Jackie Shane—the electrifying soul singer, black cult heroine, and transgender pioneer—died this week in Nashville at age 78. “Any Other Way,” a box set of Shane’s music released in 2017 by the Chicago-based archival label Numero Group, had sparked renewed interest to her music and career. It was nominated for best historical album at this month’s Grammy Awards, but lost.

The title track—a smoldering soul number about putting on a brave face despite a broken heart—was Shane’s biggest hit, or, perhaps more accurately, cult classic. And it was recorded in Boston around August or September 1962, when Shane was singing with trumpeter Frank Motley and his Motley Crew. They were on their usual circuit of clubs from Montreal to Toronto to Washington to Boston.

Shane sings: “Here you come again / And you say that you’re my friend / But I know why you’re here / She wants to know how I feel / Tell her that I’m happy / Tell her that I’m gay / Tell her I wouldn’t have it / Any other way.”

“You know, you’re supposed to live,” Shane monologues on a live version included in the box set. “As long as you don’t force your will and your way on others, forget them, baby, you don’t need them.”

Shane had been a favorite in 1960s Toronto, where she lived, and Boston. But in 1971, she disappeared.

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Jackie Shane was born May 15, 1940, in Nashville. She grew up navigating the Jim Crow South black and, from her teens, as transgender. “One night, a friend and I were going downtown, waiting for the bus,” Shane told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation earlier this month. “And I heard this noise and these guys of European heritage were chasing an African man. And they caught him and they beat him and they put him into a dumpster. That’s when I started to look for a home. You see, one cannot choose where one is born, but you can choose your home. I chose Toronto. I love Toronto.”

Shane’s singing wowed audiences in Canada from around 1959 to ’71. On their tours to Boston, Frank Motley and his Motley Crew would take up residence at Louie’s Showplace Lounge in Roxbury, with “Little” Jackie Shane listed on the marquee. The band opened for the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Etta James.

“Shane and Motley became the rage of black Boston,” Rob Bowman writes in the boxed set booklet. Shane told him, “You couldn’t get in. To keep people from getting rowdy they put speakers outside. The police were arresting people because they were stopping traffic. It would be packed both inside and out.”

Probably in between gigs at Louie’s in 1962, Shane sang lead as the band recorded a cover of William Bell’s brand new “Any Other Way” at either Ace Recording Studio on Boylston Place or at Professional Sound Incorporated on Commonwealth Avenue, near Boston University, Bowman reports. Shane remembered “coming up with the arrangement and singing the parts to each player, including the odd but infectious horn lines that start, somewhat unusually, in open fourths,” Bowman writes.

Boston radio station WILD put “Any Other Way” in heavy rotation. Skippy White of Skippy White’s Mass Records store, about three doors down Washington Street from Louie’s, regularly played the tune on his WILD show. Shortly after the song was released, Jack Sager of the Cookin’ label put advertising signs around Boston reading “Jackie Shane for President.”

The single reached the number 2 spot on the Canadian singles chart in 1963—just below the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.” Shane’s rendition was “a sensation in Boston and Toronto” and was a “regional breakout” in Baltimore, St. Louis and Washington, Bowman reports.

Shane turned down approaches from Motown and Atlantic Records, opportunities to appear on American Bandstand and the Ed Sullivan Show, and an invitation to join George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Then, days after a December 1971 performance in Toronto, Shane quietly left town and seemingly vanished. Rumors even spread that she had been murdered.

“It’s like I just disappeared from the face of the earth,” Bowman quoted her in Now Toronto in 2017.

Elaine Banks’s 2010 CBC documentary “I Got Mine: The Story of Jackie Shane” sparked new interest in Shane’s music and life. Fans tried to track her down. It turned out that in 1971 Shane had decamped for Los Angeles. “I came back to America for one reason: my mother,” Shane told the CBC. “I didn’t want to. I should’ve let her come to me. She was afraid of changing, moving from the United States to Canada, and I should’ve let her come to me. But I went to her and that was a mistake I made because of my love and wanting to take care of her.” Her mother died in 1997. Shane returned to Nashville about a decade ago, The New York Times reports.

The 2017 box set “Any Other Way” recovered Shane’s music, revealing the story of her pioneering life, shining a light into 1960s black Boston, and finding Shane still kicking after all these years.

“I do believe that it’s like destiny, like that something that could not be avoided,” Shane told the CBC. “I really feel that I have made a place for myself with wonderful people. What I have said, what I have done, they say it makes their lives better.”

But on Thursday, according to news reports, her body was found in her modest brick house in Nashville, where she’d lived alone.

“I have never felt that I had to change or do anything that wasn’t natural to me,” Shane told the CBC. “I will never, ever be some kind of wishy-washy creature that pretends or lets others guide me. I guide my life. It is mine. No matter what anyone says, I’m going to be Jackie. That’s all I can be.”

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Jackie Shane, 1967. (Numero Group)
Jackie Shane, 1967. (Numero Group)
Categories: Music