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Queer Blues

read the script

Note: Some images are double ones,
just pass the cursor over them

Playlist (airdate 10/22/07, 57:46 min)
Kokomo Arnold - Sissy Man Blues (1935)
Ma Rainey - Sissy Blues (1926)
Ma Rainey - Prove It On Me Blues (1928)

Ruby Smith - Buffet Flat Story (1971)
Bessie Smith - Soft Pedal Blues (1925)
Ethel Waters - Dinah (1925)
Gladys Bentley - How Much Can I Stand (1928)
Bessie Jackson - B.D. Women Blues (1935)
Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon - Operation Blues (1929)
Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon - My Daddy Rocks
     Me With One Steady Roll (1929)

Billy Banks & His Rhythmakers - Oh, Peter (1932)
Alberta Hunter - I Won't Let You Down (1940)
Billy Wright - You Satisfy (1950)
Hedda Lettuce - Drag Queen Blues (2005)
Tiny Bradshaw & His Orchestra, with Little
     Tiny Kennedy - Newspaper Boy Blues (1952)
Billie McCallister - 31 E Blues (1952)
Patsy Valdelar (or Vidalia) - Keep Your Hands
     on Your Heart (1953)
Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog (1952)
Little Richard - Directly From My Heart (1953)
Little Richard - Tutti Frutti (1955)
Little Richard on Esquerita (late 50s)
Esquerita - Just Another Lie (1958)
Esquerita - Dew Drop Inn (1965)

Bobby Marchan - Poor Pitiful Me (1956)
Huey Piano Smith & the Clowns -  Don't You Just Know It (1958)
Bobby Marchan - There Is Something On Your Mind (1960)
Long John Baldry - Five Long Years (1965)
Blues Incorporated - How Long, How  Long Blues (1962)

Janis Joplin - Cry Baby (1970)
 

This month's show is a "deep history" one. To give it a concise title I'm calling it Queer Blues, and I'll be taking the music of gay, lesbian and bisexual blues artists from the mid 1920's up to 1970. I hope hard core blues purists will not mind the slight liberties with what I've included as "blues." That's probably more of subjective genre now than it was in the early years. So while some of the songs may not be strictly blues, I hope their inclusion widens our perspectives.

 

Kokomo Arnold   Kokomo Arnold

Not a gay artist, as far as I know, but in 1935 Kokomo Arnold (1901 - 1968) wrote one of the early classics of the queer blues genre, "Sissy Man Blues." I've set up a special reference page on this song, see Sissy Man Blues

Kokomo Arnold 78

Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith

Prove It On Me Blues  Ma Rainey

Ma Rainey (1886 - 1939) was considered "The Mother of the Blues," and was a mentor to Bessie Smith (1894 - 1937), "The Empress of the Blues," who was a prolific artist. Chris Albertson was the author of her definitive biography and many of the interview sessions with her niece, Ruby Smith, can be found on Volume 5 of the series below.

Bessie Smith Box Set SeriesBessie Smith Box Set SeriesBessie Smith Box Set SeriesBessie Smith Box Set SeriesBessie Smith Box Set Series

Ethel Waters and Bessie Jackson

Ethel WatersEthel Waters  Lucille Bogan, aka Bessie Jackson

Ethel Waters (1896 - 1977) has been called the first black superstar, famous for her work in nightclubs, Broadway, radio and films, being only the second African American nominated for an Academy Award (1949). Her signature song was "Am I Blue." Above right, Lucille Bogan aka Bessie Jackson (1897 - 1948) was famous for her raw lyrics, and sang about those "B.D. Women Blues," in 1935, under the name Bessie Jackson.

Gladys Bentley

  

      

           

    Gladys Bentley (1907 - 1960), with top hat and tuxedo and at 250 pounds, was the epitome of the bull dyke performer. During the 1930's she headlined Harlem's Ubangi Club and then relocated to California, where she often starred at the famous San Francisco lesbian bar Mona's Club 440.

Click for Much More on Gladys Bentley

Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon

Frankie Jaxon postcard

Click for more on Frankie Jaxon

Billy Banks

Billy Banks

French 1998 CD, out of print

Above is a 1970 vinyl LP from the UK that captures 16 of his tracks circa 1932, and directly above is a CD compilation.

At 5'2" Frankie earned the nickname "half-pint," and his comedic and gender-blurred
approach to his songs made him very popular. In many of his songs he took the lyrical
role of a woman. A famous and not too subtle track is "My Daddy Rocks Me with One
Steady Roll." And Billy Banks also dabbled in female impersonation, though the players
in his band, The Rhythmakers, Fats Waller among them would gain more fame. I would
love to hear the story behind his song "Oh, Peter."

Much More on Billy Banks

Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter, later years

Famous blues singer Alberta Hunter (1895 - 1984) had two music careers, from the 20s through the 50s, and then she came out of retirement in 1978 and continued until her death in 1984.

Billy Wright

Billy Wright

Billy Wright

Click for Much More Billy Wright

Colorful Billy Wright (1932 - 1991) was an excellent stage performer (also dabbling in female impersonation), made many fine recordings and had some Billboard charts success, and was a mentor to Little Richard, helping him get started.

I needed two pages to cover the 20 artists on
this month's show, Click Here to see the rest.

And I highly recommend this 28-minute documentary