Black Is Beautiful 2022 – Gladys Bentley
Yo, welcome to this year’s offering of art highlighting BLK folks from the past and present! First up this year: Gladys Bentley!
Gladys was born in 1907 in Philly. She loved music at an early age and began showing an interest for “boys” clothes and girls early. Her parents did not like this and tried to “cure” her. She ran away to Harlem at the age of 16. She began to slowly build a career as a musician slowly and Harlem was a place that was blossoming with BLK folks from all over. She first performed at rent parties and buffet flats which are parties. Buffet flats were private home clubs w/ sex, alcohol, music, and were often welcoming of queer folks. She then graduated to speakeasies (prohibition era). One thing that made her stand out besides her chops on the piano was her deep singing voice and her complete embrace of her queerness and dressing as a “man”. She wore a top hat and tuxedos and people loved her. Her success not only brought her to big venues like the Apollo, The Savoy, or The Cotton Club; but it also gave her the oppoRtunity to tour the US. Later she would experience a huge loss of income during the depression (1930s) and ran up against a crack down against Gay or Lesbian people. Not only by Whites but by conservative BLK folks too. In fact, she later claimed to have left her queer life behind and married a guy. But was a pioneer in blues, gender fluidity, and recording! She began recording blues records on labels like Excelsior, Victor, and Okeh w/ a catalogue that ran from 1928 until 1953. I believe she opened doors for masculine identifying women, Black musicians, and queer folks of all stripes. Much respect to the legacy of Gladys Bentley!
Sources: PBS, Blackpast.org, Wikipedia
Peep this 2021 piece of the Transgdender Cultural District
2017 Blues Musician Memphis Minnie
Note: If you do not include Black LGBTQ folks in your Black History Month celebrations prominently, please get with the program and show love and respect for our fellow BLK family!
Some process art: