Sapphic Singers Through History

Discover some Sapphic singers you should listen to: from 'Ma' Rainey to King Princess. Hi-fiving some slick lesbian music artists throughout history: queer Queens of the blues, French resistant agent, an Andrew sister...

Lesbian Singers   |   Lesbian Classical Musicians

Lesbian Singers

My three passions are:
Music, Movies and Fashion!

Though I had crushes on female singers, oddly when sussing out who I was, I didn't seek Sapphic lyrics. Unlike others, there was no singing out loud and proud from me, to Katy Perry's kitschville city, "I kissed a girl, and I liked it". Nor did I include them in my beecharming slick mixtapes - no idea as to why not. Wow, I so loved and miss compiling those mixtapes with the coolest remixes. For me, it was New Order, St Etienne, Coldplay, The Smiths, Erasure, The Killers, Hot Chip, The xx, [STOPPPP!], with a mix of slit-your-wrist operatic arias, old-skool blues and whimsical Cole Porter.

Yet, when some of my music heroes came out as queer / bi e.g. Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, Andy Bell of Erasure, Morrisey, Pet Shop Boys - inside I was so dancing with J.O.Y! Seldomly, I heard about female singers coming out - wahoo to Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes (What's Up), Joan Jett, and...

... and the new kids on the block. For me it's not about Sapphic lyrics but it would be ace to see for example female singers taking their girl to award ceremonies, mentioning them in interviews so it just becomes a norm.

Definitely there were some surprises while collating this list!

The Blues Singers
During this research I was stunned to discover that some of the queens of blues were friends of Dorothy and had lady lovers. This pose of bi and lesbian singers included Ma Rainey, who got arrested for indecency at an all-girl party while married to a man, Gladys Bentley, a "bulldagger" in full white tuxedo and top hat, and less overt Alberta Hunter, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters. Their costumes were lavish and lyrics, sometimes sexually suggestive to the point of being dirtier than the dirtiest modern rapper! For example, Lucille Bogan bellows: "I've got nipples on my titties as big as the end of my thumb/ Got somethin' 'tween my legs'll make a dead man come!" I so want to see Robert Philipson's documentary "T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness: Queer Blues" (2011). At first I was shocked on reading that Gladys Bentley "changed" her sexual orientation and revealed this through an Ebony magazine interview. It was during, 50s America with The Lavender Scare and McCarthyism. I also take it with a pinch of salt as I think she was a PR queen, ahead of her time!

The Cabaret Singers
Being half German, I am fascinated by the Weimer cabaret scene of the jazz age but it was surprising to learn how singers differently reacted to the Nazis regime. The great: Dietrich refused to return to Berlin to star in Nazi propaganda movies and from America helped fund Jews and French dissidents escape from Germany to America also performing in morale-boosting shows for Allied troops abroad while Josephine Baker gallantly risked her life as a French resistance agent. Both deservedly received a French Légion d'honneur. The bad: French cabaret singer and ‘the most painted woman in the world’ Suzy Solidor was convicted by the Épuration légale as a collaborator and was exiled from France. Swedish actress Zarah Leander consciously moved to Berlin and starred in ten UFA films which were vehicles for Goebbels' despicable Nazi propaganda.

The Totally Left Field!
Maxene Andrews of the legendary harmony group Andrews Sisters lover was her adopted daughter! At first I was astounded to discover this but then my heart-missed-a-beat as to why. At the time same sex marriages were illegal. Bizarrely by adoption her life long partner would be able to sign healthcare documents for when Maxene was badly ill in hospital and ensure she would receive her rightful inheritance.

Sapphic Singers: Claire Waldoff

Claire Waldoff

During the 1910s and 1920s Claire Waldoff was a famous kabarett singer (singing Berlinisch (Berliner slang)) in Berlin and who preformed with Marlene Dietrich. When the Nazis... more

Weimer Track: "Ach Jott, Wat Sind Die Männer Dumm" ("Oh, God, How Stupid Men Are")

German Singer: 1884 – 1957

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Sapphic Singers: Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey

Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey

Gertrude, 'Ma' Rainey is known as "The Mother of Blues". She started off on the vaudeville circuit and then in the 1920s, wearing short cropped hair and a tuxedo she... more

Out Track: "Prove It on Me Blues" (1928)

African-American Blues Singer & pianist: 1886 – 1939

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Sapphic Singers: Clara Smith

Clara Smith

Clara Smith was billed as the "Queen of the Moaners". She started off on the vaudeville, cabaret and speakeasy circuits. In a ten year career she recorded over... more

Bluesing-it Track: "Strugglin' Woman's Blues" (1927)

African-American Blues Singer: 1890-1940

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Sapphic Singers: Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith is known as the "Empress of the Blues" and became the highest-paid black entertainer of her day. She made 160 recordings in all and some were accompanied by... more

Fav Tracks: "Back Water Blues", "Downhearted Blues" - TOO many!

African-American Blues Singer: 1894 – 1937

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Sapphic Singers: Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter

Alberta Hunter singing and songwriting career spanned four decades performing in America and across Europe. She started out singing in a seedy brothel which was run by... more

Bluesing-it Track: "Got the Blues So Bad" (?)

