Black Lesbians Sang The Blues And Bucked Convention In The 1920s


What was occurring was occurring clandestinely or within urban settings that were more or less secret and difficult to penetrate. It was very much under the cover of night, because they could be prosecuted for same-sex activity. There were some open demonstrations of alternative sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance and in Greenwich Village in the late ’20s….

“They drank, and they dressed in a flashy and flamboyant manner. They were not subservient to men in any fashion, and that was not the model of post-Victorian womanhood that was in mainstream culture at the turn of the century. All these women had come from working-class, or even more marginal backgrounds, in one of the worst periods of racial segregation in American history. And they were making money and careers for themselves during a period when that was very unusual for black women. But oftentimes, having come from poverty, they didn’t know how to hold on to money.”

Robert Philipson, writer and lecturer with a Ph.D. in comparative literature, discussing the impact of African American lesbian blues singers such as Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters and Gladys Bentley (right) in the first half of the 20th century via Collector’s Weekly.