Riddles and Masks

Riddles and Masks
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Suits Me:
The Double Life of Billy Tipton
348 pages
June 16, 1999
ISBN 10:
ISBN 13:

Jazz pianist Billy Tipton was born in Oklahoma City as Dorothy Tipton, but almost nobody knew the truth until the day he died, in Spokane in 1989.

Billy Tipton lived what had seemed a rather unremarkable life as a jazz pianist of marginal renown. Then, on January 21, 1989, paramedics were summoned to Tipton's residence in a Spokane, Washington trailer park. By the time they left the premises it was discovered that the dying man was a woman. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

From the age of 19 until the end at 74, Dorothy remain“ed hidden to all. That included bandmates, business associates, adopted children and — incredibly — a series of wives (only once were vows actually exchanged, but no marital records were ever filed). Middlebrook's book is a moving quest for answers to this life of smoke and mirrors, riddles and masks. Originally motivated to pose as a man in order to secure work as a musician during the depression in Missouri, the charade eventually had it's footing in emotional and personal issues much harder to know. In fact, with Tipton not here to say why, conjecture is all there can be. This is a superb biography, rich with sad exhilaration.