Perpetual Change — Paul Iwancio

| Aug 27, 2012
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From time to time, this column features artists who are outside of the transgender music community, but who are allies and supporters of trans issues and trans musicians.  With the success that many transgender musicians are starting to experience in their local scenes, and for a few on regional and even national stages, it’s important to promote the folks who have helped get us to this point.

Paul Iwancio is one such individual. He was first featured here in February 2005. At that time, he had just released a CD entitled Open Heart Stories. He is the president emeritus, current board member and founder of the Baltimore Songwriters Association and serves on the music panel for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Paul is also well known for his presentation of “Rock And Gender Roles,” which he has delivered at various events, including seminars and colleges.  To this extent, Paul considers himself to be “…a gender liberationist.”

In the 2005 interview, Paul offered this personal perspective on how he interacts with the trans community: “I consider myself a human rights activist, a feminist, a progressive and a loving, caring human being. I generally present myself in an androgynous way, day to day. I am ‘out’ to most of my family, all my friends, and many of my songwriting group. I try to live in a way that’s true to myself. I’m not interested in living lies.”

Since that last interview, Paul has undergone a few changes . . . very good changes. He has gotten married, and has put together a duo called Ella’s Umbrella, which has a new project entitled Colors In Our Sky.

Paul has been gracious enough to submit to yet another interview , in which he discusses his new music, his relationship, and the craft of songwriting.

TGForum: I take it that you still live in the Baltimore area, correct? Still involved with the Baltimore Songwriters Association?

Paul Iwancio: I still live in the Baltimore area. I’m currently on the Board of Directors of the Baltimore Songwriters Association. The group is celebrating its 15th year anniversary this year, which I think is pretty good for a volunteer-run group!.

TGF: We last spoke in 2005, just after Open Heart Stories came out. At that time, you had mentioned some of your work with gender issues and in particular your presentation called “Rock And Gender Roles.” You also referred to yourself as a gender liberationist are you still active in presenting gender issues as they are defined in current musical trends?

PI: I’ve unfortunately fallen down on my research for “Rock And Gender Roles.” For the first part of the new century, I’ve been working on my own music, digital storytelling, and getting a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology.

Paul and Nita

TGF: Speaking of musical trends, you’ve made some changes recently. You’re now working with Nita Paul in a duo known as Ella’s Umbrella. I see that she’s listed as a vocalist on Open Heart Stories. What prompted the musical partnership? When did you tow decide to start working together? ( . . . and for that matter, when did you decide to get married? By the way, congratulations.)

PI: Thanks! We met years ago when Nita came to a songwriters critique session. Over the years we became closer friends, she started singing with me and a romance blossomed. The musical partnership came naturally as Nita, coming from a jazz background, wanted to expand her songwriting skills. I come from a folk/rock upbringing and was interested in exploring jazz. So we complimented each other in skills and curiosity.

TGF: Going into it, did either of you have any idea that your musical partnership would lean to marriage?

PI: No. Both of us are passionate about music, so that was a bond to begin with. But we went into the relationship a bit cautiously since we had both been in bad marriages before. And when it comes to combining a professional relationship with a personal one, you want to be careful so that one doesn’t jeopardize the other.

TGF: What kind of audience reaction/response has the duo gotten? How much does the duo’s music differ from your solo work?

PI: I think we get a very good reaction-when people get a chance to listen with open ears. We describe our music as Neil Young meets Ella Firzgerald. I bring what could be an overabundance of energy. Over the years, I have learned to focus more and found that sometimes less is more. Nita brings the gift of an extraordinary voice and the talent of interpretation. I think Nita could sing the phone book and people would listen.

TGF: You also work with the quartet Art Of Meaning. How often do you perform with them?

PI: We’re on hiatus. Partly due to our focus on the duo and partly because it’s rough to support a larger band financially.

TGF: If you don’t mind, could you talk a bit about the new recording with Ella’s Umbrella?

