New album puts spotlight on transgender soul singer from 1960s Toronto
Jackie Shane performs in this undated photo. (Numero Group)
Published Friday, October 20, 2017 6:00AM EDT
In the 1960s, Jackie Shane took Toronto by storm. With her mesmerizing, soulful voice, wild moves like James Brown’s and an electric stage presence like Little Richard’s, the Nashville, Tenn. native was a tour de force: a transgender woman playing loud and proud -- sequined gowns, high heels, makeup and all -- at a time when “transgender” wasn’t even a term.
“I would describe Jackie’s sound as completely free, seemingly effortless and like a natural channelling of a kind of almost gospel spiritual energy,” record producer Douglas Mcgowan told CTVNews.ca. “To me, it’s like the definition of soul music: it’s like there’s something bigger speaking through her.”
Born in 1940, Shane first performed in Toronto in 1961. She would become a mainstay of the city’s flourishing music scene, recording a string of singles and a live album here before disappearing completely and mysteriously from the public eye in 1971.
For years, rumours swirled about her whereabouts and fate. Shane became the stuff of music legend while her recorded output became the stuff of record collectors’ dreams. Then, just a little less than four years ago, Mcgowan -- a Los Angeles-based producer and A&R rep -- managed to track Shane down in Nashville.
“I knew that if there was a legitimate artist-approved reissue of this record, that it would be a hit,” Mcgowan said.
Now, nearly 50 years after her last performance, Jackie Shane lives again in the form of Any Other Way: a 25-track, two-disc retrospective that encompasses all six of Shane’s studio singles and B-sides as well as a live LP recorded in 1967 in Toronto’s now-shuttered Sapphire Tavern. Released on the Chicago-based record label Numero Group and produced by Mcgowan, Any Other Way hits stores today.
Mcgowan says that for Shane, Toronto became a “sanctuary” from the intolerance she experienced south of the border; a place where she could truly let her talent shine.
“She’s been very, very outspoken about the fact that she considers Toronto her home and that Toronto was the only city that was ever good to her,” Mcgowan said. “She’s eternally grateful.”
But despite consistent praise from the LGBTQ community, Shane, Mcgowan adds, has never seen herself as any kind of transgender rights pioneer.
“She does not think in terms of any movement or any historical context,” he said. “I don’t even think that she’s totally into the idea of any type of labels at all -- I think she would prefer to just be considered as a human being who identifies as female, and that’s it.”
Shane’s worldview is perhaps best surmised in a spoken interlude during her live cover of the 1959 Motown hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).”
“You know what my slogan is?” Shane asks her Toronto audience, voice full of fire as the band plays behind her. “Baby, do what you want -- just know what you’re doing. As long as you don’t force your will and your way on anybody else, live your life, because ain’t nobody sanctified and holy.”
As for what’s next for Shane, it’s anybody’s guess. While she remains intensely reclusive (for example, the closest Mcgowan has ever been to her is talking through her front door), Mcgowan firmly believes that we’ll be able to see Shane revel in all this newfound attention.
“I believe that Jackie is going to be on stage,” Mcgowan said. “And for sure, if it happens, the first show is going to be in Toronto.”