'Nobody's Bizness' spotlights Blues sexual pioneers

Aug. 08, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

“T’ain’t Nobody’s Biznesss: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s” will screen at 7:15 p.m. Aug. 14 in Cinema One, and at 3:10 Aug. 17 in Cinema One, as part of “The Rolling Plains,” a series of short films.

The title of Robert Philipson’s documentary “T’aint’t Nobody’s Bizness” comes from the lyrics of a Bessie Smith blues song.
Using archival footage, photographs and recordings, Philipson pays tribute to another achievement of Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters and Gladys Bentley. Not only were they pioneers who popularized the blues in the early 20th century, they also were pioneers in sexual freedom and personal freedom.
Ma Rainey and Smith were both bisexual. Hunter and Waters were lesbians, who lived their lives but did not publicly reveal their sexual orientation. Another New York-based singer, Bentley was public about her lesbianism, dressing in full tuxedo.
While their musical contributions are their greatest achievement, Philipson also argues that their choice to live their lives truthfully also is part of their blues legacy. “They were an alternative culture, even in their culture,” said Brian Keizer, a cultural historian interviewed in the documentary. Linda Tillery, a vocalist Philipson interviewed, credits Smith as a role model, one who found a way “to be all those people she was.”  

--Cliff Bellamy, The Herald-Sun