Black HERstory: Jackie “Moms” Mabley

Jackie “Moms” Mabley (b. March 19, 1894 – d. May 23, 1975)

In honor of Black History and April Fools’ Day today’s feature highlights comedienne Jackie “Moms” Mabley. Born Loretta Mary Aiken, Mabley experienced the best and worst of both worlds. Her father, the sole breadwinner of the household, owned several businesses but suffered an accidental death when Mabley was eleven. “By the age of fifteen Mabley had reportedly been raped twice and had two children that were given up for adoption.”

“After being pressured by her stepfather to marry a much older man and encouraged by her grandmother to strike out on her own, she ran away to Cleveland, Ohio with a traveling minstrel show where she began singing and entertaining.”

“She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony magazine in a 1970s interview that he’d taken so much from her, it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as “Moms” because she was indeed a “Mom” to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 60s. She was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, and recorded more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs.”

“Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers of the black vaudeville Chitlin’ circuit, earning US$10,000 a week at Harlem‘s Apollo Theater at the height of her career. She made her New York City debut at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she become known to a wider white audience, playing Carnegie Hall in 1962, and making a number of mainstream TV appearances.”

She was at one time billed as the “The Funniest Woman in the World”. A pioneer amongst her peers, she tackled topics too edgy for many other comics of the time, including racism; one of her regular themes was her romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old “washed-up geezers”, and regularly got away with it courtesy of her on stage persona where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat.

“At 75 years of age, Moms Mabley became the oldest person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.”

Here she is in the film Amazing Grace:

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