Oakland | An Evening Dedicated to Lesbian Poets of the Harlem Renaissance

OAKLAND – California,  and a night of poetry, music, and celebration. This event will be featuring local lgbtiqqaa poets of color, and will be dedicated to the poets of the Harlem Renaissance.

Interweave and GLBT Historical Society is bringing this important event to Oakland and judging by the program and participants it promises to be excellent.

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”, named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. Though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, many French-speaking black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.

One such performer, Gladys Bentley (August 12, 1907 – January 18, 1960) was an American blues singer during the Harlem Renaissance.

Bentley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of American George L. Bentley and his wife, a Trinidadian, Mary Mote. She appeared at Harry Hansberry’s “Clam House” on 133rd Street, one of New York City‘s most notorious gay speakeasies,[1] in the 1920s, and headlined in the early thirties at Harlem’s Ubangi Club, where she was backed up by a chorus line of drag queens. She dressed in men’s clothes (including a signature tuxedo and top hat), played piano, and sang her own raunchy lyrics to popular tunes of the day in a deep, growling voice while flirting outrageously with women in the audience.

On the decline of the Harlem speakeasies with the repeal of Prohibition, she relocated to southern California, where she was billed as “America’s Greatest Sepia Piano Player”, and the “Brown Bomber of Sophisticated Songs”. She was frequently harassed for wearing men’s clothing. She claimed that she had married a white woman in Atlantic City.

Bentley was openly lesbian during her early career, but during the McCarthy Era, she started wearing dresses, married a man (who later denied that they ever married), and studied to be a minister, claiming to have been “cured” by taking female hormones.  She died, aged 52, from pneumonia in 1960.

Fictional characters based on Bentley appeared in Carl Van Vechten‘s Parties, Clement Woods’s Deep River, and Blair Niles’s Strange Brother. She recorded for the OKeh, Victor, Excelsior, and Flame labels.


A Love Supreme

Performers include:

Potluck                    Gather for food and community

Four Directions       Zemaya

Poetry                      Talibah Barker

Poetry                      Marvin K. White

Song                         Zach Hodges

Poetry                      Ron Weissberg

Song                         Linda Hodges

Poetry                      Sauda Burch

Poetry                      Randall Wright

Poetry                      Jezebel Deliah X

Music                       Regina Wells

Poetry                      Bushmama

Poetry                      Rasheedah Sabeen Shakir

Drum/Poetry           Jaynie Lara

 MC: Jaki Lee

ALSO on the program:

Tiye Yayu Square-Levias, Ava Square-Levias, Bushmama, Griot Noir, Deborah Marks,  Taku Ronsman, Stephanie Thames, Rasheedah Sabeen,  Shakir

 The program begins with a potluck at 6pm. Please email randallwright90@gmail.com or jakilee63@yahoo.com for further information.

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