HThis is an uplifting documentary about black transgender electronic music pioneer Glenn Copeland. It all starts with the story of how he was “discovered” a few years ago, at the age of 72. At home in Canada, Copeland reads the email he received in 2015 from a record store owner in Japan: the guy offered to buy spare copies of Keyboard Fantasies, a self-released Copeland album. in 1986 on cassette. At the time, he was known as Beverly Glenn-Copeland, and the album is a trippy blend of electronica, folk and New Age, topped with Copeland’s sumptuous contralto tenor; it is now considered his masterpiece. He had pressed 200 tapes and sold about 50.
I could watch Copeland talk for hours. With his smiling eyes, he beams with life and happiness, basking in an autumnal success – the world has finally caught up with him. He was born Beverly Glenn-Copeland to a middle class family in Philadelphia. At 17 in the early 1960s, he was one of the first black students at a prestigious Canadian university to study classical music. Homosexuality was still illegal in Canada, but Copeland was open about his relationship with another woman. His parents took him to a mental hospital for electroconvulsive “therapy”, but he escaped. After dropping out of school, Copeland recorded a few albums, both of which were business disasters. Then, in the early 1980s, he discovered computers – “and I was off for the races”.
Copeland recorded Keyboard Fantasies using an Atari computer, synthesizer and drum machine. He was decades ahead of his time, and the film mainly follows Copeland on tour to a young audience who just found out. His band is a sweet mix of musicians in their twenties (they look younger, like the kind of A-grade students who hang out in the art room at lunch). A lot of times music documentaries feel stuffed with filling, but honestly, I could have spent an extra hour in the company of Copeland.