To honour Transgender Awareness Week (Nov 13-19), and the Trans Day of Remembrance (Nov 20), Historica Canada has released a new Heritage Minute celebrating iconic soul singer Jackie Shane, a pioneering transgender performer and a prominent figure in Toronto’s R&B scene.

Born in 1940, Jackie Shane grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, singing in church choirs and gospel groups. At 13, she came out to her mother as transgender, although she publicly presented as a gay man throughout her career. Shane performed in Boston and Montreal with Frank Motley & his Motley Crew (later the Hitch Hikers) before settling into Toronto’s burgeoning R&B scene around 1959. Shane played at sold-out nightclubs in Toronto, including her regular venue at the Saphire Tavern.

Shane unexpectedly retired from music in 1971, eventually moved back to her hometown of Nashville and passed away in 2019. Shane’s most well-known work, Any Other Way, an anthology album released in 2017, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2019 for Best Historical Album. Jackie Shane helped shape what came to be called the “Toronto Sound,” a brand of R&B unique to the city.

“As a Black transgender performer, Jackie Shane faced challenges in virtually every aspect of her life,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, President and CEO of Historica Canada. “In Toronto she felt free to share her true self when she took to the stage, and her authenticity is what this Minute celebrates.”

The English end narration is provided by singer-songwriter Beverly Glenn-Copeland and the French end narration is provided by R&B singer Anastasia Dextrene. The Minute features two of Jackie Shane’s own songs, Any Other Way and New Way of Lovin’, and opens with an original composition by Canadian composer Murray Lightburn. Jackie Shane is portrayed on screen by African Mohawk two spirit trans activist and storyteller Ravyn Wngz.

“Jackie has been a part of my inspiration and possibility story for quite a while now,” said Ravyn, “I think we have very similar stories, both spending [our] childhood[s] in the South … It’s been such a pleasure to take on this project and to bring her story out to the world. I think it’s necessary for people to really understand how much she gave to all of us.”

On this production, Historica Canada consulted with Prof. Rob Bowman, musicologist and Jackie Shane biographer; Monica Forrester, activist and founder of Trans Pride Toronto; Dr. Funké Aladejebi, University of Toronto professor of Black Canadian history, and Dr. L.K. Bertram, University of Toronto professor of history (including gender, sexuality and material culture).

This Heritage Minute was filmed in May 2022 and was produced by Historica Canada and Harlow Creative, led by executive producers Caitlin Brown (Queens; TallBoyz) and Vanessa Magic (ONEIRONAUTIC). It was written by JP Larocque (Coroner; Gay Nerds) and co-directed by Pat Mills (Queens; The Christmas Setup) and emerging filmmaker Ayo Tsalithaba. Emmy award winner Gayle Ye (Odd Squad) was the director of photography.

The Jackie Shane Heritage Minute was made possible through funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage. In-kind equipment support for the production was provided by William F. White Historica Canada is a charitable organization that offers programs in both official languages that you can use to explore, learn, reflect on our history, and consider what it means to be Canadian.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.