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Perpetual Change By Pamela DeGroff 3/17/08

| Mar 17, 2008
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Donna Austin (plus some odds and ends)

The interesting thing about doing this column on what I’ve begun calling “transgender representations in popular music,” is that I no longer know where it will lead me. By saying that, I don’t mean that there isn’t a clear vision for each installment. No, it’s just that over time, I’ve become more open to artists who aren’t transgendered themselves, but who have shown support in one way or another.

Guitarist Donna Austin is one such artist. It was brought to my attention that Ms. Austin had been interviewed by Robert Urban for his Gay Guitarists Worldwide series. Each month, Mr. Urban interviews and features musicians from the entire spectrum of GLBT, and the Donna Austin feature ran in November 2007.

Donna AustinShe’s being hailed as an up-and-coming guitar virtuoso with some serious blues and jazz chops. Other female guitarists such as Joyce Cooling, Susan Tedeschi, and of course Bonnie Raitt come to mind. Comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson aren’t bad either.

Her start in music is almost the quintessential story of growing up on a farm somewhere in the Midwest, and developing a love for music early on. She admits to a few basic guitar lessons at the very beginning, but no formal training.

“My love for music has enabled me to reach a higher level of music appreciation,” she said. “I started on acoustic guitar and it was not until a while back while traveling with a friend who owned a vintage guitar shop and selling at the big guitar shows. In Texas, someone approached me and said you have a very intense vibrato style and you should consider playing the electric guitar. So I started transposing my classical and jazz to the electric while trying to hold on to my roots. My mother was a big influence and music fan and she as well liked it all.”

From her early exposure and dabbling on the fringes of the music business, Austin put together her first few band and started gaining a reputation in her now home state of Florida. She was eventually approached by music director Timothy Turner to play guitar in a production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s off-Broadway Jesus Christ Superstar.

“The production was in Florida and sponsored by the Stetson University Campus and played at the Sands Theater off campus,” Austin said. “It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. Truly a gift from above to have that opportunity. It ran for three months and they were all sold out shows.”

“After the Jesus Christ Superstar show, I hooked up with someone who headed the state bike rallies all across the U.S. He asked if I might be interested in doing some local events. At the time, I wasn’t sure it was the type of exposure I wanted to get. But, you have to put food on the table, so I managed to put together a three piece band for the shows. It lead to some work at Full Sail Recording Studio in Orlando.”

Over the past several years, Austin has started recording some of her own tunes, and put together a Donna Austin Collection of Songs project. The styles on this particular CD contain the blues and jazz she’s know for, but also rock and some R&B, as well as being a showcase of both her instrumental and her vocal ability.

Some very rare live concert footage has also surfaced on As with anything else that involves the Internet, Austin has found herself exposed to a much wider audience. World wide, in fact. Her private life and therefor her sexual orientation, has also become a topic. When asked if being a GLBT musician even matters in the long run, she was somewhat circumspect about it all.

“I’m sure it matters in the world we live in, but it’s not always talked about unless it’s news worthy,” she said. “I take my private and personal life seriously. As far as the media, I don’t want them hounding me just to get a free story and make a few bucks while stepping on someone’s career. It really is a shame that artists go through all this just to be themselves.”

Her openness about who she is hasn’t kept her out of mainstream venues. She admits to only performing at a few GLBT events. While her interaction with trans people has been minimal, she is totally aware of the community, its needs, the stress it faces, and the need to reach out to a larger world.

“The transgender artists that have faith in themselves to rise above all the hateful people, my hat’s off to them,” Austin said. “They are special in many ways. You don’t rise to that level unless you are a special person.”

Austin herself has risen to a respectable level as well. She is currently working on her first major release, tentatively called Spirit of the Gypsy Rose. She doesn’t let her sexual preference, or the fact she’s a female guitarist in a mostly male dominated genre’, become an issue.

“It hasn’t affected me,” she said. “I just stay focused on who I am and the music and it guides me along like a river to the sea. I have had so much positive energy from the Internet… endless boundaries of opportunities.

“If transgenders want to find love and understanding, they will find it in abundance on the Internet, world wide. Get on the Internet and take advantage. Don’t let the occasional mentally challenged jerk depress you. Just hit delete… don’t try to defend yourself and stoop to his level of ignorance.”

“There are loving and caring people who do care about how you feel. We are all here on this planet for a short while. Take advantage of the miracle and gift that God has given to us. Don’t spend another minute or day in your life without sharing it with others. Not a day in my life goes… sharing an act of kindness for those in need.”

Tranny Roadshow

The Tranny RoadshowAccording to a press release (received before this column was due), the Tranny Roadshow is gearing up for their 2008 Rocky Mountain regional tour. They are “…looking for performers who want to dazzle audiences with their tranny brilliance.” Hopefully, there’s still time to get an audition. Please feel free to contact either Jamez Terry or Kelly Shortandqueer at

The Cliks

Winter tour dates for The Cliks have been announced. They will be starting March 12th in Houston, and will spend most of the month in the Southwest and then on to the Pacific Northwest area. On a few dates, they will be the opening act for The Cult. For a complete list of dates, check out The Cliks MySpace page.

The Kinsey SicksThe Kinsey Sicks

Everybody’s favorite group of dragapella divas will be hosting a project, which will see them hosting what amounts to a morning news show with TV features. The show is called Wake The F**k Up, America! According to a press release, “…the show features brand new songs, appalling new dialogue, and the same old lack of taste and judgement you’ve come to fear.”

Pretty Route

England’s transgender band The Pretty Route is participating in a nationwide talent competition known as Live and Unsigned. According to Chris Grayson, events director for the competition, “This cannot be compared to any other talent searches as the act’s talent is the show. We are interested in discovering and exposing talent at its best-live. It is as simple as we say. Get live, and get signed.”

Out of 10,000 or so acts that entered initially, The Pretty Route will be competing in London against fifteen other finalists on March 30th. For more information visit the band’s MySpace page.

(Author’s Note: To find out more aobut Donna Austin, please check out her web site at Her music is also available at as well as the aforementioned and Robert Urban’s Gay Guitarists World Wide feature.)

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Category: Music, Transgender Fun & Entertainment

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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