blues Tag

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,, 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:

Black is Beautiful 3 (2017)- Memphis Minnie

Black people have given SO MUCH to what is American culture. That just needs to be said and folks need to be reminded of it. This is a piece of Memphis Minnie, one of many of the women who pioneered what today is Blues, Jazz, Swing, and Rock. She was born in 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana and grew up in Mississippi. She got her first guitar at the age of 8 or 10 and began a life as a musician in her early teens. She began playing with what was known as Jug bands Back in the day it was extremely rare to own an electronic device that played music, so live musicians played at homes, parties, bars, on the street, etc. She recorded her first song in 1929 and would go on to record around 200 songs with a career that spanned decades. She was known to be an extremely talented picker with the guitar and was one of the early pioneer is Blues to use an electric guitar. She was married to and played with Kansas Joe, she like so many migrated to Chicago. Known as the Queen of the country blues she played until her early 60s and needs much much more attention and credit. Some of her big tunes include “when the levee breaks, Hoodoo lady blues, I’m a bad luck woman, Bumble Bee, and if you see my rooster. Some cats still play her songs today.

Memphis Music hall of fame,, Youtube
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