PI: We wanted to accomplish several goals with this record. Give people a representation of us as a duo. Share some new songs that we’ve written and ones that we wanted new recordings of, and also record our own interpretations of some “cover” tunes. You’ll see a mix of songs that I wrote, Nita wrote, and at least one co-write. There’s also quite a mix of styles, and that’s a reflection of our wide taste in music and a desire to try to write in different genres that interest us. Of my contributions to the album, I’m particularly proud of Be The Dove as an anthem for peace on the cultural divide, and Sunshower Girl and Fall When I Fell as crafty songs that hopefully capture listener’s ears. In regards to Nita’s writing, I know that Crawdaddy has excellent imagery with a catchy groove. I never get tired of hearing or playing her songs.

TGF: I’d like to ask you regarding your opinion on current musical trends. The type of music you do is thought provoking, is not dance material, and generally requires a certain degree of musicianship. Are you reaching younger audiences, and if so, what kind of reaction do you get? So much of what’s out there now doesn’t even require musicianship, just the ability to use technology. Any thoughts on where well crafted songwriting fits into the general scheme of things in the current music scene?

PI: I really don’t know if we’re reaching younger audiences. We’re certainly not on any teen or college music circuit. They’re not who we are marketing towards, but young people will surprise us from time to time, especially those who appreciate musicianship, good vibes, and thoughtful lyrics. One thing I’ve observed over the years is the timelessness of The Beatles catalog. We could bring out a Beatles tune (even in a reworked format) and you will see people form age 5 to 85 become engaged. I also enjoy working through their songs as they reveal clever surprises in composition.

In regards to well-crafted songwriting, I think there will always be a place for that in our social culture. People like a good story, and if the right elements are there, they will be engaged, listen, and perhaps even repeat the story to others.

TGF: Any advice to younger musicians, singer/songwriters just starting out?

PI: Work at your craft, try to always be improving, but don’t do it if you’re not also enjoying the act of creation and/or performance/

TGF: When you write, is there any subject matter you won’t touch, or is everything up for grabs?

PI: “Ain’t no time for hate, barely time to wait” (Robert Hunter) I have no interest or tolerance for songs that support hate, violence, or suppression of human rights.

TGF: How political are you? Any involvement in GLBT community politcs?

PI: I’m unapologetic progressive-liberal. I definitely support human rights for all. Here in Maryland, we just had some legislation pass in the wake of a highly publicized beating of a transgender woman in Baltimore County. But there are still people on both sides who are fearful. This fall, Maryland will most likely have a referendum on same sex marriage and it will be a contentious matter. I intend to make my view known, wherever I can, as a voice for tolerance, understanding, and justice for everyone in the GLBT community.

TGF: In closing, any final thoughts?

PI: Can’t think of anything at the moment. The album will be out soon, and hopefully we’ll have our re-worked webpage done soon as well.

For more information on Paul, Nita, and Ella’s Umbrella, please check out his website.



Vivian Wheeler

Rev. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes announced that he has filmed a segment for the Discovery Channel for a new fall TV series called Family Stories, a series about unusual families who manage to connect after long separations. Roger/Yolanda played the part of Vivian Wheeler, who was the Guiness Book Of World Records holder for the longest beard on a living woman. This is a true story, and Roger/Yolanda will provide updates regarding when the show actually does air.

Beth Isbell has several new YouTube videos posted.

Calpernia Addams also has more videos posted on YouTube, and will also be appearing at Hamburger Mary’s, on September 1st. (8288 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA  323-654-3800.)

David de Alba has posted two new videos on YouTube of songs from his show at the Onyx Theater in Las Vegas in September of last year. These are David singing his version of The Beatles hit Something and Carnival Medley.


There are two new remix discs out now that have recently come to my attention. Midnight Red has just released remixes of their single Hell Yeah, the single from their upcoming full-length CD. The other remix CD is NiRe Ali Dai’s Hella Bad.

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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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