The famous bulldagger of the Harlem Renaissance, Gladys Bentley was a lively, piano-playing blues and jazz singer. Hailing from Trinidad, Bentley performed at speakeasies (including Clam House, the most notorious gay speakeasy) across the country, clad in her famous tuxedo and top hat, boasting her sexuality, raunchy lyrics, and play on gender identity. Bentley penned a memoir, If This Be Sin, joining the ranks of other queer black intellectuals and performers in Harlem, including Langston Hughes andEthel Waters.
Bentley married a white woman, garnering an uproar of gossip and media attention over miscegenation. However, after recording music for more than 20 years and performing with drag queens, she felt the heat of McCarthyism, being harassed by the police and publicly scorned for her gender presentation and sexuality. Trying to save her career, Bentley published an article in Ebony, claiming that she had been “cured” of lesbianism and was a “woman again.” The singer tragically passed in 1960, but her legacy lives on.