I’m having a great time doing the research for my book about women’s music. Many of us know about the scene that began in the 70’s with performers like Meg Christian and Cris Williamson so I’ve got a lot of material about that time period. However, there was an earlier time we don’t know so much about.
Back in the day, lesbian bars were the place to be although you had to be careful not to be caught in frequent police raids. Women had to wear at least three articles of women’s clothing or they’d be thrown in jail. Heck, they could be tossed in jail – and worse – simply because the cops felt like it. In spite of this, women not only came to the bars, they performed in them. In the 50’s, a woman calling herself Lisa Ben (an anagram of “lesbian”) wrote parodies of popular songs and performed them. In 1960, the LA chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis released a 45 of two of her songs. Find out more about her on JD Doyle’s wonderful site Queer Music Heritage.
The Roc-A-Jets were an all-lesbian trio popular in Baltimore in the 50’s. Performing a collection of rockabilly, tangos, cha chas and more, they helped to create a gay scene where there wasn’t one. People used to line up around the block to hear them. When asked if they felt appreciated by women today they expressed doubt and commented, “We had our gay pride long before they were born.” Listen to an interview with two of the members here.
The Rail Runners were another all-women’s band that played the lesbian bars in the 60’s, this time in Kansas City. For ten years they entertained at the Rail Room.
Live music was very important to me when I first came out in the 70’s so it must have been important for earlier lesbians but so far, these are the only musicians I’ve uncovered*. Can you help me find more? Did you go to lesbian bars in the 50’s and 60’s and hear live music? Better yet, were you one of those musicians? I’d love to talk with you.
*My book will also talk about blues singers like Ma Rainey and jazz/pop performers like Beverly Shaw. They performed in straight clubs and had a much different kind of presentation than the entertainers I’m researching now.