African-American Blues Singer: 1895 – 1984

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Sapphic Singers: Ethel Waters

Ethel Waters

Ethel Waters started on the black vaudeville circuit > joined a carnival > Harlem nightclubs. Her career break came in 1925 with her first hit, "Dinah". She is a lady of numerous firsts:... more

Slick Track: ❤ "Stormy Weather" & "Miss Otis Regrets"

African-American Singer & Actress: 1896 – 1977

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Sapphic Singers: Lucille Bogan

Lucille Bogan

Lucille Bogan a.k.a Bessie Jackson was considered as one of "the big three of the blues", along with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith who were all open, to an extent, about... more

Dirty Track: "Shave 'Em Dry" (?)

African-American Blues Singer & Songwriter: 1897 – 1948

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Sapphic Singers: Suzy Solidor

Suzy Solidor

Flamboyant Suzy Solidor was a legendary yet controversial French cabaret singer and socialite who brightened up the Parisian nightlife. Early in 1930, she became a popular singer and... more

Melancholic Track: "Ouvre" (?)

French Singer: 1900 – 1983

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Sapphic Singers: Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich

In the 1930 movie Morrocco, a tuxedo-clad Dietrich gave cinema and, us, one of the first on-screen lesbian kisses. Femme fatale... more

Track for Mummy & Daddy (Scottish Officer): ❤ Lili Marleen" (1944)

German-American Singer: 1901 - 1992

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Sapphic Singers: Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker, a.k.a "Black Venus", the "Black Pearl", was a hugely popular African-American entertainer in Europe particularly in her adopted home of France, French Resistance... more

Tres chic Track: "La Vie En Rose" (1969)

African-American Singer: 1906 - 1975

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Sapphic Singers: Gladys Bentley

Gladys Bentley

Described by an observer as a "masculine garbed smut-singing entertainer" Gladys Bentley was a talented blues singer, pianist, and entertainer during the Harlem... more

Bluesing-it Track: "Ground Hog Blues" (?)

African-American Blues Singer: 1907 – 1960

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Sapphic Singers: Zarah Leander

Zarah Leander

Controversial Zarah Leander was a Swedish singer and actress who was one of the most celebrated female screen idols in German Nazi Cinema 1936 – 43, playing... more

Track: "Ein Paar Tränen Werd Ich Weinen Um Dich" (?)

Swedish Singer & Actress: 1907 - 1981

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Sapphic Singers: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

A total heroine of mine, Billie Holiday, a.k.a "Lady Day" is one of the greatest singers (with Ella Fitzgerald) ever, ever, ever. She was an American jazz and swing... more

Fav Tracks: "Lover Man", "Lady Sings The Blues", "God Bless the Child"... too many!

African-American Singer: 1915 – 1959

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Sapphic Singers: Maxene Andrews of the Andrews Sisters

Maxene Andrews of the Andrews Sisters

Maxene Anglyn was the middle sister of The Andrews Sisters who were an American close silky smooth harmony group and icons of the swing and boogie-woogie eras. Selling... more

Boogie Track: "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (1941)

Singer: 1916 - 1995

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Sapphic Singers: Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield was an iconic figure of the Swinging Sixties. She was one of the best-selling UK singers of the 1960s and made one of the biggest impressions... more

Slick Track: Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield "What Have I Done To Deserve This" (1987)

English Singer: 1939 – 1999

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Sapphic Singers: Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore

Surely, every teen girl knows that feeling "It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to..." Number one hit and Grammy nominated "It's My Party" was sung by Lesley Gore, at the age of 16!... more

Popular Track: "It's My Party" (1963)

American Singer: 1946 – 2015

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Sapphic Singers: Joan Jett

Joan Jett

As frontwoman for the Runaways (1975 - 1979), Joan Jett became a Grrrl trailblazer in the boystown world of rock music and, went on to become one of the most... more

Kick-ass Track: "I Love Rock N' Roll" (1982)

American Singer: 1958

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Sapphic Singers: k.d. lang

k.d. lang

Four-time Grammy Award-winning singer / songwriter and openly out, k.d. lang has been merited with an Order of Canada and Alberta Order of Excellence.

Slick Track: "Barefoot" (1928) (Featured in Salmonberries Movie)

Canadian Singer: 1961

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Sapphic Singers: Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman

Folky Tracy Chapman is a multi-platinum and four-time Grammy Award-winning singer / songwriter.

Popular Track: "Fast Car" (1988)

American Singer: 1964

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Sapphic Singers: Alison Goldfrapp

Alison Goldfrapp

Electro Alison Goldfrapp (vocals, synthesizer) is one half of the electronic music duo Goldfrapp (with Will Gregor). Their stealth tracks like "Ooh La La" and "Lovely Head" have been featured in countless movies and TV series.

Fav Track: "Number 1" (2005)

English Singer: 1966

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Sapphic Singers: Héloïse Letissier

Héloïse Letissier

Tres cool, Héloïse sings under the alter-ego Christine and the Queens. She has won various awards including 2017 NME Awards Best International Female Artist.

Slick Track & Vid: "Tilted" (2014)

French Singer: 1988

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Sapphic Singers: Romy Madley Croft

Romy Madley Croft

Indie Romy Madley Croft is a guitarist and vocalist for uber cool, The xx. In 2009, The xx won the Mercury Prize for Album of the Year with their debut album xx.

Fav Track: "VCR" (2010) ❤

English Singer: 1989

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Sapphic Singers: King Princess

King Princess

For the 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade, Queerty online magazine named King Princess among the fifty heroes "leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people".

Popular Track: "1950" (2018)

American Singer: 1998

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