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Billy Tipton: A Secret Life That Still Inspires

A pianist and saxophonist, Billy Tipton became a fixture of the jazz scene in the Northwest. He frequented clubs here in the late 1940s and early '50s, first as a soloist and then with his trio.  Billy was a regular at places like the Elks club in Longview, Washington.  

After recording several albums, he decided to settle in Spokane, where he died in 1989. That's when more of Billy Tipton's story began to emerge. 

Billy was actually born "Dorothy." But he lived out his professional and personal life as a man. This was a secret even to those closest to him. He married five times and adopted three children.

While we don't know the details behind Billy's choice, another musician, Seattle saxophonist Amy Denio found it compelling enough to pass on. As co-founder of The Tiptons Sax Quartet, Denio named her band after Billy Tipton.

"We wanted to name our band in honor of Billy, to help the story be known and to celebrate this incredibly courageous life," said Denio.

The Tiptons Sax Quartet continues to tour extensively, sharing its unique blend of jazz and other genres, along with Billy's complicated story. Amy says it never fails to inspire those who hear it. The band's newest release is entitled Cookbook.