carl bentley

Missy Elliott’s Super Bowl takeover reminded me of this: If she acts, this could be a great role for her. Gladys Bentley (1907-1960) is in the “Scandalous Glamour” chapter in my book, Vintage Black Glamour. She was born in Philadelphia and ostracized by family, friends and even doctors early in her life because they wanted to “cure” her of homosexuality. She was a 16-year-old renegade when she arrived in Harlem and was an immediate success singing at rent parties and clubs. Unapologetically masculine onstage, she was known for her signature top hat and tails and her gleefully obscene set drew large crowds to her shows at The Clam House, the famous gay club, and other hot Harlem venues of the day. She recorded for Okeh records in the 1920s and was the model for a blues performer in “Parties” a novel by Carl Van Vechten, the Harlem Renaissance legend who took this picture. In the 1950s, Ms. Bentley would denounce everything about her notorious career and declare that she was no longer a lesbian - thanks to female hormone treatments. She continued to perform, but her career waned and, just before she was to be ordained as a minister, she died of influenza at the age of 52 in 1960.