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Tuesday, July 2nd, 2024

Queerguru’s Ris Fatah reviews Any Other Way – The Jackie Shane Story about the pioneering 1960s Black trans soul musician.

 

 

Just as you think there can’t possibly be many more high-profile queer figures from the past for film makers to profile, up pops another compelling documentary. This time the spotlight shines on pioneering 1960s Black trans soul musician/performer Jackie Shane. Any Other Way – The Jackie Shane Story details the extraordinary journey of Shane whose star shone brightly in the 1960s before she abruptly disappeared in the 1970s, remaining a recluse for fifty years until a brief comeback before her death in 2019.

Directed by Michael Mabbott and Lucah Rosenberg-Lee, with Elliot Page as one of the executive producers, Any Other Way – The Jackie Shane Story combines interviews with Shane, her family, fellow performers, industry associates and current black trans commentators, amazing archive footage and beautiful animation, to tell the life story of the ground-breaking singer/activist with such a special voice.

Jackie Shane was born in Nashville in 1940 to an unmarried 16-year-old mother. Quickly abandoned,  she was brought up by her aunt Jesse and her grandmother. Hers was a secure, loving household, with her family accommodating the feminine traits of the person born Jack. A spell in a local church choir led the still teenage Shane into Nashville’s late night Black blues music scene, initially as a drummer and then as a soul singer at the New Era Club. Inspired by flamboyant friends whom included Little Richard, as well as her innate drive for equality, Shane evolved into a striking diva on stage. This is all the more remarkable given late 1950s Nashville, in common with the rest of America, was a racist, homophobic and transphobic place.

Her career could only evolve so far in small-town Nashville where she was part of the queer black network. On the advice of her friend, southern soul legend Joe Tex, Shane left town to tour with a traveling carnival. When she reached Montreal, Canada in 1959, she knew she had arrived in her happy, safe place. She looked good and had money, so was able to live her best life. The 1960s saw Shane forge her career with successful residencies in nightclubs in both Montreal and Toronto. Both cities had a swinging nightlife and the mafia-controlled clubs looked after their trans protégé. Shane thrived as the warm up act for such luminaries as Etta James, The Temptations, The Drifters and Marvin Gaye. TV beckoned but the uncompromising activist in Shane saw her turn down The Ed Sullivan Show who wanted her to perform without make up, and also American Bandstand for its racist audience policies. She did say yes to Nashville’s legendary Night Train TV show, and this footage remains the only footage of Shane – her interviews for the documentary having been conducted by telephone. Shane also refused to tour the US and Canada but did release a legendary live album, recording in 1967 at the Sapphire Club in Toronto. This remains one of the best live soul albums ever, her assured trans-positive monologues between tracks a source of inspiration and comfort to many.

By 1971 Shane was living in LA and in a romantic relationship with a beautiful strapping man. They settled in Pasadena, and for some unexplained reason Shane abandoned her successful career and shunned the limelight thereafter. The relationship didn’t last and Shane went on to live a reclusive life for the next fifty years. No reason is given for Shane’s sudden departure from the scene. She briefly mentions in passing ‘You’ve got to know when to leave the ball.”

A brief comeback occurred in 2016 when Shane signed a deal to reissue all her recordings. The music was popular with young and old, generated lots of press and led to a Grammy nomination, nearly fifty years after the first tracks had been released.

Shane passed away in 2019 aged 78. By then she had returned to live in Nashvillle, initially to care for family members, including her abusive step-father. On his death she realised she couldn’t afford to move away, slowly lost her confidence, retreating within herself. On her death, two nieces inherited her estate, not knowing of her existence even though she had lived down the road from them for the past forty years. Her estate comprised a house full of beautiful vintage show outfits, jewelry, guns and a handwritten autobiography, inspiring the documentary. It’s as though Shane preserved her estate with the documentary in mind.

A fascinating tale of talent, glamour and activism from another era. More detail on Shane’s life after 1971 would have been interesting but I think she purposely kept that to herself. An uncompromising life, well lived. As Shane asked “Do you come to look, or to play?”

 

 

Queerguru’s Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant  (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah


Posted by queerguru  at  15:05

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Genres:  documentary, trans

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