Singing the Lesbian Blues

March is Women’s History Month, so we’re going to be highlighting the important role of women in the blues. Today we want to call attention to a great piece by Lisa Hix at Collector’s Weekly: Singing The Lesbian Blues in 1920’s Harlem. Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith are two of the most famous performers who helped shape blues music and make it popular. They were also bisexual. Ma Rainey even recorded a few songs about it, like “Prove It On Me,” in which she sings, “It’s true I wear a collar and a tie, … Talk to the gals just like any old man.” 

Hix explains that blues music provided a natural place for people to express a sexuality that was condemned by mainstream society, mostly because blues was already considered to be outside the norms of what was socially acceptable. “The blues community,” she writes, “had no such concerns about respectability.”

Hix elaborates:

“As it turns out, the blues world was the perfect realm for people who were thought of as “sexual deviants” to inhabit, in part because people in the entertainment industry had far more leeway to flout sexual mores. But blues music also thrived far outside the scope of the dominant white American culture in the early 20th century. In Jazz Age speakeasies, dive bars, and private parties, blue singers had the freedom to explore alternative sexuality, and on a rare occasion, they even expressed it in song.

Check out the whole article at Collector’s Weekly – it also talks about other great performers like Alberta Hunter and Ethel Waters.





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