In 1934, a midtown Manhattan nightclub called King’s Terrace was padlocked by the police after an observer complained of the “dirty songs” performed there.

The after-theater club near Broadway was where a troupe of “liberally painted male sepians with effeminate voices and gestures” performed behind entertainer Gladys Bentley, who was no less provocative for early 20th-century America. Performing in a signature white top hat, tuxedo and tails, Bentley sang raunchy songs laced with double-entendres that thrilled and scandalized her audiences.

And while the performance of what an observer called a “masculine garbed smut-singing entertainer” led to the shutdown of King’s Terrace, Bentley’s powerful voice, fiery energy on the piano and bold lyrics still made her a star of New York City nightclubs.

Her name doesn’t have the same recognition as many of her Harlem Renaissance peers, in part, because the risqué nature of her performances would have kept her out of mainstream venues, newspapers and history books. Today though, Bentley’s story is resurfacing and she is seen as an African-American woman who was ahead of her time for proudly loving other women, wearing men’s clothing and singing bawdy songs.