Billy Tipton

William Lee “Billy” Tipton was an American jazz musician, bandleader and pianist. He lived from December 29, 1914 to January 21, 1989. His postmortem finding that he was born a woman at birth, even though he lived most of his adult life as an adult man is notable. Tipton was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and grew up in Kansas City. His aunt raised him after his mother’s death. After his mother’s death, Tipton never saw his father G. W. Tipton. He was a pilot and took him on plane rides. Tipton was a high school student and went by the name Tippy. He became interested in jazz and studied piano and saxophone. For his senior year in high school, Tipton returned to Oklahoma and joined the school’s band. Tipton started a serious music career and adopted the nickname of his father, Billy. He worked harder to be a man by padding his pants and binding his breasts. Tipton initially presented only as a male performer, but by 1940 he was also living as a man in his private life. The only people who knew Tipton’s assigned sexual sex were two of Tipton’s female cousins with whom Tipton kept in touch over the years. Tipton led a band that played on KFXR in 1936. Tipton joined Louvenie’s Western Swingbillies in 1938. They played at Brown’s Tavern and on KTOK. He was on the road in 1940, playing at dances with Scott Cameron’s band. He began his two-and-a-half year run at Joplin’s Cotton Club in 1941 with George Meyer’s band. After that, he toured briefly with Ross Carlyle and then played for two more years in Texas. Tipton started touring the Pacific Northwest in 1949 with George Meyer. Although the tour was not glamorous, Tipton and George Meyer began touring the Pacific Northwest in 1949. The band’s appearances at Roseburg’s Shalimar Room in Oregon were recorded by a local radio station. There are recordings of Tipton’s work from this period, including “If You Knew Then” as well as “Sophisticated Swing”. The trio’s most popular song was “Flying Home”, which they performed in an exact imitation of Benny Goodman and his band. George Meyer’s band began to gain more prestigious work. They performed with the Delta Rhythm Boys and The Ink Spots at the Boulevard Club in Coeur d’Alene. Tipton started playing the piano at the Elks club, Longview, Washington. He founded the Billy Tipton Trio in Longview. It consisted of Tipton playing piano, Dick O’Neil drumming, and Kenny Richards (and later Ron Kilde). They gained popularity locally. A Tops Records talent scout heard the trio perform and signed them to a contract. Two albums featuring jazz standards were recorded by the Billy Tipton Trio for Tops Records: Sweet Georgia Brown (on piano) and Billy Tipton Players Hi-Fi, which were both released in 1957. The pieces included “Can’t help but love Dat Man”, “Willow Weep For Me”, and “Don’t Blame Me”. The albums were sold 17678 copies in 1957, which is a respectable amount for an independent label. The albums’ success led to the Billy Tipton Trio being offered a spot as the Holiday Hotel’s house band. Tops Records then invited them to record four more albums. Tipton turned down both offers and moved to Spokane in Washington to work as a talent broker. The trio was also the house band at Allen’s Tin Pan Alley. He preferred jazz to swing music, so he played mostly standards. He performed skits in vaudeville, imitating celebrities like Liberace and Elvis Presley. He played the role of a little girl in some of his sketches. At the Dave Sobol Theatrical Agency, he mentored young musicians. Tipton had to stop performing in music due to worsening arthritis in the late 1970s. Tipton was a professional male performer, but he continued to be a woman in all other aspects of his life. In those first years, he lived with Non Earl Harrell, a woman that many musicians considered a lesbian. 1942 was the end of their relationship. Tipton was in a second relationship with “June”, a singer who lasted several years. Tipton lived seven years with Betty Cox. She was only 19 at the time they got involved. Cox referred to Tipton as the “most fantastic love of his life.” Tipton kept his sexual extrinsic characteristics secret from Betty. He told the story of a car accident that left him with damaged genitals. This was the story he told all his women. Tipton never got married, but several women were issued drivers’ licenses that identified them as Mrs. Tipton. Tipton split with Cox in 1960 to marry Kitty Kelly, a nightclub dancer and stripper who became known professionally as “The Irish Venus”. They were active in their local PTA as well as the Boy Scouts. They adopted three children, John, Scott and William. Kitty did several interviews with Tipton after his death and about their relationship. She said that Tipton gave up everything in their first interviews. In those days, there were rules and regulations if you wanted to become a musician. This was in reference to the 1920s-30s music industry. William described Tipton to be a loving father who enjoyed going on Scout camping trips. Due to their ongoing disagreements over how to raise their boys, Tipton divorced Kitty in late 1970s. He moved into a mobile house with his sons. Two of his sons had fled from Kitty’s home because of physical abuse. Tipton also rekindled a relationship with Maryann. Tipton remained there until his death, living in poverty. Tipton, now 74 years old, developed symptoms that he believed were due to emphysema. He refused to see a doctor and continued living in poverty until his death. Tipton was actually suffering from hemorhaging pepticule, which if left untreated could prove fatal. While William was watching, William saw his father as a transgender man. Paramedics tried to save Tipton’s lives. Valley General Hospital declared Tipton dead. This was shared by the coroner with the rest of his family. Kitty tried to keep it secret and arranged for Tipton’s body to be cremated. However, after receiving financial offers from media outlets, Kitty and one their sons made the story public. The newspaper’s first article about Tipton was published just one day after his funeral. It was quickly picked up and published by wire services. Tipton stories appeared in many papers, including tabloids like the Star and National Enquirer as well as more respected papers like The New York Magazine or The Seattle Times. Tipton’s family made appearances on talk shows. Billy Tipton left two wills: the first, handwritten but not notarized, left everything to William Jr., and the second, notarized left everything to John Clark, the Tiptons’ first adopted child. The court upheld the first will and William received almost all of it. Scott and John each received one dollar. A 2009 episode of The Will: Family Secrets Revealed featured interviews with all three of the sons. It was revealed that after paying lawyers’ fees, a final court judgement awarded each son an equal share in Kitty Tipton’s estate. From Wikipedia

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