Bentley Mode [bent-lee mohd] noun: An existence that is blackagainstblackness, queer-against-queerness, sexual-againstsexuality, secure-againstinsecurity, and aggressively strikingagainst-all angles of passivity. Bentley Mode is to be Hyper-Everything, even and especially in environments where values of social marginalism are shared. “Bentley Mode” is a term I coined in support of my debut solo hip hop album, “Twilight For Gladys Bentley” (Springstoff Records, December 2013). I spent approximately a year researching Gladys Bentley in advance of composing the album, curious about her experience as a masculine-of-center performer in an era where gender queerness was both socially and legally taboo. Bentley was a 1920’s blues singer and ‘bulldagger,’ whose overtly masculine appearance was accentuated by her signature white tuxedo and top hat. She flirted with female audience members while re-working lyrics to popular songs into raunchy renditions backed by a chorus line of drag queens. During the era of McCarthyism, Bentley changed her appearance and began dressing ‘like a woman’ from fear of being blacklisted. In 1950, Bentley wrote an article for Ebony Magazine entitled, “I Am A Woman Again,” in which she denounced her masculine appearance and lesbian identity, exclaiming that she’d lived in a ‘personal hell,’ and “Like a great number of lost souls, I inhabited that half-shadow no-man’s land which exists between the boundaries of the two sexes.”
Whether Bentley’s renouncement was sincere or a desperate attempt to salvage her career against the harsh realities of anti-communism and homophobia is difficult to determine. The fact, however, remains: Bentley was a progenitor amongst artists who push the margins of the margins by being hyper-defiant and predefining the era in which they live and create. With T4GB, I aimed to utilize today’s music of prowess and posturing (which is hip hop) to ‘re-imagine’ Bentley. Although I do not re-work popular songs, I do write lyrics that are sexually provocative and introduce phrases like ‘fuckable feminist,’ that are designed to challenge margins of comfort and insight dialogue. It was during this thought process that the term Bentley Mode was coined. During my presentation, I will present songs from T4GB that define and exemplify Bentley Mode and identify hip hop artists such as Mykki Blanco as Bentley Mode, while giving Bentley Mode historical context through artists from other genres (i.e. Grace Jones and Sylvester) whose gender and musical deviance, and margin-defying performance intersect to create Bentley Mode. In as much as these artists assert queerness, it’s equally important (as we uphold their blended femininity and masculinity) to espouse the unique determination of blackness these multiple identities create. Click HERE to view video of Professor Sharon Holland (Associate Professor of Af Am Studies, Duke University) and myself discussing Bentley Mode on Mark Anthony Neal’s “Left of Black”.
Nach dem Vortrag und dem Workshop am Nachmittag in der KTS wird es am Abend ein Konzert der Künstler_innen bei unseren Freund_innen vom WheitRabbit unterm Siegesdenkmal geben.