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Rhapsody in Black


For the two decades between the world wars, Harlem was the epicenter of progressive black life in America, spurring a revolution in music, art, and fashion. The uptown New York City neighborhood embraced the notion of experimentation--both cultural and sexual.

While many of the rumored gay artists of the Harlem Renaissance remained oblique about their sexual orientation, icons like writer Langston Hughes (pictured) and singers Bessie Smith and "Ma" Rainey alluded to same-sex affairs in their art. Their work as well as pieces from several other artists will be featured in an upcoming exhibit, "The Harlem Renaissance: As Gay as It Was Black," a tribute to the songs, literature, and art that demonstrate the gay influence on the era.

Shane Vogel, author of The Scene of Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance, says the Harlem Renaissance allowed African-American artists a taste of freedom: "The goal of the renaissance was to further depictions of black life by black artists, which included defining themselves sexually through art, writing, and dance. Many artists explored those themes in their work very openly."

"The Harlem Renaissance: As Gay as It Was Black" will be on view at the Broward Main Library in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., until February 28 and will arrive in May at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. A nationwide tour is planned. For more information visit .

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