She became a Blues singer, mainly famous in the 1930s when she performed by playing piano and singing naughty parodies of blues standards in a deep voice at gay speakeasies in New York. She normally dressed in men’s attire, usually a tuxedo and top hat, and flirted with women in the audience. She appeared at The Clam House on 133rd St and at Harlem’s Ubangi Club, where she was backed by a chorus of men in drag.
After prohibition, she moved to southern California, and was frequently harassed for wearing men’s clothing. She claimed that she had married a white woman in Atlantic City. During the repressive 1950s, she felt obliged to wear dresses, pretended that she had married a man, and, in a fabricated article for Ebony magazine, claimed that female hormones had ‘cured’ her.
She was about to be ordained as a minister when she died of pneumonia at age 54.
- “Gladys Bentley”. Queer Culture Center. www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Bentley/Index.html.
- “Gladys Bentley”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladys_Bentley