Grammy-nominated Album Shines Light on Transgender Pioneer

For decades, Jackie Shane was a musical mystery: a riveting black transgender soul singer who packed out nightclubs in Toronto in the 1960s, but then disappeared after 1971. 

Some speculated she had died, but her legacy lived on among music historians and R&B collectors who paid big money for her vinyl records. But in 2010, the Canadian Broadcasting Company produced an audio documentary about her, awakening a wider interest in the pioneering singer. Today her face is painted on a massive 20-story musical mural in Toronto with other influential musicians like Muddy Waters.

In 2014, Doug Mcgowan, an A&R scout for archival record label Numero Group, finally reached her via phone in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was born in 1940. After much effort, Mcgowan got her agree to work with them on a remarkable two-CD set of her live and studio recordings that was released in 2017 called “Any Other Way,” which has been nominated for best historical album at this year’s Grammy Awards. 

A very private life

Shane, now 78, has lived a very private life since she stopped performing. In fact, no one involved in the album has yet to meet her in person as she only agrees to talk on the phone. But she realized after the CBC documentary that she could no longer hide. News outlets began calling and her photos started appearing in newspapers and magazines after the release of the album. RuPaul and Laverne Cox have tweeted stories about Shane. 

“I had been discovered,” Shane told The Associated Press in a recent phone interview. “It wasn’t what I wanted, but I felt good about it. After such a long time, people still cared. And now those people who are just discovering me, it’s just overwhelming.”

Grammy-winning music journalist Rob Bowman spent dozens of hours on the phone with Shane interviewing her for the liner notes in the album. Her story, Bowman says, is so remarkable that even Hollywood couldn’t dream it up. 

Born in the Jim Crow era and raised during the heyday of Nashville’s small but influential R&B scene, Shane was confident in herself and musically inclined since she was a child. She learned how to sing in Southern churches and gospel groups, but she learned about right and wrong from watching a con artist posing as a minister selling healing waters to the faithful.

Mother offers early support

From an early age, she knew who she was and never tried to hide it.

“I started dressing (as a female) when I was five,” Shane said. “And they wondered how I could keep the high heels on with my feet so much smaller than the shoe. I would press forward and would, just like Mae West, throw myself from side to side. What I am simply saying is I could be no one else.”

By the time she was 13, she considered herself a woman in a man’s body and her mother unconditionally supported her.

“Even in school, I never had any problems,” Shane said. “People have accepted me.”

She played drums and became a regular session player for Nashville R&B and gospel record labels and went out on tour with artists like Jackie Wilson. She’s known Little Richard since she was a teenager and later in the `60s met Jimi Hendrix, who spent time gigging on Nashville’s Jefferson Street. 

To this day, Shane playfully scoffs at Little Richard’s antics and knows more than a few wild stories about him. “I grew up with Little Richard. Richard is crazy, don’t even go there,” Shane said with a laugh. 

But soon the South’s Jim Crow laws became too harsh for her to live with. 

“I can come into your home. I can clean your house. I can raise your children. Cook your food. Take care of you,” Shane said. “But I can’t sit beside you in a public place? Something is wrong here.”

Headed north

One day in Nashville she had been playing with acclaimed soul singer Joe Tex when he encouraged her to leave the South and pursue her musical career elsewhere. 

She began playing gigs in Boston, Montreal and eventually Toronto, which despite being a majority white city at the time still had a budding R&B musical scene, according to Bowman. She performed with Frank Motley, who was known for playing two trumpets at once. 

“Jackie was a revelation,” Bowman said. “Quite quickly the black audience in Toronto embraced her. Within a couple of years, Jackie’s audiences were 50-50 white and black.”

Bowman said that in the early `60s, the term transgender wasn’t widely known at all and being anything but straight was often feared by people. Most audiences perceived Shane as a gay male, Bowman said. In the pictures included in the album’s liner notes, her onstage outfits were often very feminine pantsuits and her face is adorned with cat eyes and dramatic eyebrows. 

