Gladys Alberta Bentley (1907-1960), was a bold and talented blues singer that challenged gender and racial norms in the 1930s.
This 1920’s Harlem singer and entertainer in was known for her gender-bending attire and a bawdy, flirty lyrical style. Gladys Bentley was also openly gay, which was unprecedented and risky, especially for a black woman.
Born in Philadelphia, she was ostracized by her family and ran away at the age of 16 to begin a new life in Harlem, NY. She was an immediate success in the Harlem night club scene with her gravelly voice and piano playing skills. But what really set her apart was her unapologetically masculine presence onstage. She was known for her signature top hat and tails. With her gender-bending attire and a bawdy, flirty lyrical style, Gladys Bentley was the toast of the town during the Harlem Renaissance.
Today we salute Gladys Bentley for being brave enough to be herself, for being bold enough to bring her talent to the stage where she helped break down gender and racial stereotypes from inside the African-American community.