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Gladys Bentley: Gender-Bending Harlem Renaissance Performer and Musician

Portrait of of Gladys Bentley by artist Amelie Chabannes

Grade Level Grades 6-12
Resource Type Activity


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Learn about the trailblazing gender non-conforming performer Gladys Bentley with this digital short from Unladylike2020. Gladys Bentley fled her homophobic Trinidadian immigrant family in Philadelphia, PA at age 16 to join New York’s Harlem Renaissance jazz scene as a cross-dressing performer. In a time when homosexuality was widely considered sinful and deviant, Bentley wore men’s clothing -- a tuxedo and top hat -- and became famous for her lesbian-themed lyrics covering popular tunes of the day, and for openly flirting with women in the audience. In the 1950s, succumbing to pressure from the black church and McCarthy Era harassment of the LGBTQ community, Bentley said of her gender identity, “I am a woman again!” Constantly reinventing herself, Bentley challenged norms and pushed boundaries. Support materials include discussion questions, vocabulary, a research project on queer identity during the Harlem Renaissance, and a close reading of Bentley’s famous essay, “I am a Woman Again.”

UNLADYLIKE2020 is a production of Unladylike Productions in association with THIRTEEN’s American Masters. UNLADYLIKE2020's collection of educational resources was created by The WNET Group’s Kids Media & Education Department with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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