While many of the classic female blues artists of the 20s were accompanied by quartets or small orchestras - in a style that’s as much jazz as it is blues - Gladys Bentley often performed with a sparse backing… she could do a mean trumpet impression!
An amazing character, Gladys was openly gay and often dressed in men’s clothes, usually a tuxedo and top hat. She obviously enjoyed courting controversy; she performed in front of a chorus line of drag queens and once claimed to have married a white woman.
But it’s Gladys's incredible piano chops and belting vocal style that made her a legend of the blues. She demonstrated both when she appeared on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life TV show in the 50s. Click here for an amazing if bizarre YouTube clip - strange clip, awesome performance…
Listen: Gladys Bentley accompanied by Eddie Lang (guitar) - Wild Geese Blues (1928)