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Jackie "Moms" Mabley
(March 19, 1894 - May 23, 1975) U.S.A.

Jackie Mabley

Singer, actress, comedian


Born Loretta Mary Aiken in the Appalachian town of Brevard, North Carolina, Mabley grew up in a large family in the south. Her father ran several businesses while her mother presided over a large household that included boarders. Moms was a vaudeville performer and comedian, the first African-American woman to establish herself as a single act in standup comedy.

When Loretta was 11 her father died when his fire truck overturned and exploded. Encouraged by her grandmother to make a life for herself, she departed for Cleveland, Ohio. After singing and dancing in local shows, she began performing throughout the country. Traveling the vaudeville circuit, she experienced overt racism and demeaning working conditions and deflected her pain through satirical wit that drew heavily from black folk traditions. Mabley's career took off when, in 1921, the husband-wife vaudeville team, Butterbeans and Susie, invited her to perform with them in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

"Moms" rose to prominence performing at the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater in the 1920s and 1930s. It was probably at this time that Jackie also became aware of her sexual identity, considering that many of her female friends and colleagues in Harlem, including Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, were known lesbians and bisexuals. But Jackie was never publicly out about her own lesbianism.

Jackie MableyShe rose to national recognition as a standup comedian in the early 1960s. Her 1960 comedy album Moms Mabley at The U.N. sold over a million copies. She appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1962. Her first television appearance was not until 1967, toward the end of her career.

A pioneer of social satire, she has strongly influenced such contemporary Black comedians as Richard Pryor and Whoopi Goldberg. Mabley was also known for her compassion and kindness; these qualities earned her the endearing sobriquet "Moms".

In her comedy routines, Mabley adopted a stage persona based loosely on her own grandmother but with a distinctly cantankerous and sassy edge. She was known for her folksy humor and ribald jokes and affectionately referred to her audience as her "children." Onstage Mabley became famous for her gaudy housedresses, floppy hats, and oversized clodhoppers. During the 1960s, she recorded more than 20 albums of her comedy routines and appeared on television shows hosted by Harry Belafonte, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Bill Cosby.

A year after starring in the feature film Amazing Grace (1974), Mabley died of natural causes at the age of 78, in White Plains, New York.


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