Watch: Gladys Bentley broke boundaries in music & fashion

TheGrio commemorates gender-bending musician and drag king, Gladys Bentley, who reigned over the Harlem Renaissance in the latest edition of ‘Keeping Black History Alive’.

Gladys Bentley was born in Philadelphia. From age nine she began stealing her brother’s suits, claiming to be more comfortable in boys’ clothing. At age 16, Bentley ran away from home to Harlem, New York after feeling restrained. There, she chased her dreams of being a musician.

Despite creating a name for herself and seeing small successes in nightclubs and other venues, Bentley struggled to find mainstream success due to her appearance. Her strides would not go in vain, she was just ahead of her time! Decades later we would see more and more performers bending gender and finding huge success, mostly in part due to the doors Bentley pushed open.

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