By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com September 23 2009 5:45 PM ET
Sure, there's a ton of starlets out there getting attention for kissing girls and having girl-crushes, but for this year's Celebrate Bisexuality Day, we're tipping our hats to a handful of iconic, artistic women who weren't too scared to keep their options open.
Billie Holiday (1915–1959)
Philly native Lady Day was one of the most influential jazz singers of all time. After a difficult early life, she was discovered in a Harlem jazz club at 18 and started recording tracks with producer John Hammond. She eventually recorded hits that resonate with her period (1930s–1950s) like "God Bless the Child" and "T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do." Ahead of her time, Holiday was relatively open about her bisexuality, and she was often linked with actress Tallulah Bankhead, who dismissed the rumors. She died of complications from substance abuse in 1959.
Listen to her sing "Good Morning Heartache."
Frida Kahlo (1907–1954)
Surrealist artist Kahlo was a style icon and a leader in 20th-century feminist thought, as she pushed the boundaries of gender roles and the concept of beauty. In her self-portraits she famously dressed in suits to make statements of independence from feminine norms. And, as we remember from the 2002 film Frida, starring Salma Hayek, the Mexican artist was known to jump in the sack with fellow artists and some of her subjects.
Take a look at this three-part series on the artist, Frida Kahlo: Portrait of a Woman.
Josephine Baker (1906–1975)
This St. Louis native got her start when she escaped her May-December marriage (her first marriage) in 1920 to join a black vaudeville touring company. The legendary dancer and singer is well known for challenging racism and sexual repression. While she found herself restricted by segregation in the United States, she found a more accepting atmosphere in France. During World War II she worked with underground anti-Nazi resistance forces and entertained Allied troops. As her career went on, Baker also perfected the style of performance that would later be known as vogueing. While the performer was known for her sexual conquests of men, she also had lady lovers through her life, including French novelist Colette and possibly Frida Kahlo.
Listen to her sing "Bye Bye Blackbird" (1927).
Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992)
The mysterious, sultry German-turned-American film star was a classically trained violinist until a hand injury forced her to quit playing. Turning to acting, Dietrich went on to star in dozens of films in both English and German, including The Blue Angel, Shanghai Express, Morocco, Destry Rides Again, and Witness for the Prosecution. "In Europe it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman," she once said. "We make love with anyone we find attractive."
Here is some footage from her final performance, in the film Just a Gigolo.