Legendary Toronto soul singer Jackie Shane re-emerges

The transgender 60s musician gets a career-spanning anthology this October

Archival record label Numero Group is releasing the first-ever artist-approved collection of soul singer Jackie Shane’s work.

Named after her most well-known single, Any Other Way is an extensive collection of all six of Shane’s 45s, highlights from the often bootlegged 1967 live set recorded at Toronto’s famed Sapphire Tavern, as well as three never-before-heard tracks.

Shane last performed in Toronto in 1971, and according to a press release, “this collection marks Ms. Shane’s first communication with the public in nearly half a century.”

Born in Nashville, she made her way to Toronto via Montreal in the 1960s, with Frank Motley and the Motley Crew. She built an immediate following for her soulful voice and boisterous performances, which garnered her comparisons to Little Richard.

While Richard was always found behind a piano, Shane’s signature sound is more boldly horn-based, her R&B style more akin to Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding. Her band leader, Motley, was known for being able to play two trumpets at once, but Shane’s powerful vocals had no problem competing. Nothing could hold her back.

Onstage and off, Shane, a transgender woman, was always decked out in glamorous sequined gowns, high heels and plenty of jewelry, and did little to hide what was at the time considered to be cross-dressing.

As an aside to the audience during her live performance of the song Money in 1963, Shane said, “You know, when I’m walking down Yonge Street, you won’t believe this, but you know some of them funny people have the nerve to point the finger at me, and grin, and smile and whisper. But you know that don’t worry Jackie because I know I look good. And every morning I laugh and grin on my way to the bank, because I got mine.”

Shane would indeed be laughing her way to the bank. That same year, she recorded Any Other Way, which went on to peak at #2 on the CHUM charts and stayed there for 20 weeks.

She continued to perform in Toronto’s club scene for the rest of the decade, but as the city’s booming R&B scene slowed and Yonge Street lost its shimmer in the 1970s, Shane relocated to L.A. and eventually back to Nashville. She quit recording and performing, and disappeared from the public eye almost completely, leaving many to wonder about her fate.

Though her work was never forgotten, appreciation of her music and appetite for her story waned until 2010, when the CBC produced a radio documentary about her life. Rare live footage of Shane was then featured in Bruce McDonald’s three-part TV documentary, Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories, in 2011. 

Noted music journalist Carl Wilson wrote his own extensive take on Shane’s enduring relevance for Hazlitt in 2013, placing Shane within a larger context of the history of queer and Black performers. The following year, Videofag hosted an exhibition for an animation by Sonya Reynolds and Lauren Hortie called Whatever Happened To Jackie Shane?

Despite her absence, interest in Shane’s work seems to be at an all-time high. Her live album was nominated for the Polaris Heritage Prize in both 2015 and 2016. Earlier this year, The Globe And Mail published an article calling Shane a “lost transgender superstar,” and a volume of Toronto queer history, Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer, was published by Coach House and featured an essay by Steven Maynard.

Crucially, Any Other Way will come with 20,000 words of liner notes by York University professor Rob Bowman (who also co-produced the collection and sourced the outtakes). Though Shane has rarely spoken to the press, Bowman interviewed her for over 30 hours, which has resulted in what he tells NOW is “a ton of information that no one ever knew.”

Any Other Way is out on Numero Group on October 20. 

music@nowtoronto.com | @therewasnosound

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