On her excellent forthcoming album Twilight for Gladys Bentley, Durham poet and hip-hop artist Shirlette Ammons pays homage (with original tunes, not covers) to a Harlem Renaissance blues singer and pianist whose complexity defies a brief synopsis. Bentley thrilled and scandalized Prohibition-era speakeasies with bawdy versions of popular songs, wearing a signature white tuxedo. She then embraced Christianity and renounced homosexuality in a McCarthy-era article for Ebony. Was she sincere or did she succumb?
Either way, Ammons is inspired by her subject's legacy of fearless gender-bending, rapping and singing with a playfully louche boastfulness more common to heterosexual males. This show launches her Southeastern tour with Bentley Mode, featuring a three-piece live band and her go-to hype man, Juan Huevos. "Berlin's rap Quing" Sookee—a persuasive rapper with a track called "Pro Homo" and an album called Bitches Butches Dykes & Divas—compatibly opens the show in her very first U.S. appearance. —Brian Howe