GLADYS BENTLEY

GLADYS-BENTLEYA ‘Drag King’ who sings the Blues is a rare item! Gladys Bentley was a male impersonator who sang and played piano on the New York gay club scene in the late 20s in places like The Clam House and The Ubangi Club. She was a big woman who wore a tuxedo and top hat as she belted out the Blues tunes of the day with her own suggestive lyrics added. She had a deep voice and used a trumpet-like scat to accompany herself, sometimes leaving the stage to flirt hilariously at the tables and sometimes getting into trouble as a result, certainly in terms of press reviews!

Gladys recorded for the Okeh label, as a straight woman, using the great guitarist Eddie Lang on some sessions. She had a residency at The Ubangi Club on 7th Avenue, and worked up an outrageous gay revue which she took to the Harlem Opera House. In the mid-30s, Gladys moved to California for eight years, playing her drag act, but she then returned to New York which was her home for the rest of her career.

Gladys continued to record, touring all over the States, and in 1950 she went on Groucho Marx’s TV show ‘You Bet Your Life’, where she performed a rollicking version of ‘Them There Eyes’, dressed as a glamorous woman. In 1952, she claimed to have undertaken medical treatment and announced in the press, “I Am a Woman Again!”, but it should be noted that at that time the McCarthy ‘witch-hunts’ were making life very difficult for anyone in the public eye who was thought to be ‘Un-American’. She passed away in Los Angeles in 1960.

The unique talents of Gladys Bentley;