blues singer and pianist, was born Gladys Alberta Bentley in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the eldest of four children of George L. Bentley and Mary C. Mote, a native of Trinidad. The Bentley family was very poor. Later a lesbian, Bentley acknowledged that even as a child she felt more comfortable in boys' clothing than in girls' clothing; however, it was when Bentley developed a long-term crush on one of her female schoolteachers that her classmates began to ridicule her and her parents began to take Bentley from doctor to doctor in an effort to “fix” her. Finally at age sixteen Bentley left Philadelphia and traveled to Harlem, New York, where she quickly became immersed in the Harlem Renaissance and its “don't ask, don't tell” attitude about sexuality. Bentley became just one of many homosexual or bisexual celebrities, joining the likes of Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith ...
Anne K. Driscoll
Mary Krane Derr
singer, actor, and comedian, was born Nell Ruth Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama, one of nine children. Nell's parents were Edna Mae Humphrey, a homemaker, and her second husband Horace Hardy, an Army sergeant. At age two, Nell witnessed his accidental electrocution death. Deeply affected by Dinah Washington, B. B. King, and Elvis Presley records, Nell began singing in her church choir, on a local radio show called the “Y-Teens,” and on the gospel circuit. She never grew taller than four feet eleven inches but had a large, commanding voice and presence. Her show business ambitions made her a “weirdo” in a social environment where “most kids wanted to be teachers or nurses” (CNN.com, Entertainment, 23 Jan. 2003). At age 13, the Presbyterian-raised Nell discovered that one of her grandfathers probably had Jewish ancestry. Although not converting until 1983 she started ...
Known as the songbird of Mali, Oumou Sangaré uses a mix of traditional and modern instruments, along with her powerful voice, to update Mali’s renowned Wassoulou sound. Based on music made by hunters, these old songs asked for protection and good fortune in the densely forested Wassoulou region. Sangaré, who says she sings “for the women,” retains much of the original sound—using guitar, kamelen ngoni (a small, harplike stringed instrument), and a variety of percussion instruments. To these she adds lyrics dealing with the status of women in a changing Africa.
“In Africa it’s still men who make all the decisions,” Sangaré says. “It’s time for women to be heard.” Accordingly, one song on her third album, Worotan (1997 describes the outcast status of childless women while others deal with domestic abuse and polygamy She feels very strongly about freedom of choice in marriage as her father ...
Camille A. Collins
singer of blues, pop, R&B, and rock n' roll, was born in Jackson, Tennessee, to Frank and Alice Smith. Smith began her musical training as a child, singing gospel at church. Even at a tender age she was clearly possessed of a notable talent, as evidenced by her first-place win at a talent contest in Memphis at the age of eight and her discovery, at age twelve, by band leader Dave Clark. Clark's tutelage prepared Smith for a touring spot with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm swing band, America's first integrated, all-female music group. Smith later performed boogie woogie with pianist Christine Chatman's orchestra, with whom she made her first recording on the Decca label in 1944.
With a rich barreling thoroughbred s voice Smith s was a vocal instrument made for the blues Yet she came of age at a time when the era of ...
Mary Krane Derr
gay drag performer and musician, was born Sylvester James Jr. in Los Angeles, California, the firstborn son of Sylvester “Sweet” James Sr., whose occupation is unknown, and Letha Weaver James, a domestic and later a dietitian. After having two more sons, John Wesley in 1948 and Larry in 1950, Sylvester's parents divorced. While single, his mother had twin daughters Bernadette and Bernadine in 1956, and another son, Alonzo, in 1959. In 1962 she married aerospace worker Robert “Sonny” Hurd. She later fostered and adopted three children with him: Angelica, Charles, and Tammy. Letha's mother (really her aunt who raised her), the blues singer Julia Morgan, helped to raise Sylvester and his siblings.
Until young adulthood he was known by his nickname Dooni Even as a preschooler he enjoyed and sometimes wore the flamboyant elegant clothing his mother and grandmother ...