Five Trans Musicians Who Re-Shaped Popular Culture

Five Trans Musicians Who Re-Shaped Popular Culture

From jazz to drum 'n' bass via punk, soul, and electronics...

Today - March 31st - is the International Day Of Trans Visibility, a time to recognise the lives and contributions of trans individuals communities across the globe.

It's perhaps more important than ever before to be vocal about the hugely positive impact trans people have on society, with the debate surrounding their very existence becoming hopelessly mired in negativity.

Clash have compiled a short list - it could have been so much longer - of trans musicians who have re-shaped popular culture, the people whose contributions have arguably guided the evolution of entire genres.

It moves from jazz to punk through drum 'n' bass, soul, and electronics, a short testimony to the key role trans people have played in the creative culture that surrounds us to this day.

- - -

Billy Tipton

Oklahoma born Billy Tipton came of age in the 1930s, a time when jazz ruled the roost as America's popular music of choice. A pianist who went by the name 'Tippy' he presented as a man from his teens, quickly gaining both a local and national reputation for their creative flair.

With jazz in a period of constant evolution, Billy Tipton became a sought after radio artist, before two 50s long players - 'Sweet Georgia Brown' and 'Billy Tipton Plays Hi-Fi on Piano' - saw the pianist rework a series of jazz standards for the trio format.

Later becoming a key player in the Reno, Nevada nightlife, Billy Tipton took up a role opening for the fabulous Liberace before retiring in the 70s due to arthritis. He married several times, adopted three sons, and died in 1989.

- - -

Jackie Shane

Nashville born Jackie Shane was part of a long tradition in Black American culture to play with gender - think fellow R&B trailblazer Little Richard and you'd be right on the money.

However with Jackie Shane identity goes much deeper. In archive interviews they use different pronouns, and it took until 2017 for Jackie Shane to officially confirm her identity as a trans woman.

Earning a hit with 1962's 'Any Other Way' her dramatic, sweeping vocals also spawned 'Comin' Down' and 'Stand Up Straight and Tall' - both of which would become huge latter-day plays on the Mod and Northern Soul scenes.

A 2017 compilation through Numero Group brought Jackie Shane's story and soulful contributions to light, and she enjoyed a flurry of late-life fame before passing away peacefully in her sleep in 2019.

- - -

Jayne County

Jayne County is part of the post-Factory Warhol milieu who lit up New York nightlife, and essentially scorched the ground for punk to dance on. Raunchy, explicit, and playing entirely by her own rules, Jayne County was a fixture at Max's Kansas City, before hopping the Atlantic to check out the London scene first-hand.

While never achieving commercial success - sample song title: 'Fucked By The Devil' - Wayne County and The Electric Chairs would nonetheless become music press favourites, as well as a crucial live act.

Perhaps the first high profile trans woman in rock music, Jayne Country has never stopped; now working with Jayne County and the JC5, 2018 saw a five decade exhibition of her photography at Participant, Inc, a gallery in New York City.

- - -

Wendy Carlos

An American composer who studied at Brown University, Wendy Carlos came of age when electronic instruments were becoming widely used for the first time.

Drawn towards this feeling of endless possibility, she decided to blend this with some of the Baroque world's core pieces, resulting in the surprise best-seller 'Switched On Bach'.

Unexpected fame coincided with her transition surgery, resulting in a turbulent few years in which she balanced soundtrack work for A Clockwork Orange with her own solo endeavours, and even an appearance on American television staple the Dick Cavett Show.

Arguably one of the first electronic composers to gain mainstream acceptance, Wendy Carlos' work as a quiet innovator later resulted in contributions to The Shining and Tron soundtracks; sadly, she hasn't released a new album since 1998 but we live in hope.

- - -

1.8.7

Drum 'n' bass is a unique English form, something as closely ingrained in these soggy islands as fish 'n' chips, say. Yet this potent inner city sound made its way to redoubts around the world, with producer 1.8.7 helping to translate DNB for American audiences.

The Pittsburgh club figure honed in on the sound's darker possibilities, resulting in the startling crossover success of 1997 album 'When Worlds Collide'. Pushing drum 'n' bass into the MTV realm, her fame came at a cost - in 2000 she was brutally attacked in a transphobic hate crime, and later left the United States for England.

Currently living in Seattle, she remains a peerless advocate for breakbeat music in North America, still preaching the sound system gospel. Her latest album 'Resistencia' is almost complete.

- - -

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

 

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine