Jazz Musician Billy Tipton Lived a Life of Lies Only Publicly Revealed after His Passing 3 Decades ago
Jazz musician Billy Tipton was true to his love for music, yet he lived a life of lies. His ex-wife Kitty Oakes tried to keep the newspapers from publishing his story after his death and quickly cremated his remains.
Billy Tipton was a gifted jazz musician whose gift spread over to playing the piano and the saxophone. His music career began as early as 1936 as a bandleader.
But despite living with numerous women as partners, none of them truly knew Tipton's secret. Until he collapsed in his mobile home. When his son called the paramedics, they discovered something that Tipton had kept a secret all his life.
Tipton was a woman! Tipton was born in December 1914 as Dorothy Lucille Tipton. Whether he chose to live as a man simply as a sexual choice or help him build a career in the man-riddled jazz industry is still unknown.
What is for sure is that Tipton had fooled everyone about his sexuality, including the women he had had sexual relationships with. And so when the news came out that he was a woman, everyone was shocked. Diane Middlebrook, who wrote Tipton's biography, said in the book:
"Billy's story lets us watch one woman's bold solutions to gaining a certain amount of recognition in what was largely a man's world.''
Tipton donned a prosthetic device and bound his breasts with bandages to help pass a man. When questioned, he'd say the reason he was always in bandages was that as a child, he'd suffered an accident that had left his ribs broken.
In 1946, Tipton met Betty Cox, a pretty and shy 18-year-old, and they began their life together as a man and his wife. Cox joined him on his tours, but she eventually got tired and wanted to return home, and thus, their union ended.
Tiptop would meet a stripper Kitty Kelly, who went by the name "the Irish Venus." They settled down, and in all the time they were together, Kelly, now married and going by the name Kitty Oakes, says she did not know that Tipton was a woman.
John, however, claimed he'd never been close to his biological mom, and she was just trying to profit from the story.
Oakes says she suffered from a condition that prevented her from being sexually intimate with her "husband." And because they both wanted kids, they adopted three boys, William, Scott, and Jon.
Tipton was a wonderful "husband" to Oakes and a hands-on "father" to their children and often took his boys on fun camping trips. But as the boys grew older, Oakes felt that Tipton was not tough with them. This led to tension in the marriage, and they finally separated in 1981.
The doc “No Ordinary Man” examines the life of Billy Tipton, a talented jazz artist in the 1940s and 1950s who, upon his death, was revealed to have been assigned female at birth https://t.co/afJlDkJRNk— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) July 12, 2021
The boys moved to live with their "father," and while there, Tipton met his death in the company of his son, William. After his death, it was up to his family to uncover the mysteries of his secret life. Oakes says:
''I know he wanted to tell me. But he couldn't say, 'I'm tired, I'm old,' 'and tell me the truth. He did a great Houdini. Instead of treating this as a grand deception, don't you think it's funny?''
Tipton's death and consequent exposure of his life-long secret led to a myriad of problems. A woman, Patricia Clark, the biological mother of one of Tipton and Oakes' adopted sons, John, filed a lawsuit on the basis that Tipton had been a woman all along.
Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt’s documentary “No Ordinary Man” looks at the life of jazz musician and trans icon Billy Tipton through the stories and journeys of trans performers and experts: https://t.co/CiQmwnnl47 pic.twitter.com/83wtAAjnpl— CP24 Breakfast (@CP24Breakfast) March 31, 2021
She claimed she'd been deceived and felt betrayed and angry after learning that Tipton was not who he claimed to be. She also went on to claim that her relationship with her son had been severed.
John, however, claimed he'd never been close to his biological mom, and she was just trying to profit from the story. Clark was suing for an unspecified amount.
They adopted sons Scott and John had received $1 each.
The documentary “No Ordinary Man” presents a reconsideration of the life and death of Billy Tipton, a transgender jazz musician. https://t.co/40QfsmiPH1— New York Times Arts (@nytimesarts) July 15, 2021
Following Tipton's death, there was also the question of who would inherit his estate. After his secret was revealed, Oakes threatened to sue the newspapers if they published the story and quickly cremated Tipton's remains.
Oakes and Tiptons sons Scott and John also disputed Oakes's claims that he did not have a sexual relationship with Tipton, adding that she'd kicked them out of their home when they were teenagers, eventually breaking up their family.
Tipton, in the will, had left $ 150,000 to Oakes and his diamond ring and business memorabilia to their youngest son William, who'd cared for Tipton during his final years. Their adopted sons Scott and John received $1 each.
Following Oakes death in 2007, John, Scott, and William would inherit her $300,000 estate and divide it among themselves. If they failed to establish their rights to the estate, their paternal cousins and uncles would take over the inheritance.