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TRANSVOCALIZERS — Dina Sinatra

| Jan 31, 2011
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This month, Transvocalizers features one of our regular TGForum contributors, Dina Amberle.  She performs as a piano bar vocalist under the name Dina Sinatra and has established her own circuit of regular venues throughout the greater Philadelphia area.  She’s become known for her parodies of Frank Sinatra songs, but also has a vast repertoire of standards, including everything from The Beatles to the aforementioned Mr. Sinatra.

As a writer, her monthly Dina’s Diner column is a much appreciated and well liked contribution to the site.

Dina tells me that she and our Managing Editor, Angela Gardner, have known each other and worked together since their time in the Renaissance TG group in Philadelphia, back in 1989.  [Ed.’s Note: I was just a young girl in 1989! Honest.] Dina started writing a column called Vis a Vis for the group’s newsletter, around 1990-91.  After that ended, Angela brought Dina into the TGForum stable.

When Dina made an oh-so-brief mention of her musical background, I was quick to contact her about being interviewed.  (Hey, even though she has a loyal following of readers and fans of her music, especially in Philly, to me she was another “new” artist I didn’t know much about.  She’s also someone I hadn’t yet badgered the crap out of until she sent her interview questions back, so I believe she’d still be willing to talk to me….)

Dina occasionally touches on her music in her column, but only briefly.  What follows is a chance to get to know the musical side of Dina Amberle, aka Dina Sinatra.

TGForum: Where are you from originally?

Dina Sinatra: Philadelphia, PA, then later, the Philadelphia suburbs of Bucks County, PA.

TGF: What’s your educational background, and do you have any formal musical training?

DS: I have an MBA but no formal musical training…other than some drum lessons I took as a kid.  After many years (decades, even) I have been taking some piano lessons and plinking around on an electric keyboard.

TGF: What were your musical influences growing up and what do you listen to now?

Dina at Odette's in New Hope, Pa.

DS: I grew up during Beatlemania, but I still admire and love many of their songs and her new things in them after all these years (especially the piano parts, which inspired me to finally try to play the instrument.
Later on, I became a big Frank Zappa fan (I love the complexity of the music, and groups like Yes and King Crimson for the precision of the music.)  But growing up in the ’60s when television was still almost exclusively populated by people like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett  and the many others in that style, I still enjoy those types of lyric and melody-driven standards.  And it’s interesting to see how many modern rock and pop stars go back to “the standards” as they grow older.  There is really nothing like those songs in terms of melody, lyrical content in a very short form, and the room to let a singer make the song their own.

TGF: How old were you when you first started performing?

DS: Oh, I think I was probably 40 when I first attempted to sing in public.  Oddly, I think it made it easier to do this as Dina rather than my male persona because, as actors often say, I was able to be someone else for awhile, which insulated me from the nerves…at least somewhat.

TGF: What kind of venues do you usually perform at?

DS: My first singing experience was at a piano bar in New Hope, Pennsylvania  I was just one of many piano bar singers there, and I became a regular for several years.  Along the way, there were other bars and venues.  I had a couple of chances to sing at the Tropicana Casino lounge in Atlantic City when one of my piano players had a gig.

There were a couple of straight lounges I went to where the band knew I sang [and] they would invite me up to do a couple of songs, and that was always great because everyone knew I was a crossdresser  but the band’s acceptance of me and my singing surprised them.

TGF: How old were you when you first started dealing with your gender issues?

DS: I can’t remember exactly when I first thought of crossdressing.  I was always interested in girls.  In the androgynous ’70s, I always admired those guys who looked cute, girlish, and got to wear skin tight tops and low-rise bellbottom jeans with platform shoes.  I was in my thirties before I got it together enough to dress completely from wig to high heels.

TGF: Talk a bit about performing as Dina Sinatra.  Also, since you sing in your own voice, have you taken any training to feminize your voice?

DS: My best crossdressing friend, April Love (who died in a traffic accident several years ago), gave me the name Dina Sinatra.  April was a piano bar singer, too, and fearless as a crossdresser who would go anywhere as April.  When we went to the straight piano bar in New Hope, she told the piano player my name was Dina Sinatra.  She knew I like Sinatra and at the time Summer Wind was the one song I thought I could actually sing decently.

I’ve never tried to feminize my voice either speaking or singing.  I am a crossdresser.  I don’t try to disguise that by “passing,” so it doesn’t feel natural or right to speak in a different “feminine voice.”

TGF: You’ve mentioned writing parodies to well known Sinatra tunes such as Strangers In The Night, Witchcraft, and Lady Is A Tramp.  What was the initial reaction to the parodies when you first started doing them?

DS: The reaction was actually phenomenal.  Some of the parodies are more ribald than others and so some work better in one venue than the other.  These are straight piano lounges, so one crossdresser in the midst is already a novelty.  When I sing a well-known Sinatra  melody with parody lyrics, most people love it.  Even the regulars who have heard it many times.  One piano player with an electric keyboard and effects gives me an intro with the opening to Lady Is A Tramp, then I do my parody version.

One of the piano bars is more showtunes oriented so I do a Luck Be A Lady parody and at Christmas I do Blue Christmas in my Elvis voice.

The funny thing I’ve found about composing parodies is that it either comes to you very easily or it never really hangs together.

TGF: Have you written any parodies on other tunes and/or singers?

