Mya Byrne – The Challenges Facing Transgender Artists and playlist for WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS for June 15, 2014

June 15, 2014
HOST: Ron Olesko

I enjoy having the opportunity to invite guests into the studio to share their songs and stories. Today’s show featured one of the most moving and important discussions that I’ve had the privilege to share on WFDU-FM.

Mya Byrne at WFDU-FM

Mya Byrne at WFDU-FM

My guest today was Mya Byrne, who recently came out as a transgender artist. I have played her songs when she was known as Jeremiah Birnbaum, and I was honored to finally introduce Mya Byrne to my radio audience. Her story is inspirational, and while it is a very personal one, Mya chose to discuss her experiences publicly in hopes of assuring others that are facing difficult decisions. The struggles of transgender people and their affirmation of gender identity is not often discussed by the media, and when it is the results are not always positive. It has been the subject of comedy and stereotyping in some quarters, so I was very honored to bring Mya into the studio as she openly, honestly and articulately helped to educate us about the issues facing transgender people. We touched upon the battles with healthcare and denial of benefits by many states for coverage for basic medical needs and necessary transition-related care essential for the well-being of the individual.

Mya was born in Boston, but in recent years she has been a fixture on the New York music scene as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, poet and a producer/engineer. She was part of a roots rock band called The Ramblers who performed with artists like Levon Helm and Railroad Earth. Mya suffered a vocal cord hemorrhage in 2012 that put the band on hiatus, but her voice was saved thanks to a new surgical procedure and she was soon back on the scene. This spring, Mya came out as a transgender woman on her Facebook page, and she is in the process of recording a new CD that will be released in the fall.

As a transgender artist, Mya faces many challenges in public, but the response from the folk community has been overwhelming positive. The supportive community that carries on and develops the living traditions of folk music has been a great help to Mya after she recently came out, and it is no surprise to me. Folk music has always been at the forefront of reflecting changes in our society, changes that have often taken too long to occur. It is my hope that our discussion today will help others who are facing similar issues as well as educate those who have no experience with the transgender community. Too many people have hidden their authentic gender to themselves as well as the public, and this needs to change.

For those who think that Mya is unique in the folk music world, this is not the case. The late Louisa Jo Killen, who was born Louis Killen, was able to spend the final few years of her life as a woman after influencing a generation of English folk singers including a few years singing with the Clancy Brothers. And the late Dave Carter had struggled with his gender identity and was in the process of transitioning as a transgender woman at the time of his death. But their gender identity is a mere sidebar story in any discussion of either artist’s enduring musical legacy, and their music continues to speak to audiences. It is hoped that Mya and other transgender artists can inspire others to live their lives the way their own internal and personal gender identity guides them. No one should feel forced to live a lie. The high suicide rate among transgender people is something that needs to be addressed, and the support of the community and loved ones will help stop the pain.

Mya’s music also reveals her experiences and struggles and offers insight. She is truly an amazing artist and her songs deserve a wider audience. While we spent time discussing the important issues that transgender artists face, make no mistake – Mya’s music reaches everyone. I witnessed this first hand at a recent folk music conference in New Jersey when her audience, largely musicians and folk music presenters, rose to to their feet and danced to her music. The power in her songs filled the room with a spirit of community, and that is the true measure of a great folk artist. It is life affirming.

Today’s show was also broadcast on Father’s Day, so you will find a few gems scattered throughout the show that were dedicated to fathers everywhere.

(Tune in to TRADITIONS every Sunday from 2pm to 5pm Eastern Time over WFDU-FM 89.1 in the NYC/Northern New Jersey area, or on the web at On-demand streams of shows, including this one, are archived for two weeks HERE. A Sing Out! Radio Partner.)

ARTIST    Tune / Song
ALBUM    LABEL – Website

Theme: HARVEY REID   “Dirty Dish Rag”
Solo Guitar Sketchbook    Woodpecker Records –
JOHN SMITH   “That’s My Dad”
To the Four Directions    self –

GUEST: MYA BYRNE performed “Mulberry Tree”, “Lost Angel” and “Wide, Wide River” in the studio and we shared songs from her studio recordings:
THE RAMBLERS “These Blues Weren’t Meant to Survive”
The Ramblers   self –
Life on Fire    BC2 Music –,

The following song from Guy Davis was played in memory of his mother, activist and actress Ruby Dee who passed away earlier in the week:
GUY DAVIS “Words to My Mama’s Song”
Sweetheart Like You    Red House Records – ,
GUY DAVIS “Hooking Bull at the Landing”
Skunkmello    Red House Records – ,

‘Till the Morning    self –
SONIA “Me, Too”
Me, Too    self-
JOHN FLYNN “The Most You Can Ask”
Poor Man’s Diamonds    self –
Later That Night Blue    Flute Music –

The Flower Grown    self –

JEN CHAPIN  “Cat’s in the Cradle”
A Song for My Father    429 Records –
A Song for My Father    429 Records –

The remainder of the show was a preview of the 2014 Old Songs Festival and we gave away several weekend passes for the event. For information on the 31st edition of Old Songs, held at the Altamont Fairgrounds in Altamont, New York, please visit their website at
Berrymania: The Songs of Lou & Peter Berryman    Compass Rose –
DEBRA COWAN    “The Rose You Wore For Me”
The Long Grey Line    self –
Hymns and Ballads    self –

Pastures of Plenty    Coming Together Festival Productions –
Skipping Rocks    self –
BILL SPENCE with FENNIG’S ALL-STAR STRING BAND “Un Canadian Errant / Hunsden House” The Hammered Dulcimer Returns!    Front Hall Records –

STRAY BIRDS   “Dream in Blue”
The Stray Birds    Proper Music – ,
LONG TIME COURTING “The Miller and the Lass”
Alternate Routes    self –
Ron Olesko
1000 River Road
Teaneck, NJ

About Ron Olesko

For over 40 years, Ron has been a radio programmer with WFDU-FM in Teaneck, New Jersey. He created WFDU-FM's TRADITIONS in 1980, a show that he continues to host and produce every Sunday afternoon from 3 to 6pm Eastern Time. He's the president of and booker for the Hurdy Gurdy Folk Music Club in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and is a regular contributor to Sing Out! as well as the host of the Folk Music Notebook blog on this site. Ron can also be found emceeing concerts and festivals around the NYC/NJ area. A lifelong Mets fan and a rabid soccer geek, Ron is a Red Bull season ticket holder since their inception and will most likely be in his seat when not in the studio.


Mya Byrne – The Challenges Facing Transgender Artists and playlist for WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS for June 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

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