Moms Mabley

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Moms Mabley
Jackie Moms Mabley 1968.JPG
Mabley during an appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968
Birth nameLoretta Mary Aiken
Born(1894-03-19)March 19, 1894
Brevard, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedMay 23, 1975(1975-05-23) (aged 81)
White Plains, New York, U.S.
Years active1919–1975
GenresSocial satire

Loretta Mary Aiken (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975),[1] known by her stage name Jackie "Moms" Mabley, was an American stand-up comedian and actress. Mabley began her career on the theater stage in the 1920s and became a veteran entertainer of the Chitlin' Circuit of African-American vaudeville. Mabley later recorded comedy albums and appeared in films and on television programs including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.[2]

Early life[edit]

Loretta Mary Aiken was born in Brevard, North Carolina, on March 19, 1894.[1][3] She was one of 16 children born to James Aiken and Mary Smith,[4] who had married in 1891.[5] Her father owned and operated several successful businesses, while her mother kept house and took in boarders.

Her childhood was tumultuous. Aiken gave birth to two children resulting from her being raped at age 11, by an elderly black man, and at age 13, by a white sheriff. Both children were placed for adoption.[6][7]


Early career[edit]

At the encouragement of her grandmother, Aiken ran away at age 14 to Cleveland, Ohio, joining a traveling vaudeville-style minstrel show starring Butterbeans and Susie, where she sang and entertained.[7][8] In 1909, a year after Aiken left, her father was killed when a fire engine exploded while he was volunteering as a firefighter.[9] Her mother took over the family's primary business, a general store. She was killed a few years later, run over by a truck while returning home from church on Christmas Day.[4]

Aiken adopted the stage name Jackie Mabley, borrowing the name of an early boyfriend, Jack Mabley, who was also a performer.[10] She remarked in a 1970 Ebony interview that he had taken so much from her, the least she could do was take his name from him.[11]

Rise to fame[edit]

1933 Chitlin' Circuit theatre ad billing Jackie Mabley as "The World's Most Beautiful Creole Girl"
Moms Mabley in 1944
Mabley with Pearl Bailey on The Pearl Bailey Show in 1971

Mabley quickly became one of the most successful entertainers of the Chitlin' Circuit, although, as a black woman, her wages were meager.[7] She made her New York City debut at Connie's Inn in Harlem.[12]

She came out as a lesbian in 1921 at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first openly gay comedians.[13] During the 1920s and 1930s she appeared in androgynous clothing and recorded several "lesbian stand-up" routines.[14]

In April 1939, Mabley became the first female comic to perform at the Apollo theater in Harlem.[15]

During the 1950s, Mabley—influenced by the maternal role she was filling for other comedians on the circuit—adopted the name "Moms" and the appearance of a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. Mabley also credited the name to her grandmother, who had been a driving force in the pursuit of her dreams.[16] The non-threatening persona aided her in addressing topics too edgy for most comics of the time, including racism, sexuality and having children after becoming a widow.[17][18][19] A preference for handsome young men rather than "old washed-up geezers" became a signature bit.

In the 1960s, Mabley became known to a wider white audience, playing Carnegie Hall in 1962,[20] and making a number of mainstream TV appearances, with multiple appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.[21][22] Music became a regular part of her act, and a cover version of "Abraham, Martin and John" hit No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100[1] on July 19, 1969, making Mabley, at 75, the oldest living person to have a U.S. Top 40 hit.[23] She played the Harlem Cultural Festival during this time.[24]

Final years[edit]

Mabley continued performing in the 1970s. In 1971, she appeared on The Pearl Bailey Show. Later that year, she opened for Ike & Tina Turner at the Greek Theatre and sang a tribute to Louis Armstrong as part of her set.[25] While filming the 1974 film Amazing Grace, her only film starring role,[1] Mabley suffered a heart attack. She returned to work three weeks later, after receiving a pacemaker.[16]

Personal life and demise[edit]

Over the course of her life, Mabley had six children: Bonnie, Christine, Charles, and Yvonne Ailey,[12][26] and two placed for adoption when she was a teenager.[27]

Mabley died from heart failure in White Plains, New York, on May 23, 1975.[2] She is interred at Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.


In 1983[28] and 1984, Whoopi Goldberg "first came to national prominence with her one-woman show"[29] in which she portrayed Mabley, Moms, first performed in Berkeley, California, and then at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco; the Oakland Museum of California preserves a poster advertising the show.[30] Mabley was the subject of Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, a documentary film which first aired on HBO on November 18, 2013.[31][32] The documentary was nominated for two Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the 66th ceremony held on August 16, 2014, at the Nokia Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles: Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special and Outstanding Narrator for Whoopi Goldberg. In 2015, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the 2015 LGBT History Month.[33]

Mabley was the inspiration for the character of Grandma Klump in the 1996 movie The Nutty Professor.[citation needed]

Mabley was featured during the "HerStory" video tribute to notable women on U2's tour in 2017 for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree during a performance of "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"[34] from the band's 1991 album Achtung Baby.

Mabley, portrayed by Wanda Sykes, appears in the final episode of the third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, performing a full stand-up routine on the Apollo Theater stage.