DS: At one of the lounges one of the regulars like to sing I Wanna Be Around (To Pick Up The Pieces) by Tony Bennett.  It stuck in my head and the lyrics  came pretty easily afterwards: “you don’t wanna be around/when I take off the pieces/that helped me play this part.”  It turned into the “closing act” for me at that bar for a couple years.

TGF: What advice would you offer to other musicians, trans or not, who are just starting out?

DS: The best advice I ever got musically, or otherwise, was from a piano player named Hal McKay, who was one of the first piano guys I sang with regularly.  Whenever I was singing in the lounge and people were just drinking, talking and not listening, or if I forgot the lyrics and I got discouraged, Hal would look up from the piano and say, “Just keep going.” It became sort of a catch phrase for me and April Love over the years.  But it’s also something that I’ve remembered in my straight life, too.  Sometimes it’s better to “just keep going” and let everyone else catch up to you later.

TGF: If you had one thing to say to the transgender community, what would it be?

DS: I am a late bloomer in crossdressing and certainly in singing in public.  I wasn’t the type of person who was born without an edit button.  To the shy, or inexperienced crossdresser, maybe the best advice I could offer would be to cultivate a more experienced person, as I did.  I didn’t plan it this way, but it transformed my life.   There are some people who can see the path clearly for themselves.  But I think most are like me…they need a friend, a mentor, to get themselves going and then let their own individuality shine through.

I still see the “transgender community” as pretty disjointed. As a crossdresser, I can’t relate to any advances made by TS’s or even those courageous individuals who are willing to take a bold step for their own individuality…like TG teens in high school.  Many advances have been made but the stigma of an otherwise “normal” guy who likes to dress in women’s clothes, and sing Sinatra songs, for example, is still prevalent.

TGF: Anything you’d like to say in closing?

DS: I would like to say that when I look back to the 1980s when I first started to think about crossdressng seriously — and it seemed completely unattainable — I was able to get to a point that I can’t believe what I’ve been able to do as Dina.  And not just singing.  There are other experiences that have been fun and remarkable and sometimes a memory flashes into my head and I ask myself “Did you really do that?”
And I can say — “Yes, I did.”

Also This Month

I’ve received several new CD’s lately, so here are some brief reviews, plus mention of some new remix discs that are available.

Keri Hilson No Boys Allowed

This is Keri Hilson’s second album, the follow up to her In A Perfect World… debut.  She started as a song writer who made a huge dent with hits for other artists such as Britney Spears, Ciara, Mary J. Blige, and Usher.   No Boys Allowed is not a collection of collaborations, but rather a showcase for Hilson as a writer.

The album does have something of a gospel feel overall, but remains a project that can work on the dance floor.  Stand out tracks include The Way You Love Me…except for the rap which is really unnecessary with such a good vocalist.  Another example of a good vocalist with a decent song is Bahm Bahm.  Hilson has such a good voice, but it almost gets lost with all the techno stuff going on in this particular tune.

The best gospel feel is Toy Soldier, with other standout tracks being Gimme What I Want and All The Boys.

Executive producers are Imbaland and Polow Da Don.  You’ll have to check out each tune for individual producer and musician credit.  (www.kerihilson.com)

Keyshia Cole Calling All Hearts

This is Ms. Cole’s fourth album, which features collaborations with Nicki Minaj, Faith Evans, Tank, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Timbaland, and her mother Yvonne Cole.

The album is more soul and R&B oriented than dance and techno, but it does have dance floor moments.  The opening track, I Ain’t Thru is a good example.

Cole’s voice is best heard with a more laid back, R&B/soul groove as a backdrop.  Perfect examples are Long Way Down, So Impossible, and Last Hangover.

Cole also stretches a bit musically with tunes that do deliver other elements, such as the jazz intro to Take Me Away and what might be the most musically interesting tune, Two Sides To Every Story, which comes as close to a rock feel as Cole allows on this project.

Executive producers are Keyshia Cole and Ron Fair, with co-executive producer Manny Halley. Cole is also the chief songwriter on the project. Check out each individual song credit for proper information on producer and musicians.

What’s interesting about the entire project is that while Keyshia Cole may not have the range vocally as some singers, she does have more control over her voice and how she delivers each note than most of the new crop of contemporary dance/R&R/hip-hop divas could have in two life times. You’ll have to spend some quality time listening to a large chunk of k.d. lang’s catalog to hear better control.

Of the remix discs I’ve come across, a 10 cut CD of club mixes for Selena Gomez’s A Year Without Rain is now available; as well as a remix disc of Oh Land Sun Of A Gun remixes, and a rather interesting remix disc of Melbourne, Australia singer Zoe Badwi’s Freefalllin’ , which has hit dance charts world wide as a follow-up to her first release Release Me in 2008.

And I guess I should close with something of a spoiler alert. I also received the Freemasons Club Mix of George Michael’s I Want Your Sex.  This is something of a teaser to the release of Michael’s Faith, which is being released as a deluxe edition package in more than one version.  The original album was released in 1987 and made George Michael an icon, not only for the GLBT community, but also in the mainstream music world.

Okay, so there’s no real transgender tie-in here, but for a lot of people in the community, this music means something.  The album is being released now, Jan. 31, and we’ll present a full review of the two disc set in our companion column Perpetual Change next month.


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Category: Music

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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