This past Sunday, the Grammys aired much to the delight or dismay to millions of people. Depending on who you were rooting for, the Grammys either validated your taste in the latest musical trends or served as a reminder that the famed musical institution is out of touch. I do not remember the last time I watched the Grammys nor, considering all the relevancy jokes lobbed at the awards ceremony I’ve seen in various pop culture reference over the last three decades, should I feel any need to. All award shows are always the same. Sometimes deserving people win, and sometimes they don’t. That being said, while I did not watch the ceremony, there was only one award I cared about this year.
Since discovering Numero Group for myself in a small college town in Kentucky, I have been amazed by the left of craft and detail they exhibit with every release. When I was doing college radio from the mid- to late-2000s, I had an underwriting deal with the only record store in town. In exchange for running a spot on the top of each hour of my two hour long show every Sunday from 10 PM to midnight, I got one free disc of my choice. And I almost always chose a Numero Group release.
I played so much from the labels Eccentric Soul series. The Eccentric Soul series were curated CDs, either one or two discs, that compiled rare or unheard material from soul musicians curated specifically centering on a specific artist, geographical area, or regional record label. Not only was the music incredibly amazing, but the rarity of the music was really cool too. No one I knew was playing this music.
Through the years I was in college radio, I amassed a whole collection of Numero Group releases (all but one of them is gone after a roommate with sticky fingers took advantage of me). Since I left college, the label has expanded into other genres. As much as I revered them for focusing on soul music, and felt they should stick with that, it made sense for them to expand and broaden their audience. However, their soul music will always what I associate the label with.
So, back to the Grammys! This year, Numero Group had a compilation that was nominated. In the category for “Best Historical Album,” Numero Group was competing for the famous gramophone statuette for what has become one of their best releases to date. That compilation, Any Other Way, is a two-disc celebration of one of the great soul pioneers, Jackie Shane.
Who is Jackie Shane? Prepare to be amazed and delighted. In the 1960s, if you were in Toronto and wanted to see one of the bets nightclub acts in the city, you would for sure find you way to see Jackie Shane, a black transgender singer who disappeared in the early 1970s. While many believed that she had die, the Canadian Broadcasting Company produced an audio documentary about the mysterious soul singer, and she started to earn revived following. In recognition of her pioneering talent, she is even featured on a massive 20-story mural in Toronto depicting influential musicians.
In 2014, Numero Group was able to track down Shane who was now living in Nashville. Through that outreach, she was able to collaborate with Numero Group for the 2017 compilation Any Other Way, which featured a collection of live and studio recordings from Shane. Prior to this compilation, Shane only released one album, Jackie Shane Live in 1967, and only a handful of singles during the mid-60s on labels such as Sue Records Inc., Stop, Star Shot, Caravan, and Modern Records.
In the notes for Any Other Way, Shane talks about her music career, working with Joe Tex, and reactions to her identity. Dressed in feminine attire, Shane was just seen as a gay black man. During performances, in between songs, Shane would play the role of a preacher with the audience as the congregation, with monologues about her identity and the state of sexual politics. Not only did Shane make amazing music, but she championed her identity during a time when not only there really wasn’t a word for her identity but could also result in violence against her.
Ultimately, Shane left her music career behind in the early 1970s. Her mother’s husband died, and she stopped pursuing music to take care of her. However, there was more to it. The whole push and pull of the industry ultimately left Shane exhausted. SO, she resided to live a life of quiet until Numero Group came knocking, and she finally earned the recognition she absolutely deserved.
Unfortunately, Any Other Way did not win the Grammy for “Best Historical Album.” Instead, the award went to Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris, an incredible set compiling sounds and images from people who worked forms in his community. Voices of Mississippi is worthy of the award for its commitment to tell forgotten stories, although I believe the gender politics of the 1960s America exhibited in Any Other Way adds a significance that is less visible. Oh well, a Grammy is just a statue, right?
Do yourself a favor and listen to Any Other Way. Since this blog is focused on an album, I’ll spotlight the title track “Any Other Way,” a soulful, melancholy song initially released in 1963 about broken hearts and saying goodbye. Typical soul music tropes but consider the story behind it. Sometimes, the person behind song can elevate the music.