‘I’m the show’

For Shane, her look onstage was as important as the music.

“I would travel with about 20 trunks,” Shane said. “Show business is glamour. When you walk out there, people should say, `Whoa! I like that!’ When I walk out onstage, I’m the show.”

She put out singles and a live album, covering songs like “Money (That’s What I Want),” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Any Other Way,” which was regionally popular in Boston and Toronto in 1963. Her live songs are populated with extended monologues in which Shane takes on the role of a preacher, sermonizing on her life, sexual politics and much more. 

“I humble myself before my audience,” Shane explained. “I am going to sing to you and talk to you and do all the things I can so when you leave here, you’ll be back here again.”

She was beloved in Toronto and still considers it her home.

“You cannot choose where you are born, but you can choose where you call home,” Shane said. “And Toronto is my home.”

But her connection to her mother was so strong that ultimately it led Shane to leave show business in 1971. Her mother’s husband died and Shane didn’t want to leave her mother living alone. But she also felt a bit exhausted by the pace. 

“I needed to step back from it,” Shane said. “Every night, two or three shows and concerts. I just felt I needed a break from it.”

Return to stage?

Since the release of “Any Other Way,” Shane often gets the question about whether she would ever perform again now that so many more people are discovering her music. 

“I don’t know,” Shane said. “Because it takes a lot out of you. I give all I can. You are really worn out when you walk off that stage.”

She wavered on an answer, saying she’s thinking about it. Her record’s nomination in the best historical album category only go to producers and engineers, not the artists, so Shane is not nominated herself. But Mcgowan, who is nominated as a producer, said he has invited her to come with him to the ceremony in Los Angeles on Feb. 10 as his guest. 

“It’s like my grandmamma would say, `Good things come to those who wait,”’ Shane said. “All of the sudden it’s like people are saying, `Thank you, Jackie, for being out there and speaking when no one else did.’ No matter whether I initiated it or not, and I did not, this was the way that fate wanted it to be.”

 

         

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Pregnant Meghan Laughs Off ‘Fat Lady’ Comment on Charity Visit

 A stranger’s comment on one’s growing stomach may not always be welcome but a pregnant Meghan, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, took it all in her stride on Wednesday when a pensioner called her “a fat lady.”

Prince Harry’s wife, who told well-wishers this week she is six months pregnant, laughed off the remark, meant as a compliment about her growing baby bump.

On a visit to animal welfare charity Mayhew, of which she is patron, Meghan was being introduced to pensioners who have benefited from the organization’s animal therapy program when an elderly woman named Peggy took a more casual approach to speaking to a member of the royal family.

“Lovely lady, you are, may the good Lord always bless you,” Peggy told the duchess. “And you’re a fat lady,” she added, smiling and looking at Meghan’s tummy.

“I’ll take it,” Meghan replied, laughing along with others.

Meghan said last week she would become patron of Mayhew and three organizations dedicated to causes close to her. On her first visit to the charity as patron, she met beneficiaries, staff and several dogs, some of which she held in her arms.

The 37-year-old also planned to attend the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem” show on Wednesday evening, an event aimed at raising awareness and funds for Harry’s Sentebale charity.

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Colorism Reveals Many Shades of Prejudice in Hollywood

The breakthrough representation of minorities in Hollywood blockbusters has ignited a frequently overlooked discussion about whether prejudice isn’t just about the color of a person’s skin, but the shade.

“Colorism,” the idea that light-skinned minorities are given more privilege than their darker-skinned peers, is a centuries-old concept that many insiders say remains pervasive in the entertainment industry. The instant reckoning of social media has brought prominence to the issue and on Tuesday the ABC sitcom “black-ish,” known for not shying from heavier topics, confronted it.

 

In the episode “Black Like Us,” parents Dre and Bow (played by Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross) are appalled when they see that daughter Diane (Marsai Martin) appears darker in her poorly lit classroom photo. Their outrage sparks a tense conversation within the family.

