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Grassroots Toronto campaign aims to memorialize transgender soul singer Jackie Shane

Soul singer Jackie Shane is seen performing in this undated image. (Courtesy of the Estate of Jackie Shane) Soul singer Jackie Shane is seen performing in this undated image. (Courtesy of the Estate of Jackie Shane)

It’s been more than half a century since a Toronto audience heard the soulful sounds of Jackie Shane.

Now, a grassroots movement hopes to memorialize the trailblazing transgender musician with a plaque at the site of a former nightclub that hosted her often sold-out shows.

“Jackie's personal story, on its own, is amazing. But the fact that she was Black and transfeminine, and just like such a powerhouse, makes it really that much more interesting for us,” said Amanda Burt, the driving force behind the push to create a Heritage Toronto designation for the late soul singer.

Born on May 15, 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee, Shane shared stages with Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Little Richard, and Jackie Wilson before she moved to Boston, Montreal and eventually Toronto in 1959.

There, she secured what Burt describes as a “fabled run” at the Saphire Tavern and released the biggest hit of her career, “Any Other Way,” in 1962.

The song, and other live cuts from her 1967 sessions at the Saphire, would be turned into a boxset album in 2017 and nominated for a Grammy in 2019.

She died shortly after that nomination at the age of 78.

In 2022, Shane was honoured in one of Historica Canada’s iconic Heritage Minute videos, which detailed her contributions to "the Toronto sound" before she put the mic down suddenly in 1971 to care for her sick mother.

But aside from her more recent accolades, why is it that Shane, whose talents have been compared to that of James Brown, is so little known?

That’s a question that Burt poses in the upcoming release of the Crave Original documentary, “Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story.”

“When she stepped away from the stage, it's like, no one ever talked about her again. And we feel that one of the reasons for that is that people like her, at the time, weren't really comfortable celebrating those kinds of stories,” Burt explained.

Now, and in the context of cultural correction where success stories like Shane’s can be acknowledged, Burt is raising money to enshrine a plaque in her memory outside of the storied nightclub.

The plan is to raise $10,000 to cover the costs of the plaque itself, which would be unveiled by June 2023 during Pride, when Shane’s living relatives will be in attendance.

Burt hopes the monument will serve as an educational tool for those passing by the area of Richmond and Victoria streets while keeping Shane’s memory alive outside of the former venue where she became so beloved.

“People want to give her her flowers now. And if this is the way that we're going to honour her and honour stories like her, then that's awesome,” Burt said. 

Crave is a subscription-based streaming service owned by Bell Media. CTV News is also a division of Bell Media. Top Stories

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