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Tranvocalizers — Diane Michelle

| Jan 12, 2009
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Transvocalizers by Pamela DeGroff

So far in this new column, we have featured some well known drag entertainers. The term “drag queen” isn’t applicable to most of them, although a few wear it with pride. What we are focusing on are transgender vocalists/entertainers whose main tool of presentation is through singing. This month we feature TG vocalist Diane Michelle.

Diane Michelle is an artist who developed her love of singing early on. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, her family moved to southern California when she was three years old. She started singing in choirs, and began formal training at Los Angeles City College. While there, she took classes in musical theater, master classes, and did extensive private studies.

Diane Michelle

Diane Michelle

She has acting experience with The Theater of Light, and has appeared in productions of Hair, Carnival, The Music Man, Finian’s Rainbow, and Anything Goes. Diane has also toured with choral ensembles here in the U.S., and in Germany. She’s made film and television appearances, and with ensembles has performed such major works as the Mozart Requiem and The Messiah.

“My favorite style of singing would be called tow things: Broadway show tunes, and The Great American Songbook,” Diane said.

“Many of the songs I perform originally came from Broadway. The Great American Songbook refers to songs from the Tim Pan Alley era of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. It also refers to many of the composers that have been associated with standards, and not rock music. Folks like Burt Bacharach, David Foster, and the like.

“In college when I took commercial voice classes, I was told Broadway show tunes aren’t commercial. Trust me that they are very commercial. Ask Barbara Streisand or Mandy Patinkin. I discovered (that) like opera and rock, singing for the stage is a unique style that requires a certain style of voice. Not every singer can do it or do it well. It’s not easy to master. Like an instrumentalist whose instrument finds them, a style of singing finds the singer. Our instrument is not just our voice, but our entire body.”

Using one’s entire body in performance is a concept that instrumentalists (especially drummers) would readily agree with. A serious vocalist, though, does more than “just sing.”

“During puberty, my speaking voice never really ‘broke.’ In most men, they start out as tenor singers, and the voice deepens over the years, and by age 30 is set. My singing has always stayed high. In fact, it was thought I would be trained as a Counter Tenor, which is a very rare vocal type but totally useless for musical theater. It’s strictly for classical singing. Frankie Valli’s falsetto is as close to the sound of a Counter Tenor without going into classical singing.

“I sing in my own voice without attempts to feminize the sound. I have no idea how I would make it sound more female. If I can improve my visual presentation on stage, people will hear my voice as more feminine. Visual cues are very important in how we are perceived by others.”

Diane’s advice to other performers is almost a direct result of discovering her true stage persona.

“The first piece of advice I would give to a trans performer is be brave and take the chance to be your true self on stage,” she said. “If you have the ability to perform as a female performer — do it. It doesn’t matter whether you have a high singing range or even look passable. Do it because this is who you are. Don’t allow other people to stop you being who you are.”

Diane Michelle is also heavily involved with the online group Transgender Music Society. She keeps an eye out for notices of well known entertainers who have passed away. Granted, this may sound a bit morbid to some, but the obituaries she posts provide historical backgrounds and information about the lives of people many of us only know because of a song, a record, or a show. (I personally heard about the passing of someone I performed in concerts with back in the 1970s. Diane posted the obit before anyone else even told me about it. Even though you wouldn’t ordinarily consider an obituary to be a pleasant thing to read, they are appreciated because they provide a reminder of a connection you had with someone in your past, albeit even briefly.)

“My involvement…was originally to find a pianist, a drummer, saxophone, and bass player to form a group to do clubs,” Diane said. “But because most of the group are more interested in rock music, that hasn’t panned out. That isn’t a no on the group. Writing the obituaries that I do came out of seeing that no one else noticed the passing a couple years ago of a background singer who has worked on many well known recordings. I thought his passing should be noticed.”

The dedication that Diane Michelle brings to her singing reflects the overall attitude she has toward life.

“I have something to say about all I managed to accomplish as a musician and it might shed a little light on who I am and why I feel as strongly as I do. In 1974…I was laid low by a malignant brain tumor. I survived and couldn’t explain how other than I wasn’t willing to leave this life without making a mark in a way that I chose.

“I had horrific balance and coordination problems following the surgery that lasted for years, and I am still feeling them to some degree now. Eventually I was able to regain control of my body enough to function like a normal human being. So whatever challenges everyone faces in life can be overcome to some degree or another. You just have to keep fighting.”

Contact Diane Michelle via email. You can subscribe to the Transgender Music Society by emailing [email protected].


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Category: 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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