Episode 95. Queer Blues (and Beyond)

Episode 95. Queer Blues (and Beyond)



The immortal (and sublimely amoral) Bessie Smith

For my second Queer Pride episode this month, I offer you a panoply of blues and other popular music sung by women of color over the past 100 years and over a wide range of the LGBTQ spectrum. The focus is on the queer and bisexual women of color who enlivened the Harlem blues scene in the 1920s, including the newly popular and celebrated Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, as well as other vital and iconoclastic singers of that era, including Bricktop, Lucille Bogan, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Hegamin, and the fascinating Gladys Bentley. The net is further extended to include jazz (Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington), pop, rock ‘n’ roll (Big Mama Thornton), gospel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Joséphine Baker), soul (Carolyn Franklin, Macy Gray) and folk (Joan Armatrading, Meshell Ndegeocello, Toshi Reagon, and Laura Love). Of course in this episode the musical categories are as flexible as are the sexual and gender boundaries, so expect to see a lot of genre-hopping as well among these subversive, innovative, and pathbreaking women of color.

Gladys Bentley, dapper in her trademark white top hat and tails


Ed Pollack, Albert Wynn, Thomas A. Dorsey, Ma Rainey, Dave Nelson, and Gabriel Washington

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey: Prove It On Me Blues. Ma Rainey and Her Tub Jug Washboard Band [Tampa Red, Georgia Tom Dorsey, others unknown] (1928)

William “Bill” Russell, Ed Herbert: Oh, Daddy. Ethel Waters, Cordy Williams’ Jazz Masters (1921)

Charlie “Specks” McFadden: Groceries on the Shelf [Piggly Wiggly]. Lucille Bogan, Walter Roland (1933)

Lukie Johnson, Roger Graham: Has Anybody Seen My Corine? Lucille Hegamin, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Cecil Scott, Henry Goodwin, Gene Brooks (1962)

W.C. Handy: St. Louis Blues. Ada “Bricktop” Smith, unknown pianist (Italian television, 1970)

Cole Porter: Miss Otis Regrets. Alberta Hunter, Jack Jackson and Orchestra (1934)

Alberta Hunter: Downhearted Blues. Alberta Hunter, Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders [Lovie Austin, Darnell Howard, Jimmy Archey, Pops Foster, Jasper Taylor] (1961)

Irving Berlin: Suppertime. Ethel Waters, Reginald Beane, Introduced by Diana Ross (Hollywood Palace, first broadcast8 March 1969)

Victoria Spivey: Got the Blues So Bad. Victoria Spivey, Cliff Jackson, Zutty Singleton, Buster Bailey, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney De Paris (1962)

Clarence Williams, J. Tim Brymn, Dally Small: Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl. Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams (1931)

Fletcher Henderson, George Brooks: Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair. Dinah Washington, Eddie Chamblee and His Orchestra (1957)

John Louis: Wild Geese Blues. Gladys Bentley, Eddie Lang (1928)

Gladys Bentley: Boogie’n My Woogie. Gladys Bentley, Gladys Bentley’s Quintette [Byron Johnson, Billy Hodanott, Sylvester Scott, William Woodman, Robert Rose] (1946)

Ernestine “Tiny” Davis: How about that Jive? Tiny Davis and the Hell Divers [Maurine Smith, Birdie Davis, Margaret Backstrom, Eileen Chance, Helen Cole] (1949)

Thomas A Dorsey: Precious Lord, Take My Hand. Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1941)

Booker T. Jones, William Bell: Born under a Bad Sign. Big Mama Thornton. Produced by Al Schmitt (1969)

Rezső Seress, Sam M. Lewis: Gloomy Sunday. Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra [Teddy Wilson, Emmett Berry, Jimmy Hamilton, Hymie Schertzer, Babe Russin, Albert Casey, John Williams, J.C. Heard] (1941)

Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash: Speak Low. Billie Holiday, Jonny Rowles, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Barney Kessel, Joe Mandragon, Alvin Stoller (1958)

Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart: My Funny Valentine. Carmen McRae, Ronnell Bright, Ike Isaacs, Specs Wright (1957)

Jerome Moross, John LaTouche: Lazy Afternoon. Mabel Mercer, George Cory, Sam Hamilton, Milt Hinton (1956)

Pierre Spiers: Sourire à la vie. Joséphine Baker, Erik Bye, unknown pianist. (Lørdagskveld med Erik Bye [Saturday Night with Erik Bye] – NRK-TV (Norway). First broadcast 13 February 1971)

Carolyn Franklin: I Don’t Want to Lose You. Carolyn Franklin, Arranged and conducted by Horace Ott (1969)

Joan Armatrading; Mama Mercy. Joan Armatrading, Jerry Donahue, Bryan Garofalo, Dave Markee, George Fame, John “Rabbit” Bundrick, Mel Collins, David Kemper (1977)

Toshi Reagon

Nina Simone: Real Real. Meshell Ndegeocello, Toshi Reagon, Chris Bruce, Jebin Bruni, Deantoni Parks (2012)

Meshell Ndegeocello

Meshell Ndegeocello: Price of the Ticket. Meshell Ndegeocello, Chris Bruce (NPR Tiny Desk Concert 10 February 2021)

Laura Love: Saskatchewan (Juneteenth). Laura Love and band (2007)

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