Androgynous Rhythm and Blues singer Jackie Shane rose to fame in the early 1960’s in Montreal and amassed a huge Toronto fan base. While his rise to fame could be credited to his Canadian following, Jackie was born and raised in Nashville Tennessee and grew up around music. The home of country music developed a growing jazz movement in the 1950’s and in his teenage years, Jackie lived with Nashville’s Queen of the Blues Marion James.
His talent wasn’t the only thing bringing R&B fans to his shows.. He’s described in one instance as a cross between Little Richard, Prince and Eartha Kitt. In another, he’s described as ‘Judy Garland meets James Brown’. Backed by well known dual trumpeter Frank Motley and his band, Jackie was the protégée of Little Richard and became a part of the Etta James review.
Also known sassy banter and double entendres, on his 1963 hit ‘Any other way’ he croons the lyrics “Tell her that I’m happy; tell her that I’m gay; tell her I wouldn’t have it any other way”. Toronto’s Yonge Street was described as the entertainment district during the R&B movement with clubs on almost every corner. Canada was considered to be less racially prejudiced than the states. The fans were also incredibly accepting of his openly gay and cross dressing lifestyle during a time when homophobia was widespread. To his critics, Jackie would say “I live the life I love and I love the life I live; and I hope you’ll do the same”
Jackie often travelled back to his hometown of Nashville Tennessee where he would visit different soul and R&B clubs. During one of these visits, he was featured as a guest on America’s first all black TV show, Night Train. There he performed “Walking the Dog”. This is the only known performance footage that exists of Jackie.
He disappeared in the late 1960’s and often rumoured to be dead, he was found to be alive and well in Nashville after the airing of a featured documentary on Canadian airwaves.
Jackie Shane on Night Train- 1965