Q

At 75, Beverly Glenn-Copeland's music is finally finding an audience, but he's not letting it go to his head

For 25 years, Glenn-Copeland was a series regular on Mr. Dressup, but in his spare time, he was making his own music in relative obscurity. That all changed when a Japanese record collector discovered one of his cassettes and kick-started his career.

‘The industry could never figure out what I did,’ says the musician and former Mr. Dressup regular

Beverly Glenn-Copeland in the q music studio in Toronto. (Andrew Alba/CBC)
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One email can change your whole life. 

For 25 years, Beverly Glenn-Copeland performed kids' songs on Mr. Dressup, but in his spare time, he was making his own music in relative obscurity. He released some cassettes, but estimates that he only sold about 50 to 100 — that is, until something amazing happened. 

In 2015, Glenn-Copeland's life changed when an influential record collector in Japan heard one of his old cassettes and kick-started his career. It happened as instantly as an email landing in his inbox. Now, at age 75, Glenn-Copeland is touring for the very first time and reaching a whole generation of listeners.

He joined q host Tom Power for a conversation about his new-found acclaim and special live studio session with his band Indigo Rising.

Here's part of that conversation.

What was your reaction when, almost three decades later, you receive an email from a Japanese record collector, asking if you had any copies of the album lying around?

It was out of the blue. He said, 'Can you send me 30?' So I sent him 30 and then two days later, he got back to me and said, 'I've sold them all.' I didn't really understand the indie industry, which had developed during the time in which I was not paying any attention, because the industry could never figure out what I did. Suddenly, out of the blue, within the space of two months, I had record companies from around the world that were trying to talk to me about reissuing things.

Emotionally, what was that like? How do you deal with something like that?

Well, I'm a Buddhist. What this practice has emphasized is that happiness is not based on material things. Nor is it based on even physical health. Obviously, you need those things for life, but true happiness is based on the joy of being alive. Period. So the idea that this was going to make me happy, was not a part of the equation.

You were a regular on Mr. Dressup for 25 years. It strikes me that the kids who watched you for years and years on that show are now the generation championing your music and turning up at your shows. Do you have any idea why this music might be connecting with this generation now?

The things that I was talking about then are the things that the young generation is concerned with now. You're world citizens, by and large, and you have a vision of respect for all and trying to understand that other cultures may be different, but as humans, we are essentially the same. And also, you're now burdened with this mess that my generation has left you, which is a world that is dying. That's what I was talking about 40 years ago and now this is relevant to your generation.

When you were born, your assigned sex was female. Though you knew you were male as early as three years old and transitioned about 20 years ago, at that stage in your life, the audiences you were performing to still viewed you as female. How did that factor in to your experience?

If you don't have a language for something, if it's not within the language of your culture, it's very hard to figure out some things, right? So even though at three, I announced to my parents that I was a boy — that was 1947. There was no cultural reference for that, none whatsoever. I was being conditioned to be female and I was always very uncomfortable with it, extremely uncomfortable with it, but I had no other thing with which to define myself. And then one day, I had something to define myself. It was as though a pallor over my life had lifted. Suddenly, it was very clear to me what had been going on all those years.

Watching you with your band, watching you in this moment, it feels like I'm watching someone who's exactly where they were meant to be. 

I think I am exactly where I was meant to be and at exactly the right time. I'm just very happy that I lived to see it. 

Produced by Frank Palmer. With thanks and acknowledgement for the work of Sean O'Neill and Amy Lam. A forthcoming episode of CBC's In the Making, focused on Beverly Glenn-Copeland, airs this fall.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full conversation and live studio session, download our podcast or click 'Listen' near the top of this page.


This summer during Pride, CBC is collecting LGBT stories from across the country. You can find them at cbc.ca/pride.

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