 

“We felt that this was the year to just put it on our shoulders and see what we can do and hope at the very least we can get people to talk about it openly,” said co-showrunner Kenny Smith.

 

Executive producer Peter Saji wrote the episode. A light-skinned, mixed-race man, Saji drew from his own experiences as well as research.

 

“There is a light-skinned privilege that I never really wanted to admit I felt or experienced. I sort of grew up ‘Oh, we’re all black. We all experience the same struggle,'” he said.

 

More often when movies and television shows ignite conversations about colorism, it’s unintentional.

 

In 2016, a furor erupted over a trailer showing actress Zoe Saldana portraying singer and activist Nina Simone. Saldana’s skin was darkened and she wore a prosthetic nose.

 

When images from “Ralph Breaks the Internet” came out last year, it appeared Princess Tiana, Disney’s first black princess, had a lighter complexion and sharper features. Anika Noni Rose, who voices Tiana, met with animators and spoke about how important it was that dark-skinned girls see themselves represented. The studio also consulted the civil rights group Color of Change.

 

“They had to spend some real money to actually fix this. They recognized the problem, they listened and they worked to change it,” said Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson.

 

The issue isn’t unique to black people. In India’s Bollywood film industry, the starring roles tend to go to lighter-skinned actors, many of whom endorse products promoting fairer skin.

 

The movie “Crazy Rich Asians” left some Asian-Americans disappointed by a lack of brown or dark-skinned actors.

 

Meanwhile, “Roma” director Alfonso Cuaron received praise for casting Yalitza Aparicio in the lead role of an indigenous maid. The character is more at the forefront than her lighter-skinned Mexican employer.

 

For African-Americans, bias toward lighter-skinned people dates back to slavery. Skin complexion sometimes determined what type of jobs slaves were assigned or if, post-slavery, they were worthy of receiving an education. In later decades, universities, fraternities and other institutions were known for using the “brown paper bag” test: Those with skin lighter than the bag were in.

 

“It’s part of white supremacy, or holding up whiteness over other backgrounds,” Robinson said. “It has deep implications, historical implications in the black community from beauty standards to professional opportunities to how families have treated one another.”

 

The problem also exists within the music industry. Mathew Knowles, who managed daughters Beyonce and Solange and Destiny’s Child, said it’s no accident that most of the recent top-selling black artists are lighter-skinned like Mariah Carey and Rihanna. He said Beyonce often got opportunities that darker-skinned artists probably wouldn’t.

 

“There’s another 400 that are of a darker complexion… that didn’t get a chance at Top 40 radio,” Knowles said. “They got pigeonholed that they were black and in the ‘black division,’ and they got pigeonholed in just R&B, black radio stations.”

 

Knowles, himself darker skinned, said his own mother instilled in him that darker skinned women were less desirable. It’s a perception that he thinks is starting to shift.

 

“We have to have social courage to speak up about this stuff and stop being quiet about it,” Knowles said. “The only way we change is to be uncomfortable and truthful about our feelings and beliefs.”

 

That is a strategy that “black-ish” co-showrunner Smith also agrees with.

 

“With anything it’s always best to have a truthful conversation,” Smith said.

 

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Street Singer Gives Voice to Venezuela’s Growing Diaspora

A year ago, Venezuelan migrant Reymar Perdomo was singing for spare change on jammed buses, struggling to make ends meet while building a new life in Peru’s capital.

But her life took a turn when she wrote a heartfelt reggae song about leaving her homeland that went viral on the internet and has brought tears to hundreds in the Venezuelan diaspora that has spread around the globe. Now Perdomo combines her street performances with appearances at concerts and on TV programs, and her song has become the unofficial anthem of Venezuelans who have fled their country’s economic implosion.

“This song gives me goosebumps” said Junior Barrios, a Venezuelan migrant who listened to Perdomo perform her song “Me Fui” — Spanish for “I Left” — recently at a busy plaza in Lima. “Leaving your home from one day to the next day isn’t easy, and this just makes a whole bunch of emotions surface at once.”

