Gladys Alberta Bentley (August 12, 1907 – January 18, 1960) was an American blues singer, pianist, and entertainer during the Harlem Renaissance.
Her career skyrocketed when she appeared at Harry Hansberry's Clam House in New York in the 1920s, as a black, lesbian, cross-dressing performer. She headlined in the early 1930s at Harlem's Ubangi Club, where she was backed up by a chorus line of drag queens. She dressed in men's clothes (including a signature tuxedo and top hat), played piano, and sang her own raunchy lyrics to popular tunes of the day in a deep, growling voice while flirting with women in the audience.
On the decline of the Harlem speakeasies with the repeal of Prohibition, she relocated to southern California, where she was billed as "America's Greatest Sepia Piano Player" and the "Brown Bomber of Sophisticated Songs". She was frequently harassed for wearing men's clothing. She tried to continue her musical career but did not achieve as much success as she had had in the past. Bentley was openly lesbian early in her career, but during the McCarthy Era she started wearing dresses and married, claiming to have been "cured" by taking female hormones.
Birth and Death Data: Born August 12th, 1907 (Philadelphia), Died January 18th, 1960 (Los Angeles)
Date Range of DAHR Recordings: 1928 - 1929
Roles Represented in DAHR: vocalist, composer, lyricist, piano
|Company||Matrix No.||Size||First Recording Date||Title||Primary Performer||Description||Role||Audio|
|OKeh||W401058||10-in.||8/8/1928||Ground hog blues||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with piano||vocalist, composer, lyricist|
|OKeh||W401059||10-in.||8/8/1928||Worried blues||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with piano||vocalist, composer, lyricist|
|OKeh||W401092||10-in.||8/31/1928||How long-how long blues||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with guitar and piano||vocalist|
|OKeh||W401093||10-in.||8/31/1928||Moanful wailin' blues||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with guitar and piano||vocalist|
|OKeh||W401284||10-in.||11/2/1928||Wild geese blues||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with piano (takes A and B); with guitar (take C)||vocalist|
|OKeh||W401285||10-in.||11/2/1928||How much can I stand?||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with piano (takes A and B); with guitar (takes C and D)||vocalist, composer, instrumentalist, piano|
|OKeh||W401748||10-in.||3/26/1929||Big gorilla man||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with piano||vocalist|
|OKeh||W401749||10-in.||3/26/1929||Red beans and rice||Gladys Bentley||Female vocal solo, with piano||vocalist|
Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Bentley, Gladys," accessed October 31, 2020, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/107258.
Bentley, Gladys. (2020). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/107258.
"Bentley, Gladys." Discography of American Historical Recordings. UC Santa Barbara Library, 2020. Web. 31 October 2020.
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