This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.
The Good – Moms Mabley
Did you hear the one about Moms Mabley?
Moms Mabley is pretty much one of the main reasons stand up comedy actually exists. She was a pioneer of stand up comedy. A pioneer for African American comics. A pioneer for female comics. AND a pioneer for LGBT comics. She pretty much started it all.
Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken on March 19, 1894 in Brevard, North Carolina as one of 16 children to a business owner and homemaker. Her father was a volunteer fireman and was killed after a fire truck exploded when Mabley was 11. Her mother took over the general store the family owned, but she was killed coming home from church on Christmas Day after being hit by a truck. By age 14, Mabley had been raped twice, once by an older black man and once by the white sheriff, and had two children who were given up for adoption. After this she ran away to Cleveland, Ohio to join a travelling vaudeville show where she was a singer.
She changed her name to Jackie Mabley which she took from a boyfriend. She claimed that he took so much from her, that she figured she could at least take his name. The “Moms” was added later as she became like a mother figure to other comedians. At age 27, she came out as a lesbian becoming one of the first openly gay performers.
One of the top performers of the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” Mabely earned about $10,000 a week during her heyday. She became known to white audiences in the 1960s after playing Carnegie Hall and on the Smother Brothers TV show. Called “The Funniest Woman in the World,” she talked about racism in her routines. Although a lesbian, her main schtick was that of an older, toothless woman in a housecoat and a floppy hat who chased after handsome young men. She also talked a lot about sex, using double-entendres instead of obscenity.
In addition to being a comedian, she was the oldest person to ever have a Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with her cover version of Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John” in 1969. She was 75 years old.
Mabley would die six years later from heart failure in White Plains, New York on May 23, 1975. She was 81.
Bennett, Leslie. (1987, August 9). The Pain Behind The Laughter of Moms Mabley. The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/09/theater/theater-the-pain-behind-the-laughter-of-moms-mabley.html
Moms Mabley. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moms_Mabley