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Special Features Index  

 
Spotlight Jazz and The Blues
 
  Jazz and the Blues, two of the most prominent musical forms to emerge from African-American roots, differ sharply in their relationships to glbtq performers. While jazz continues to be hostile toward glbtq musicians despite the significant contributions of several gay male jazz artists, the Blues has been more welcoming, particularly to lesbian and bisexual women.  
 
 
  Josephine Baker Entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) achieved acclaim as the twentieth century's first international black female sex symbol, but kept carefully hidden her many sexual liaisons with women, which continued from adolescence to the end of her life.  
 
 
  Gladys Bentley Gladys Bentley (1907-1960) was an African-American Blues singer whose name became synonymous with "Hot Harlem" of the 1920s. Bentley openly flaunted her lesbianism in the 1920s and 1930s, but recanted in the 1950s in an attempt to salvage her career.  
 
 
  Nell Carter A dynamic performer on stage, television, film, and record, Nell Carter (1948-2003) built a successful and versatile show business career; only after her death was her longtime relationship with a woman revealed to the public.  
 
 
  Lea DeLaria Lea DeLaria (b. 1958) has been a proudly out lesbian since the beginning of her career. As the daughter of a jazz musician, performing came naturally to the versatile DeLaria who has earned accolades for her talents as an actor, a singer, and a stand-up comic.  
 
 
  Frances Faye Frances Faye (1912-1991) was a gravel-voiced vocalist and pianist whose style and sound evolved over the years to include jazz, pop, Latin, and rock influences. She warmly embraced her gay and lesbian audience and was openly bisexual at a time when few other performers dared to do the same.  
 
 
  Peggy Gilbert (1905-2007) was a virtuoso jazz musician and leader of a number of successful all-women bands. She tirelessly promoted other female musicians and demanded that they receive respect and opportunities.  
 
 
  Sam Harris Multi-talented Sam Harris (b. 1961) is best known as a singer and actor, especially for his bluesy renditions of classic American songs; since coming out publicly in 1999, he has lent his voice to the cause of glbtq rights.  
 
 
  Alberta Hunter Alberta Hunter (1895-1984), a Blues singer, lyricist, actress, and one of the top recording artists of the 1920s and 1930s, experienced a dramatic comeback in her old age.  
 
 
  Janis Joplin (1943-1970) is a rock and roll legend, but she was also a remarkable Blues singer, who helped break down the old dichotomy of “white music” versus “black music.”  
 
 
  Mabel Mercer Mabel Mercer (1900-1984) is one of the most respected singers of the mid-twentieth century. She was a most original stylist who became a beloved icon of gay New York in her later years.  
 
 
  Singer, songwriter, and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello (b. 1968) is a notably eclectic artist whose music confronts social and sexual issues, including racial identity, same-sex attraction, and homophobia.  
 
 
  Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons have had tremendous influence on Popular Music, though some musical genres have been more receptive to a homosexual presence than others.  
 
 
  Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1886-1939) was short, fat, and country to the core. Nicknamed "The Mother of the Blues," Rainey made no secret of her relationships with women.  
 
 
  Larry Rivers (1923-2002) is recognized as one of the pioneers of Pop Art, but he was also a jazz musician, teacher, performer, and writer. Though he did not identify as gay or bisexual and married twice, he had significant same-sex sexual experiences, most notably with poet Frank O'Hara (1926-1966).  
 
 
  Bessie Smith Bessie Smith (1894-1937), "Empress of the Blues," had a powerful voice and sophisticated musical talents. She conducted her life by her own set of rules and enjoyed affairs with both men and women.  
 
 
  Billy Strayhorn William "Billy" Strayhorn (1915-1967) was a major figure in American music who enriched jazz by investing it with complexly orchestrated form. The prolific composer, arranger, and performer was unusual for his refusal to hide his homosexuality.  
 
 
  Ethel Waters Ethel Waters (1896-1977) is perhaps best remembered as an actress who brought depth and acuity to fat "mammy" roles in plays and films. She began her entertainment career as "Sweet Mama Stringbean," a slender and glamorous blues singer whose musical talents made her a major nightclub star in 1920s Harlem.  
 
 
 

 
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