was just being me,” she recently told the Times. “I never tried to explain myself to anyone — they never explained themselves to me.”

She moved to Toronto after seeing a group of white men attacking a black man one night in Nashville.

“One cannot choose where one is born,” she recently told the CBC, “but you can choose your home.”

She shared the stage with the likes of Etta James and Jackie Wilson but left it all behind in 1971 when, it only recently was learned, she left Canada to be with her mother in Los Angeles, who was living alone. Shane said it didn’t feel right that her mother was so far away and went to live with her in L.A., then they moved to Nashville. Her mother died in 1997.

Shane spent much of her time inside, ordering takeout and watching old movies on the television, but would venture out while wearing a hat and dark sunglasses to avoid recognition.

Her interview with the CBC is available here.


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