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 3 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015 as food shortages and hyperinflation became rampant in what was once a wealthy oil-exporting nation. By the end of 2019 that number is expected to grow to at least 5.4 million.

“Me Fui” is Perdomo’s retelling of how she left Venezuela reluctantly with her “head full of doubts,” pushed by her mother, who insisted there was no other way for her to make something of her life.

The song, which the 30-year-old plays with a ukulele after her similar-sounding Venezuelan “cuatro” broke while busking, talks about how she was robbed and faced other hardships as she had to cross four countries to reach Peru, pressing on while “speaking softly and crying along much of the way.”

“I had lots of mixed feelings about having to leave Venezuela, and felt a lot of pain. And I just needed to express that in order to move on with life,” Perdomo said in an interview after performing on the streets of Lima’s wealthy Miraflores district.

Her nostalgic song has had more than 2 million views on YouTube thanks to a passer-by who recorded Perdomo singing and posted the video online. It’s also gotten a wave of attention on radio and television, helping Perdomo get noticed by famous pop artists around South America who have asked her to be the opening act at their concerts. She has also produced a slicker version that has had 1.2 million views on its own.

In December, Perdomo was invited to Colombia by a popular satirist and Youtuber who had her sing on a bus, surprising her by bringing along Latin Grammy winner Carlos Vives and Andres Cepeda.

Perdomo said she almost fainted as Vives, who was wearing a hat and fake moustache, threw his disguise away and started to sing the chorus of her song.

“That happened exactly a year to the date after I left Venezuela” Perdomo said. “And for me to be there, performing with one of my favorite singers, singing my song, just felt like proof that God exists.”

Perdomo, who used to be a music teacher at a public school in the rural state of Guarico and once participated in a televised talent show. Although she says she never voted for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, as a public employee she was required to sing at pro-government rallies, something a few online critics have held against her.

Though becoming something of a symbol of the Venezuelan exodus, she still struggles to get by.

Her mother, brother, sister-in-law and year-old nephew have joined her in Peru and all share a small rented apartment in one of the city’s working class districts. Only Perdomo’s brother has found a permanent job, working as a bouncer at a nightclub, so the street performer works long days to help sustain her family.

Still, social media fame is opening new doors.

Perdomo says that Vives has invited her to perform on a regular basis at his nightclub in Bogota and that she is speaking with organizations in Colombia about the possibility of recording an album focused on the plight of migrants.

These opportunities have her thinking about moving yet again — this time to Colombia’s capital.

“This has been a tough year, but it also been amazing” Perdomo said. “I think that to help people and do what you love, you don’t need a lot of money. You just need to believe in yourself and be willing to work real hard.”

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Razor Burn: Gillette Ad Stirs Online Uproar

A Gillette ad for men invoking the #MeToo movement is sparking intense online backlash, with accusations that it talks down to men and groups calling for a boycott. But Gillette says it doesn’t mind sparking a discussion. Since it debuted Monday, the Internet-only ad has garnered nearly 19 million views on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — a level of buzz that any brand would covet.

The two-minute ad from Procter & Gamble’s razor brand shows men and boys engaging in bullying and sexual harassment and encourages men to “say the right thing” and “act the right way.” Taking on bullying, sexual harassment and toxic masculinity is a big task for a razor brand. Many critics took to social media saying it was insulting to men and laden with stereotypes.

The uproar comes as Gillette battles upstarts like Harrys Razors, Dollar Shave Club, and others for millennial dollars. Gillette controlled about 70 percent of the U.S. market a decade ago. Last year, its market share dropped to below 50 percent, according to Euromonitor.

Allen Adamson, co-founder of branding firm Metaforce, called the ad a “hail Mary” pass from the 117-year-old company. But he added that online buzz, whether positive or negative, rarely makes a long-term difference for a marketer since memory fades quickly.

“Getting noticed and getting buzz is no easy task, and they’ve managed to break through,” Adamson said. “Most advertisers advertise, and no one notices because there is so much noise in the marketplace, so just getting noticed Is a big win, especially for low-interest category like a razor.”

