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Gladys Bentley

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

Recordings

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  

Citation

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.

DAHR Persistent Identifier

URI: https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/107258

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