Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues – May 27, 2015

Happy Hump Day! It’s a natural fact that Blues men love the ladies, but there were also several Blues women who also had an eye for the ladies. This week we’re going deep in the grooves of some old time lesbian ladies of the blues who dared to sing about their sexuality. Nicknames pertaining to homosexuals have never been altogether complimentary and the early 20th century was no exception. Manly lesbians were callously referred to as Bulldaggers. There were several Bulldaggers in early Blues, especially during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. In Harlem, self expression was encouraged and sexuality was less focused on hetero vs homo. It was geared toward feeling good with whomever you chose. Still, in less progressive parts of the country, women chose not to come forward about their sexuality but would hint about it in song and through flirtation on stage. Ma Rainey took this path and sang “Prove It On Me Blues.” The final verse of her song sums it up nicely:

MaRaineyStamp“I went out last night with a crowd of my friends
It must have been women ’cause I don’t like no men.
Wear my clothes just like a fan
Talk to the gals just like any old man
‘Cause they say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me”

Lucille Bogan is no stranger to our Hump Day readers. However when it came to singing about hot lesbian action, she used a pseudonym¬†Bessie Jackson. You may think people have intolerant tendencies today but multiply that by a thousand percent and you’ll have a better perspective on intolerance of the early 20th Century.¬† Lucille sang other songs as Bessie Jackson and singing under an assumed name has been done for several reasons by numerous blues performers over the years. However, if you chose to sing about “deviant sexual activity” it was definitely best to do so under a secret identity. In just two lines of her song “B.D. Woman’s Blues” Lucille makes a bold statement and also raises provocative questions about choice versus genetics.

“Comin’ a time, B.D. women they ain’t going to need no men
Cause they way treat us is a lowdown dirty sin”

LucilleBoganShe sings the Bulldaggers won’t need men because the men don’t treat us right. By using us, she is identifying herself as a Bulldagger. However, she insinuates that it is a choice. She can choose to go with women because the men in her life have been less than satisfying, apparently on several levels. It makes you wonder if she chose a woman with manly qualities to quell her own misgivings about lesbianism. Maybe she was able to rationalize the choice by thinking about her lover as a male, thereby lessening her own perceived deviance. [Please note, throughout history homosexuality has been publicly perceived as deviant behavior. This is not my opinion and I am not calling it deviant. I am describing the attributes of the time period and the public notions about homosexuality. I personally don’t care who you love as long as you find someone who loves you back and makes you happy.]

One of Ma Rainey’s disciples was Bessie Smith. Bessie’s sexuality was ambiguous at best. It seemed she would try anything (insert your try-sexual joke here). She openly bedded at least one female singer in her band and allegedly had a sexual relationship with a gay male pianist named Porter Grainger, as well as several relationships with straight men. She didn’t sing directly about gay or straight sex but her song “Foolish Man Blues” explores the changing roles of men and women.

BessieSmith1894to1937“Men sure is deceitful and they’s gettin’ worser every day
Men sure is deceitful and they’s gettin’ worser every day
Act like a bunch of women, they’s just-a gab, gab, gabbin’ away
There’s two things got me puzzled, there’s two things I can’t stand
There’s two things got me puzzled, there’s two things I can’t stand
A mannish actin’ woman and a skippin’ twistin’ woman actin’ man”



Also this week, we have a male perspective on the lesbian relationships with Billy Mitchell’s “Two Old Maids.”

“Two old maids in a folding bed
One turned over to the other and said
I need some loving, that’s just what I need”

And in true hokum tradition he slips in a double entendre…

“Two old maids in a folding bed
One turned over to the other and said
Yes, yes, we have no bananas”

No bananas indeed.

Last but not least, and somewhat because this is a fairly serious subject that needs some levity, we have The Hokum Boys taking a tongue in groove, er, cheek look at a full range of behavior in “Somebody’s Been Using That Thing No. 2.”

That’s it for Hump Day folks. No matter who you’re humping, make it a good one and make sure somebody’s using that thing!

Ma Rainey Prove It On Me Blues

Lucille Bogan/Bessie Jackson B.D. Woman’s Blues

Bessie Smith Foolish Man Blues

Billy Mitchell Two Old Maids

The Hokum Boys Somebody’s Been Using That Thing No. 2