On the flip side, it probably won’t sell many razors either, he said.

Advertisers and social issues

Gillette’s ad echoes other attempts by major advertisers to take on social issues. Pepsi pulled an ad in 2017 showing Kendall Jenner giving a cop a Pepsi during a protest and apologized after an outcry that it trivialized “Black Lives Matter” and other protest movements. Nike polarized the nation with an ad featuring ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick who started a wave of protests among NFL players of police brutality, racial inequality and other social issues.

Sales weren’t affected in either of those cases. When controversy does affect sales, it is usually over something more substantive than an ad. Lululemon saw sales tumble in 2013 after a string of PR disasters including manufacturing problems that caused their pricey yoga pants to become see through and fat-shaming comments from their founder. But even that was short lived.

Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, said that much like Nike’s Kaepernick ad, Gillette likely knew the ad would garner online debate.

“Nike knew what they were getting themselves into,” Torossian said. The ad with Kapernick was “making a lot of noise, and it can’t be a surprise to [Gillette] that this is making a lot of noise.”

Gillette response

P&G, one of the world’s largest advertisers, is known for its anthemic spots that appeal to emotions during the Olympics and other events, often aimed at women, such as the tear-jerking “Thank You Mom” Olympics branding campaign and Always “Like a Girl” 2014 Super Bowl ad.

Pankaj Bhalla, North America brand director on Gillette, says the controversy was not the intended goal of the ad, which is part of a larger campaign that takes a look at redefining Gillette’s longtime tagline “The Best a Man Can Get,” in different ways. Another online ad features one-handed NFL rookie Shaquem Griffin.

While he doesn’t want to lose sales or a boycott over the ad, “we would not discourage conversation or discussion because of that,” he said.

“Our ultimate aim is to groom the next generation of men, and if any of this helps even in a little way we’ll consider that a success,” he said.

Larry Chiagouris, marketing professor at Pace University, is skeptical.

“Treating people with respect, who can argue with that, but they’re kind of late to the party here, that’s the biggest problem,” he said. “It’s gratuitous and self-serving.”

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Satisfaction: Rolling Stones to Headline 50th Jazz Fest

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has got satisfaction: The Rolling Stones are among the headliners for the 50th anniversary festival.

Organizers Tuesday confirmed reports that Mick Jagger and his band will play.

Also headlining are Katy Perry, the Dave Matthews Band, Al Green, Pitbull, Santana, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aaron Neville and gospel great Shirley Caesar.

Producer Quint Davis says this year’s festival will include at least 20 tributes honoring artists who helped shape the city’s musical landscape. These include performances dedicated to Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Mahalia Jackson, Allen Toussaint, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt.

Tickets go on sale Friday, with a pre-sale Thursday, for Louisiana residents only, to buy tickets for the Rolling Stones date — Thursday, May 2.

The festival runs April 25-28 and May 2-5.

 

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Sports Illustrated Moves Swimsuit Issue to May

The upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is moving its publication date, pushing it from the chill of February to warmer May, closer to bikini-weather.

 

Editor of the issue MJ Day tells The Associated Press the shift makes more sense for greater impact. She says that “It’s always hard to think about buying a swimsuit when its 18 degrees out.”

 

Day says May is the time when many readers start to think about beaches and pools. The switch also unlocks other warmer locations in the world for the models and photographers.

 

There was no special reason the month of February was initially chosen 55 years ago for the swimsuit edition. Back then, it was picked to liven up a slow sports winter month.

 

 

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‘McJesus’ Sculpture Sparks Outrage Among Israel’s Christians

An art exhibit in Israel featuring a crucified Ronald McDonald has sparked protests by the country’s Arab Christian minority.

Hundreds of Christians calling for the removal of the sculpture, entitled “McJesus,” demonstrated at the museum in the northern city of Haifa last week. Israeli police say rioters hurled a firebomb at the museum and threw stones that wounded three police officers. Authorities dispersed the crowds with tear gas and stun grenades.

