One of the greatest soul singers of all time is someone you’ve never heard of before. Jackie Shane’s soulful voice is as beautiful, emotional, and sassy as it can be, rivalling the likes of James Brown and Al Green.
Outside a small circle of hardcore funk and soul recording aficionados and some longtime residents of Toronto, Ontario, few people remember the ’60s legend that never was.
Jackie Shane seldom performed outside of Toronto, a city the American transgender singer took refuge from the less tolerant USA where she was born.
In a hard as nails business and a different time, Jackie Shane lived her truth out loud, singing and performing in high heels, sexy skirts, and wigs. Before transgender rights or transgender women were even on the radar for most of the population, Jackie Shane was dancing to the beat of her own drum.
Everything about Jackie was illegal in her time—she was a black transgender woman in an era when crossdressing was against the law and walking down the street as a black woman was like wearing a target. Drag performance was a just burgeoning underground art at the inception of gay rights in the 1960s.
Jackie wasn’t a man who liked to entertain in women’s clothing. She was trying to wear dresses by the age of four, and as a teenager knew she was really a woman.
Jackie told writer Rob Bowman, “I could not be anyone else if I tried. It would be the most ridiculous thing in the world for me to try to be a male.”
She got her start singing gospel in the church choir, and then, playing drums. In the ’50s she landed a gig in the soul tent of a travelling carnival. Eventually, she found tolerant crowds in Montreal and Toronto.
Jackie toured with greats like Jackie Wilson and Etta James, but ultimately faded into obscurity after turning down a variety of opportunities such as an appearance on Ed Sullivan because they asked her to remove her makeup.
A few years ago, Los Angeles record producer Douglas Mcgowan tracked Jackie down in Nashville. Recognizing her as one of the greatest of greats, he wanted to re-release her records today with her permission.
“I knew that if there was a legitimate artist-approved reissue of this record, that it would be a hit,” Mcgowan told CTV news.
Today, fifty years after her last performance, Jackie Shane finally takes the spotlight for real.
The album Any Other Way with Numero Group records, and produced by Mcgowan, was released in October 2017.
Listen to the title song “Any Other Way”: