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.
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.
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ARTIST Tune / Song
ALBUM LABEL – Website
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 – www.myabyrne.com
SCOTT WOLFSON AND OTHER HEROES “You Can’t Break Me Again”
Life on Fire BC2 Music – www.dc2music.com, www.scottwolfson.com
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 – www.redhouserecords.com , www.guydavis.com
GUY DAVIS “Hooking Bull at the Landing”
Skunkmello Red House Records – www.redhouserecords.com , www.guydavis.com
EDIE CAREY AND SARAH SAMPLE “Turn Around”
‘Till the Morning self – www.ediecarey.com
SONIA “Me, Too”
Me, Too self- www.soniadf.com
JOHN FLYNN “The Most You Can Ask”
Poor Man’s Diamonds self – www.johnflynn.net
ROD MACDONALD “We’re All One”
Later That Night Blue Flute Music – www.rodmacdonald.net
CRAVEN FAMILY BAND “City Streets”
The Flower Grown self – www.cravenfamilymusic.com
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 www.oldsongs.org.
STEVE GILLETTE & CINDY MANGSEN “Talkin’ At The Same Time”
Berrymania: The Songs of Lou & Peter Berryman Compass Rose – www.compassrosemusic.com
DEBRA COWAN “The Rose You Wore For Me”
The Long Grey Line self – www.debracowan.com
PETER AND MARY ALICE AMIDON “I Still Have Joy”
Hymns and Ballads self – www.amidonmusic.com
VANAVER CARAVAN “Deportee”
Pastures of Plenty Coming Together Festival Productions – www.vanavercaravan.org
KEN AND BRAD KOLODNER “Red Rocking Chair”
Skipping Rocks self – www.kendolodner.com/brad-and-ken.html
BILL SPENCE with FENNIG’S ALL-STAR STRING BAND “Un Canadian Errant / Hunsden House” The Hammered Dulcimer Returns! Front Hall Records – www.andysfronthall.com
STRAY BIRDS “Dream in Blue”
The Stray Birds Proper Music – www.propermusic.com , www.thestraybirds.com
LONG TIME COURTING “The Miller and the Lass”
Alternate Routes self – www.longtimecourting.com
1000 River Road