“T’Aint Nobody’s Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s”

History We Need to Know

Amos Lassen

One of the aspects of our culture that needs to be filled in is the role of African Americans. For too long we have ignored what they have brought to us and little by little we are beginning to see information brought to us in the written word. However, cinematically there is not much. Robert Philipson means to change that and he began doing so with this short film. I was lucky enough to see it today as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival and to learn that perhaps it will become part of a larger film about the Harlem Renaissance.

This film is a fascinating documentary that looks at the lives of bisexual and lesbian women, blues singers (Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey among others) and we learn about them through the wonderful narration of Jewel Gomez and by looking at rare vintage photographs and listening to recordings. I actually think my mouth was agape throughout the 28 minutes of the film because it included so much. Living in the modern age we tend to push aside that period in history when oppression ruled—not just for Black Americans but for females and gay people as well. Perhaps what I found most interesting were the explicit lyrics and hearing that these women were ignored by the church and by society (especially Black society) because they were “rough” women. I loved that the movie holds truth without sensationalism yet totally entertaining. Another interesting aspect is that while they seemed to live open lives, in their golden years, some turned to religion and eschewed their former lives as if they had never happened. It was shocking to learn that Ethel Waters joined the Billy Graham Crusade and sang for them yet only years before she had a female partner. Because of such an action, they left no legacy to the LGBT community which is too bad. Nonetheless their stories need to be told and Philipson does so brilliantly.

Leave a Reply