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Singing the Gender-Bending Blues

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Gladys Bentley loved women, wore men's clothing, and sang bawdy songs that would make sailors blush...and did it openly in the 1920s and 1930s. This was long before the gay rights or the civil rights movements, yet Bentley became a darling of the Harlem Renaissance alongside icons like Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker. While her provocative performances kept her from becoming as well-known as her peers, they are exactly why she is being rediscovered—and admired—today. In celebration of Women's History Month, we follow the life of a trailblazer who was unapologetically herself at a time when she would’ve been acutely aware of the risks.

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