Billy Tipton is one of jazz's unsung heroes.
Making a name for himself as a career pianist, bandleader, and radio musician, Tipton had a decades-long career that spanned from the mid-1930s all the way to the early '70s, and during a time when many transgender people were often cast into the shadows of society, he was able to live his life authentically and how he wanted. And his story is finally being told in Oscilloscope's latest documentary feature, No Ordinary Man.
Directed by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt, written by Chin-Yee and Amos Mac, and featuring commentary from prominent figures and leading voices in the trans community — including Marquise Vilsón, Scott Turner Schofield, Susan Stryker, C. Riley Snorton, and Thomas Page McBee — No Ordinary Man gives viewers a look at what it was like when Tipton's career as a jazz musician was taking off, and what his contributions to music and culture meant for later generations of transmasculine folks who still, to this day, are very much underrepresented in so many facets of the entertainment industry.
The documentary also examines the sensationalism that followed Tipton after his death — he was living stealth for his safety, and his identity as a trans man wasn't widely known until after his passing in 1989 at the age of 74 — and how much work still needs to be done when it comes to the way media (and society at large) talks about trans people and their lives.
"American jazz musician Billy Tipton developed a reputable touring and recording career in the mid-twentieth century along with his band The Billy Tipton Trio," the film's official description reads. "After his death in the late 80s, it was revealed that Tipton was assigned female at birth, and his life was swiftly reframed as the story of an ambitious woman passing as a man in pursuit of a music career. The genre-defying documentary No Ordinary Man seeks to correct that misrepresentation by collaborating with trans artists. As they collectively celebrate Tipton’s story as a musician living his life according to his own terms, they paint a portrait of a trans culture icon."
No Ordinary Man hits theaters on July 16.