  • Bowman's Cotton Blossoms (1919)
  • Look Who's Here (1927)
  • Miss Bandana (1927)
  • Fast and Furious (1931)
  • Blackberries of 1932 (1932)
  • The Joy Boat (1930s)
  • Sidewalks of Harlem (1930s)
  • Red Pastures (1930s)
  • Swingin' the Dream (1939)




  • 1961 On Stage
  • 1961 Moms Mabley at the "UN"
  • 1961 Moms Mabley at The Playboy Club
  • 1962 Moms Mabley Breaks It Up
  • 1962 Moms Mabley at Geneva Conference
  • 1963 I Got Somethin' to Tell You!
  • 1963 Young Men, Sí – Old Men, No
  • 1964 Moms the Word
  • 1964 Out on a Limb
  • 1964 The Funny Sides of Moms Mabley (Chess)
  • 1964 Moms Wows
  • 1964 Best of Moms and Pigmeat, Vol. 1
  • 1965 Men in My Life
  • 1965 Now Hear This
  • 1966 Moms Mabley at the White House Conference
  • 1968 Best of Moms Mabley
  • 1969 The Youngest Teenager
  • 1969 Her Young Thing
  • 1970 Live at Sing Sing
  • 1972 I Like 'em Young
  • 1994 Live at the Apollo
  • 1994 The Funny Sides of Moms Mabley (Jewel)
  • 1994 Live at the Ritz
  • 2004 Comedy Ain't Pretty


  1. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 1543. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b "Moms Mabley Dies at 77". Associated Press. May 23, 1975. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  3. ^ {{Year: 1900; Census Place: Brevard, Transylvania, North Carolina; Roll: 1219; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0112; FHL microfilm: 1241219; Year: 1910; Census Place: Brevard, Transylvania, North Carolina; Roll: T624_1134; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 0156; FHL microfilm: 1375147.}}
  4. ^ a b Bennetts, Leslie (August 9, 1987). "Theater: The Pain Behind The Laughter of Moms Mabley". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 29, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  5. ^ "James Aiken and Mary Smith, May 21, 1891". North Carolina, Marriages, 1759–1979, index, FamilySearch. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  6. ^ "Profile". The Writer's Almanac. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  7. ^ a b c Dance, Daryl Cumber (1998). Hush, Honey: An Anthology of African American Women's Humor. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 637.
  8. ^ Nesteroff, Kliph (August 26, 2007). "Moms Mabley – Agitation in Moderation". Beware of the Blog. WFMU. Retrieved January 22, 2008 – via
  9. ^ Williams, Michael Ann; Varajon, Sydney (September 24, 2019). "Walking Around the World: African American Landscapes and Experience in Transylvania County, NC" (PDF). Transylvania County, North Carolina: Transylvania County Board of Commissioners. pp. 22–23. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  10. ^ "Moms Mabley". Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  11. ^ "Moms Mabley: She Finally Makes the Movies". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. April 1974. p. 88 – via Google Books. But instead of making a name for Loretta Aiken during this time, Moms was taking a name from a man named Jack Mabley. 'Jack was my first boyfriend,' Moms says... 'He took a lot off me and the least I could do was take his name.'
  12. ^ a b "Moms Mabley". Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2009. Archived from the original on December 20, 2013. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  13. ^ Stern, Keith (2009). Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals, and Transgenders. BenBella. p. 295. ISBN 9781933771878.
  14. ^ Chibbaro, Lou Jr. (August 8, 2017). "Meet the legendary queer comedian 'Moms' Mabley". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  15. ^ Bell, Jo (2021). On this day she : putting women back into history, one day at a time. Tania Hershman, Ailsa Holland. London. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-78946-271-5. OCLC 1250378425.
  16. ^ a b "Moms Mabley". Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  17. ^ Bennets, Leslie (August 9, 1987). "The Pain Behind The Laughter of Moms Mabley". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  18. ^ Reimonenq, Alden (October 9, 2007). "The Harlem Renaissance". glbtq Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  19. ^ Finney, Gail, ed. (2014). Look Who's Laughing: Gender and Comedy. Taylor and Francis. ISBN 978-1-134-30466-0. OCLC 884014682.
  20. ^ Wiegand, David (November 15, 2013). "'Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley' review". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 8, 2014.
  21. ^ "Jackie Mabley". Archived from the original on February 21, 2018. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  22. ^ "'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' Episode". January 21, 1972. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  23. ^ "LGBT History Month - Jackie 'Moms' Mabley - Comedian". Retrieved December 2, 2022.
  24. ^ Morgan, Richard (February 2007). "The Story Behind the Harlem Cultural Festival". Smithsonian. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  25. ^ "Ike & Tina Turner, Moms Mabley" (PDF). Billboard. October 16, 1971. p. 14.
  26. ^ Thompson, M. Cordell (July 24, 1975). "Moms Mabley Leaves $½ Million Estate". Jet. Retrieved January 22, 2008 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ "Moms Mabley Biography". St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Thomson Gale. 2009. Archived from the original on October 16, 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  28. ^ Rosky, Nicole (April 7, 2011). "Whoopi Goldberg to Bring MOMS Off-Broadway?".
  29. ^ Brevar, Lisa Pertillar (2013). Whoopi Goldberg on Stage and Screen. McFarland. p. 12.
  30. ^ "Oakland Museum of California Collections, Moms: Whoopi Goldberg as Moms Mabley (poster work on paper)". Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  31. ^ "The Comedy Pioneer in the Floppy Hat". The New York Times. November 17, 2013.
  32. ^ Nussbaum, Emily (November 25, 2013). "Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley". The New Yorker. pp. 128–29.
  33. ^ Lazin, Malcolm (August 20, 2015). "Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month". Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  34. ^ "The Women of Ultra Violet: Light My (Mysterious) Ways: Leg 1". Initial design & architecture by Carl Uebelhart. Further development by Aaron Sams.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  35. ^ Killer Diller. 1948 – via

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