Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week Shauna Jensen has lived, loved and worked in the music biz for over 50 years. An icon in the LGBTQI+ community, Shauna is also lauded as one of the best singers in Australia. Working for the majority of her career as a backing vocalist, studio singer, and vocal coach, she has worked with Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel, Noiseworks, Doug Parkinson, Richard Clapton, Hugh Jackman and Powderfinger to name just a few. Shauna has performed 4 main solo shows at the SYDNEY GAY AND LESBIAN MARDI GRAS After party, performed at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Gay Games in 2002 to over 20K people and the closing show of same games to 10K people. Her recordings with Internationally famous DJ WAYNEG, have taken Shauna to sell out shows at clubs in London, L.A. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Mexico, Rome, New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
People always tell me that they’d love to be able to sing. I wish I had a $5 note for everyone who’s said this to me over the years. In case you don’t know me, that’s what I do for a living. I sing. In fact, this year marks the 52nd year I’ve been working as a singer. I’ve had the privilege to sing with some of the greatest names in show business. I worked for decades as a back ground singer with Jimmy Barnes, Richard Clapton, Noiseworks. I’ve recorded background vocals on many albums with so many people I actually don’t recall them all. I was the TV and radio jingle Queen during the 80’s. I even recorded an unreleased album of duets with Hugh Jackman, just before he went to Broadway as Peter Allen, which was produced by the late great legendary American producer, Phil Ramone.
Growing up in the 50’s at about 5 or 6 I eagerly sat glued to the TV with my Mickey Mouse Club ears on and sang along with the theme songs of that show and every other TV show that had a theme. I just LOVED to sing. My parents would have me sing at friends dinner parties, I sang at primary school and later in high school. It was my happy place. The only place I could feel I belonged. I had spent a lot of my early childhood feeling like I wasn’t wanted, that I was put up with, so music was always my haven, my safety net.
In the 60’s, music was a fast growing and everchanging beast. Parents feared it and kids LOVED it. There were fads and Rock n Roll had evolved from safe cute white generic singers into the swinging hips of Elvis, Chubby Checker and the Twist and then the world discovered the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
My mother’s best friend, Aunty Val, worked for Lee Gordon, who was about the only concert promoter in Australia and brought out every touring act there was. And Aunty Val got us tickets to EVERYTHING. We always had house seats to every show. I saw the Beatles when I was 11. I stood outside their hotel in Macleay St Potts Point screaming along with my sister and her friends. At home, we would go across the road to our friend Cheryl’s house, put on Beatles records and stand with our tennis rackets as guitars, and of course being the youngest one, I was never allowed to be John or Paul, I was ALWAYS George. We went to see them at the Stadium and stood on rickety wooden chairs and screamed our heads off as the Beatles spun around on the revolving stage. Of course, we were with my mother and Aunty Val, who found it incredibly funny and my mother swore that Paul McCartney looked directly at her and rolled his eyes as if to say I see you, yes its ridiculous. We went to the Showground (now Fox Studios) to see the Rolling Stones. My sister had read somewhere that their favourite sweets were jelly beans so she tied some up into a hanky and threw it at the stage to Brian Jones, It may or may not have hit him in the leg, but never the less she was able to get it back from the stage hands after the concert and cut that hanky up and sold pieces of it to her school friends for 50c a piece!
In 1967 my sister brought home an LP..that’s a vinyl long playing recorded disc for those of you here this evening under 40. This record changed my life. It had little Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas…It blew my mind. All this soul!!
Now at that time in Australia, we had the White Australia Policy… a shamefully racist policy designed to prevent anyone who wasn’t Caucasian from migrating to Australia. The only people of colour I had seen on the telly were Sammy Davis Junior and Shirley Bassey and I remember both my parents as being quite racist.Rarely did you see a person of colour or any ethnicity on the streets where I grew up. So to discover this music as a young teen blew my tiny mind. I fell in love with it and wore that record out. I soon became aware of other music by Sam N Dave, Otis Redding and the great Queen Aretha Franklin.
