Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and the Queer Blues

"I went out last night with a crowd of my friends, they must have been women cause I don't like no men."—Ma Rainey, Prove It On Me Blues

In the recently aired Bessie, the HBO film starring Queen Latifah about the "Queen of the Blues," Bessie Smith, it's apparent from the first scene that Smith's bisexuality was not going to be hidden under the bed. In fact the film made it clear that there was a vibrant and active queer community during the heyday of the blues. This was reflected in the lyrics of the time…if you knew the codes and could read between the lines.

Ma Rainey, who discovered Smith, was busted for indecency at an all-girl party in 1925, and Gladys Bentley often dressed in a white tuxedo and top hat and "flirted outrageously" with women at her shows. Learn more about these women and their male counterparts on the Queer Music Heritage show Obscure Queer Blues and by checking out these books:

Bessie Smith

Empty Bed Blues

Ma Rainey

Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism

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