Gladys Bentley was a 250 pound woman dressed in men’s clothes (including a signature white top hat and tails), played piano and sang her own “raunchy” lyrics to popular tunes of the day in a deep, growling voice while flirting outrageously with women in the audience in the 1920′s. Langston Hughes wrote that Bentley was “an amazing exhibition of musical energy – a large, dark masculine lady, whose feet pounded the floor while her fingers pounded the keyboard — a perfect piece of African sculpture, animated by her own rhythm.”
There’s not much else on the once famous address except that it was located between Lenox and Seventh Avenue but apparently the club was the most notorious establishment uptown. Gladys Bentley’s show in the 1920′s included drag back up dancers and Gladys Clam House was the most swinging gay uptown establishment during the Renaissance years but the speakeasy was actually called Harry Hansberry’s Clam House which was located at 133rd Street. And headlined in the early thirties at Harlem’s Ubangi Club, where she was backed up by a chorus line of drag queens.
At its height, Hollywood stars such as Tallulah Bankhead would often drop by to check out the racy shows which included bawdy revisions of popular songs of the day. Bentley would still perform after the Renaissance decade (and the demise of the speakeasy) but the flamboyance would disappear under politically correct dresses. As Harlem + Bespoke said the Clam House, maybe it was truly a secret establishment for advertisements or printed addresses do not seem to be available.
Gladys performing “Them There Eyes” with Groucho Marx on “You Bet Your Life” in the 1950′s.