By Muniyra Douglas
If you’ve traveled on Yonge Street, chances are you’ve noticed one of the giant murals dedicated to Nashville-born, Toronto legend and transgender Soul pioneer Jackie Shane (May 15, 1940 – February 22, 2019). Nominated at the 61st annual Grammy Awards this year, her story is a fitting honour during Black History Month. The singer’s historical album Any Other Way was a collaborative effort.
Rob Bowman – Associate Professor, Department of Music at York University and ethnomusicologist, was commissioned by Numero Group to write 20,000 word-liner notes for the album. Bowman is no stranger to the Grammy’s – this marks his sixth nomination – winning an award back in 1996. And joining the Jackie Shane project was a dream come true.
There wasn’t an understanding – or even a discussion -- of the transgender identity during this period, and Jackie was just viewed as a “feminine man that was clearly gay.”
In 1967 Jackie graced the Sapphire Tavern stage for the first time in Toronto. Audience members from all walks of life were attracted to Jackie’s performances. During this time, Toronto’s Black population was relatively small, but there were line-ups around the block to catch a glimpse of this courageous Black soul singer. Not to mention that the LBTQ community was excited and ecstatic to see her play. Bowman spoke with members of the community who were privileged to experience her live performances. They described Jackie’s unique ability to make them feel more comfortable and aware of their identity. As Bowman describes it: “Jackie was this liberating force.” There wasn’t an understanding – or even a discussion -- of the transgender identity during this period, and Jackie was just viewed as a “feminine man that was clearly gay.” But since Jackie’s adolescent years she knew she was transgender.
This project allows Jackie’s story and music to be told to new generation of music lovers; with wider exposure and distribution than before
In Fall of 1962, Jackie recorded a cover of William Bell’s Stax recording of “Any Other Way.” The track became a hit in Toronto, representing Jackie and speaking for a large portion of the city’s population. However, there were no R&B radio stations at the time, only CKEY & CHUM. CKEY was on board, spinning and promoting the song immediately. CHUM – a relatively larger station – was less enthusiastic about the track and didn’t provide initial support. “CHUM didn’t like me,” Jackie declares. “I don’t know why they hated me but they did. The people made them play Any Other Way.”
But much to the disappointment -- and confusion -- of her fans, she disappeared after a 1971 Toronto performance. Jackie cited “fakeness” in the music industry, and the daily challenges of being recognized as transgender as some reasons of stepping away. It was rumoured that she had died – (murdered, in fact!) – but she was alive and well, spending much of that time with her mother. It wasn’t until decades later that she would re-emerge into the spotlight.
Any Other Way was released in the Fall of 2017 and the album was filled with singles, live renditions, and never-before-released outtakes. Jackie agreed to the collaboration project because her work was being bootlegged, which of course largely upset her. Aware of Bowman’s previous work on Soul/R&B music, one of the owners of Numero Group contacted him to provide the album’s liner notes. Struck by his own personal admiration and desire to uncover the performer’s story, Bowman leapt at the opportunity. And with thirty plus hours worth of recordings with Jackie, Bowman weaved a rich tapestry of her fascinating story, which included her experiences as a carnival performer, dancer, gospel singer, drummer, her friendship with Little Richard, and so much more. This project allows Jackie’s story and music to be told to a new generation of music lovers; with wider exposure and distribution than before. Upon release, the album was featured on the cover of the Arts & Entertainment sections of The New York Times and The Globe.
Bowman says: When she [Jackie] [would] hear testimony from people who saw her in Toronto – straight or apart of the LGBTQ community – and the impact it had on them, […] she [would] say ‘Rob it’s humbling. I know that after this long, I meant this much to these people.’”