WordPress Version 4.9 Named for Transgender Bandleader Billy Tipton

On November 16, web designers welcomed WordPress Version 4.9 into the world.

4.9 is named, “Tipton” in honor of Billy Tipton, a jazz pianist and band leader who performed from the 1930s to the 1970s.

You might say, who the heck is Billy Tipton? I did too. I’d never heard of him, nor had my musicological hubby.

You won’t find a biography of Billy Tipton at AllMusic.com; just a few Credits for some Fletcher Henderson recordings. Some of his recordings are here.

The version-naming process at WordPress has long been a mystery and at first I imagined Matt Mullenweg going through his grandparents record collection and stumbling upon one of two of Tipton’s recordings, and saying, hey, “this guys looks interesting!”

But maybe it was not serendipitous that Billy Tipton was named for WordPress Version 4.9.

Perhaps the name was a tribute to a segment of the population who are currently a hot topic in the news, inspiring film and television programming, as well as toxic bathroom legislation.

You see, Billy Tipton was actually a woman.

Billy or Billie

Born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in 1914 in Oklahoma City, Tipton was raised in Kansas City by her aunt after her mother’s death. Young “Tippy” rarely saw her father and took an interest in music while in high school, studying piano and saxophone.

As Dorothy became more professional, she began dressing as a man by binding her breasts and padding her pants before performances. By 1940, her transformation had extended to her private life as well.

She became a he, and only two female cousins knew the truth.

In the role of band leader, Tipton toured the midwest and eventually drifted to the Pacific Northwest while playing swing standards of the day.

In Longview, Washington, he formed the Billy Tipton Trio, and in 1957, the trio recorded and released two albums of standards for the Tops Records label: Sweet Georgia Brown and Billy Tipton Plays Hi-Fi on Piano.

Tipton declined offers to record more as well as to perform as the house band at a hotel in Reno, NV, and instead chose to settle in Spokane, WA where he had relationships with several women.

In 1960, he settled down with stripper Kitty Oakes, “The Irish Venus,” and they adopted three boys. The couple broke up in 1970 and Tipton moved into a mobile home where he lived in poverty until his death in 1989.

Whether it was his physical secrecy or an innate fear of doctors that kept Tipton from seeing a doctor is not apparent, but when he developed emphysema from heavy smoking, he refused to get help.

An autopsy revealed he had a hemorrhaging peptic ulcer that was probably what killed him. It was while paramedics struggled to revive him that his son saw that his father was actually a woman.

What a sad story!

Although Billy Tipton had a pitifully small discography, the list of works inspired by his life is lengthy, including:

  • The 1991 song “Tipton” by folk singer Phranc .
  • Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, a 1995 short film based on Tipton’s life.
  • The 1998 Diane Middlebrook biography of Tipton, titled Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.
  • A play written by Eduardo Machado, Stevie Wants to Play the Blues, performed in Los Angeles, starring Amy Madigan.
  • Another play, The Slow Drag by Carson Kreitzer, performed in New York City and London.
  • An opera, Billy, staged in Olympia, Washington.
  • Trumpet, a novel by Jackie Kay.
  • The Opposite Sex Is Neither, a theatrical revue by noted trans woman Kate Bornstein, which features Billy Tipton.
  • The Legend of Billy Tipton,” a song by the punk band The Video Dead.
  • The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, renamed as The Tiptons is named for Billy Tipton.
  • Kill Me, Por Favor,” a short story with a section about Billy Tipton in Ry Cooder’s book Los Angeles Stories.
  • A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton” an original biographical show performed by singer-songwriter and cabaret artist Nellie McKay.
  • Soita minulle Billy [Call me Billy], a Finnish play with Joanna Haartti playing Tipton, presented at Theatre Jurka in 2011 and again at the 2012 Helsinki Festival.
  • Billy’s Thing,” an unreleased track by Jill Sobule.

So in the end, Billy Tipton became better known for the gender of his body than for his body of work!

WordPress Version 4.9 “Tipton”

Billy Tipton can now add a named WordPress version to his list of tributes. And in a way, this is a perfect version in that there is not a lot of flash on the front end, but many deeply-held secrets on the back end.

Two of the coolest new developments happen in the sidebars.

Add Media to Text Widget

The Text Widget is the all-round workhorse of WordPress, able to present everything from simple text to HTML code.  Now it has an Add Media function, as if it were a post! It supports images, video, and audio in that little space.

New Gallery Widget

Now we have a widget devoted to displaying a gallery! This development started with version 4.8, but is now fully formed as it’s own gallery widget. Very cool for displaying any images.

Realistic Theme Previewer

Another cool development is the Theme Previewer that show what your actual site looks like in a different theme. It used to be that you’d have to activate the theme to discern the changes, but now it’s all viewable in the Customizer. How long have I wished for this?

Reliable Theme Switching

On top of the previewer, WordPress 4.9 offers make menu and widgets more persistent when you change themes. This solves another of my pet peeves, jumpy menus.

Better Menu Instructions

I think this development is kind of a joke. A new strip of copy explains how to create a menu, thank you very much.

But if I really wanted to guide users, I’d add a line that says, click on Menu Locations tab to set the place for each menu. New users always overlook that step.

For the Developers

Apart from those user changes, WordPress 4.9 offers lots of new things for developers.

Customizer JS API Improvements

Numerous improvements to the Customizer JS API. (Hello, default parameters for constructs! Goodbye repeated ID for constructs!) There are also new base control templates, a date/time control, and section/panel/global notifications to name a few. Check out the full list.

CodeMirror available for use in your themes and plugins

We’ve introduced a new code editing library, CodeMirror, for use within core. CodeMirror allows for syntax highlighting, error checking, and validation when creating code writing or editing experiences within your plugins, like CSS or JavaScript include fields.

MediaElement.js upgraded to 4.2.6

WordPress 4.9 includes an upgraded version of MediaElement.js, which removes dependencies on jQuery, improves accessibility, modernizes the UI, and fixes many bugs.

Roles and Capabilities Improvements

New capabilities have been introduced that allow granular management of plugins and translation files. In addition, the site switching process in multisite has been fine-tuned to update the available roles and capabilities in a more reliable and coherent way.

 Waiting for Gutenberg

WordPressers are anxiously awaiting the inclusion of Gutenberg in the WordPress Core which will undoubtedly herald the launch of WordPress’ big 5.0.

You can download Gutenberg as a plugin and play with it. And if you want to help with its development you can do that from github!

And let me know what you think of WordPress Version 4.9!

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