Let’s Remember: Billy Tipton, 1914-1989, Jazz legend and Transgender Man


Another item I wrote on facebook, from last December:

Billy Tipton was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton on December 29, 1914, and died on January 21, 1989. Tipton and wife Kitty Kelly had three adopted children.  I’ll be honest and say there is no documented proof about Tipton’s gender identity, but I will only refer to Tipton as he, because that’s how he lived.  He left no documents behind saying whether he was Transgender, or living in drag to have a musical career. Queer Music Heritage and Making Queer History have biographies of his life.  Hannah Judd (University of Pennsylvania) wrote a paper on Tipton’s life.

Tipton was a top notch pianist, saxophonist and songwriter in his 20s.  However in those days (1930s-1960s), women were not considered musicians, they were only singers, if that.  Most times, women were forcibly kept out of the “old boys’ club”.  Tipton was a player who wanted to perform.  Taking the name Billy, Tipton lived and worked as a man, unknown to the music industry or even his wife and adopted sons.  He formed the Billy Tipton Trio, recorded numerous albums, and worked with Frank Sinatra and many other famous acts of the era.

Selected songs from youtube:

September In The Rain

The Man I Love

Don’t Blame Me

Begin the Beguine

Take The “A” Train


This short news documentary on Tipton (youtube) is not the best, the reported asking inappropriate and invasive questions of Tipton’s wife, but for the most part sums up Tipton’s life.

Tipton’s silence cost him, refusing to go to doctors and have his secret exposed. In 1989, a treatable stomach ulcer caused him to bleed to death at home, in the arms of one of his sons.  It was only then his secret was discovered.  Tipton left no will and no paperwork or diaries.

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