Beverly Glenn-Copeland, the Philadelphia-born multidisciplinary artist who has lived and worked for decades in Canada, is experiencing fame for the first time now at 76 years old. Glenn-Copeland, who for years identified as a lesbian woman before learning about transgender language and now identifies more accurately as a transgender man, is enjoying a new sense of fame and adoration thanks to the recent rediscovery of his nuanced 1986 electronic album, Keyboard Fantasies. New audiences are flocking to his work, which also includes writing he has done for kids shows like Sesame Street and Shiny Time Station and the records he released in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This week, on April 9, Glenn-Copeland will officially re-release his 1986 record, which, the artist says, originally came to him more as a transmission from above rather than an unearthing or physical labor.
“I’m one of those people that feels as though I get sent stuff from something other people might call a ‘higher power,”’ Glenn-Copeland says. “A vision from something very, very compassionate and also extremely wise in a way that you can think of as being universal.”
Glenn-Copeland, who says he believes all people are privy to transmissions of this sort, calls the phenomenon the “universal broadcasting system.” But don’t be confused; Glenn-Copeland isn’t sitting around his apartment with a tinfoil hat on waiting for some fictitious alien muse. Rather, as an artist, he simply remains open to the moment when an idea or a smack of creativity finds him. Then he takes advantage in beautiful ways.
“I have a bunch of friends, many of whom are artists,” Glenn-Copeland says. “They all say the same thing: yeah I practice the craft, I go in front of my paints and canvas, I work on things. But then there comes a time when something comes through me and I look at it and think okay that didn’t come from me.”
The musician recalls another story in which a writer friend of his got a flash of an idea for a new book. The writer fleshed out ideas for the characters, for the plot, for other major aspects of the book, but then, lacking time, put the idea in a drawer for later. A year passed and the writer friend was at a party and another writer friend of hers began to explain to her the exact same idea for a book, unprompted. It’s stories and anecdotes like these that confirms to Glenn-Copeland the idea of information sent and received by transmission. The muse is out there and the muse, the artist says, is what helped him write his 1986 album, which he recorded using early equipment like a Yamaha DX7 and a Roland TR-707.
“Keyboard Fantasies was definitely a transmission,” Glenn-Copeland says. “No doubt about that. When I look back at it, the things I was doing, I don’t know how I did that. One piece is so wild that I’m still trying to figure out what the last chords are.”
Glenn-Copeland, who grew up listening to his dad play classical piano ever since the age of three years old, absorbed the melodies and compositions from artists like Bach, Mahler and Brahms through his dads fingertips. His father would play piano for five hours a day after work. Later, Glenn-Copeland moved from the States to Canada at 17 years old to study music at McGill University. He studied 18th, 19th and early 20th century classical songwriting but eventually became disenchanted with the stuff and bought himself an acoustic guitar. He began to write songs as he listened to artists like Odetta and Bob Dylan.
“I’ve liked all the music I’ve ever heard,” Glenn-Copeland says, “from Boogie-Woogie to the latest dance music on the radio. I was really into Rodgers and Hammerstein. Music school was a wonderful experience in terms of the type of people and camaraderie. The professors were fabulous. Now, McGill is one of the finest music schools in the world. ”
In between strumming his six-string, Glenn-Copeland worked on kids television. The main show he worked with (for thirty years) was a Canadian program called, Mr. Dressup, which resembles the American show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Today, the artist still lives in Canada with his wife. And together, they’ve worked over the years to provide spaces, like a theater, for children and adults to learn about the world in safe, creative environments.
“Our attitude,” Glenn-Copeland says, “was that kids are way more capable than we give them credit for. They’re way more sensitive than we tend to treat them. They have an incredible ability to be very sophisticated in their understanding of things. If you don’t talk down to them and don’t write stuff that’s baby-fied, then they will feel welcome to it.”
For someone experiencing a great deal of new attention today, Glenn-Copeland does not seem upset or bitter that audiences took this long to find him. In fact, the musician is jovial. There’s compassion and sensitivity to his voice, an understanding that his life may have worked out just as it was supposed to. And he’s likely correct. Glenn-Copeland was able to live a rich, full and long life as an artist, work on some of the most indelible television shows and create a few now-beloved records, including Keyboard Fantasies, which is as melodic as it is rhythmic, timeless as it is a gem to discover. The album, which was given new life recently by a Japanese record collector, has rocketed Glenn-Copeland to the attention of many. But he isn’t mad that he’s not rich and famous. In fact, the wise artist says, it’s okay.
“They didn’t know what to do with me,” Glenn-Copeland says. “What I looked like and sounded like didn’t seem to match. Our industry likes clearly defined boundaries all around—‘This is folk, this is rhythm & blues, this is country.’ But now the world is crossing all kinds of boundaries, old definitions are falling away. Now people’s tastes have broadened incredibly. Now there’s a place on the shelf for Beverly Glenn-Copeland.”
Photo by Alex Sturrock