Church representatives brought their grievances to the district court Monday, demanding it order the removal of the exhibit’s most offensive items, including Barbie doll renditions of a bloodied Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Museum director Nissim Tal said that he was shocked at the sudden uproar, especially because the exhibit — intended to criticize what many view as society’s cult-like worship of capitalism — had been on display for months. It has also been shown in other countries without incident.

The protests appear to have been sparked by visitors sharing photos of the exhibit on social media.

Christians make up a tiny percentage of Israel’s Arab minority and say they face unique challenges.

“We need to understand that freedom of expression is interpreted in different ways in different societies,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, an adviser to church leaders. “If this work was directed against non-Christians, the world would be turned upside down.”

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has been accused of censorship for pushing legislation mandating national “loyalty” in art, also called for the removal of the “disrespectful” artwork.

Museum’s response

The museum has refused to remove the artwork, saying that doing so would infringe on freedom of expression. But following the protests it hung a curtain over the entrance to the exhibit and posted a sign saying the art was not intended to offend.

“This is the maximum that we can do,” Tal said. “If we take the art down, the next day we’ll have politicians demanding we take other things down and we’ll end up only with colorful pictures of flowers in the museum.”

But that did little to placate those who want the artwork removed. A protester remained camped out in a tent at the museum Monday with a sign reading “Respect religions.” Police watched closely as local Christians complained to reporters in front of street signs spray-painted with crosses and windows still shattered from last week’s clashes.

“This is very offensive and I cannot consider this art,” Haifa artist and devout Christian Amir Ballan said. “We will continue through peaceful rallies and candle vigils. … We won’t be quiet until we reach a solution.”

Artist’s reaction

Jani Leinonen, the Finnish artist behind “McJesus,” has also asked that it be taken down — but for a different reason.

He says he supports Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or BDS, a Palestinian-led movement aimed at pressuring Israel to change its policies toward the Palestinians. The group has made significant gains in recent years, persuading a number of foreign artists to cancel performances in Israel.

Tal said the museum won’t bow to religious or political pressure.

“We will be defending freedom of speech, freedom of art, and freedom of culture, and will not take it down,” he said.

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Screen Actors Guild Slams Film Academy for Oscar Tactics

The Screen Actors Guild on Monday called on the film academy to stop trying to prevent stars from appearing on award shows before the Oscars.

In an unusually critical statement Monday, SAG-AFTRA said it has received multiple reports that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is pressuring actors to appear only at next month’s Academy Awards. Several award shows occur before that, including the guild’s own Screen Actors Guild Awards on January 27.

“This self-serving intimidation of SAG-AFTRA members is meant to limit their opportunities to be seen and honor the work of their fellow artists throughout the season. Actors should be free to accept any offer to participate in industry celebrations,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement. “The apparent attempt by the academy to keep our members from presenting on their own awards show is utterly outrageous and unacceptable.”

“We call on the academy to cease this inappropriate action,” it concluded.

Messages left with the academy were not immediately returned Monday.

Following Kevin Hart’s departure, the Academy Awards remain without a host. With less than six weeks to go before the February 24 broadcast, they appear likely to remain that way. To compensate, the film academy has apparently sought to populate the telecast with starry presenters. One reported gambit has been to unite the “Avengers” cast at the Oscars.

The open feud with SAG-AFTRA is only the latest headache for the film academy which is seeking to revamp this year’s Oscars telecast. It earlier scuttled plans for a new best popular film category after a backlash.

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In The Mule, Drug Trafficiking in the US Becomes Old White Man’s Employment

For over 50 years, Oscar winning filmmaker and actor Clint Eastwood has portrayed tough characters — bounty hunters, police detectives and macho heart throbs. In his latest movie, The Mule, the octogenarian now softens his masculine persona to interpret a frail old man, whose financial hardship forces him to take up a job as a drug courier, a ‘mule,’ for a Mexican drug cartel. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

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