The 2017 Defining Herself event will take as its focus the life and work of Gladys Bentley (1907-1960), whose remarkable musical performances are matched only by her equally remarkable persona. Bentley was headlining singer/pianist, performing in clubs in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s. This era saw the burgeoning of the Harlem Renaissance, a dynamic outpouring of creative energy by the African-American population, and Bentley, in a number of ways, typifies that creative drive. At a time when gender roles were still quite circumscribed, Bentley was openly lesbian. Her preference for male attire, and her embracing (and enhancing) of the double-entendres inherent in blues lyrics became drawing cards for her performances, and her presence at the Clam House or Ubangi Club guaranteed large crowds in attendance. Examinations of her contributions and the larger contexts of The Harlem Renaissance, issues of sexuality and sexual identity, and social class and social identity are part of this symposium.
All proceeds and donations support The Columbus State Humanities Symposia Fund. The fund was established to financially assist academics and students, as well as members of the larger Columbus Community who are interested in fostering greater community awareness of the humanities.