Something in me resonated with this style of music, the feel of it, the sound. I wanted to hear more and more of it. I wanted to drown in it. I wanted to sing it.
As a child growing up I knew that my maternal Aunty Angela, had been a well known opera singer, (I have serendipitously been given her name as my middle name) She had travelled to Europe and had sung at Covent Garden and even recorded. I still have that 33&1/3 record of The Piper From Over the Way. I used to put it on my wind up record player and play it and sing along to it as a little girl whenever I could. I later found out that her father, my grandfather, was also a fabulous singer and raconteur who had, on being heard singing in his village, asked by the manager of Caruso to travel to Italy and become the next great singer, but he declined as he was a simple man and wanted to stay in his village. Aunty Angela performed all over Europe and when she met and fell in love with a lovely German, my darling Uncle Hans, he asked her to give up her career, as was done in those days.
So singing was in my gene pool. Its always been the one thing that I’ve done so easily and felt from the very core of my being as the ONLY thing I ever wanted to do.
Being the early 60’s, mummy sent my sister and myself to the local talent school at the Presbyterian church hall, run by a fabulous woman by the name of Miss Roderick. Miss Roderick was a tartan skirt, sensible brown shoes and sup-hose, twin set and no makeup kind of gal. She taught us everything show biz. Some days we’d be learning a highland fling, other days it would be ballet, or singing or putting on plays. We did everything and I loved it. I lived for Saturday. I was able to do all the ballet positions…. still can. I loved the tap dancing and the fun of performing.
One day in 1962 we were told that a talent scout from a Channel 7 TV show was coming to see us perform, with the view of maybe one or two of us going on this show. I’m not sure whether Aunty Val had pulled a few strings or what, but they were definitely interested in seeing me, and had me sing my song twice.
A few weeks later I was invited to perform on the show. To say I was excited is an understatement! Wet your pants, terrified all at the same time excited. Not that I remember wetting my pants!
So suddenly I had to have extra lessons at Miss Rodericks house. She lived with walking distance from where we lived and I would go there a few times a week leading up to the tv appearance to rehearse. Miss Roderick lived there with her, “companion”, Another sensibly dressed gal, both very similar and very comfortable with each other. I had never known anyone who lived with another person that wasn’t married or weren’t family. Now its pretty obvious they were gorgeous women in love. Of course I knew nothing about homosexuality, I was 9 at this point. My mother and father had a couple of worldly and colourful male friends. One worked in fashion and was always going away to Bali and I used to think he must’ve been soooo wealthy as he always came back with a new “houseboy” after every trip. The other was a gorgeous artist who had a home overlooking Bilgola beach. OMG what a fabulous place that was. He always had marvellous parfaits and desserts he’d whipped up and were in the fridge for us when we stayed there.I remember maybe being 10 and asking my mother why she called her artist friend camp. She told me that he had been to a party once and someone put ice down his back and it had damaged a nerve in his back and made him effeminate, which was “camp”. I was 10 I didn’t question it.
But I digress
So, I went to see Miss Roderick and practiced and practiced and practiced, till I could almost sing it in my sleep.
The day finally arrived to travel to Channel 7 to sing on the show. I recall it was one of those blisteringly hot summer days we were shuffled over into a corner and told to be quiet as the show started.
Welcome to “THE TOWN OF MAKE BELIEVE”.
I kid you not. This is what the show was called!!
I was ushered towards these two men, Uncle Reggie and Uncle Mac.I think they were lying on banana chairs by a big set of closed double doors, and asked me my name and maybe they talked to me a little. They asked me what I was going to sing and I told them
A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES from the movie Cinderella.
Then they told me to push through these two big doors and go in and sing my song. I don’t remember much of that performance but one thing I do know, once I pushed those big doors open to The Town Of Make Believe , I kept singing and have never looked back.
Maeve: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to check out Queerstories on Patreon where you can support the project for as little as $1 per month. Follow Queerstories on Facebook for news and event updates and follow me, Maeve Marsden on Twitter and Instagram.