Singing The Lesbian Blues In 1920s Harlem

07/11/2013 02:35 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Lisa Hix Collectors Weekly
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When Gertrude “Ma” Rainey -- known as “The Mother of Blues” -- sang, “It’s true I wear a collar and a tie, … Talk to the gals just like any old man,” in 1928′s “Prove It on Me,” she was flirting with scandal, challenging the listener to catch her in a lesbian affair. It might not seem like a big deal to us now, but back then, pursuing same-sex relations could get you thrown in jail.

The good news for women-loving chanteuses like Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Gladys Bentley is that blues music in the 1920s was so far under the radar of mainstream America, female blues singers could get away with occasionally expressing their unconventional desires. That said, they all felt obligated to produce song after song about loving and losing men.

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