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
DiedMay 23, 1975(1975-05-23) (aged 81)
White Plains, New York
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. Beginning her career on the theater stage in the 1920s, Mabley 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 and career[edit]

Loretta Mary Aiken was born in Brevard, North Carolina, United States, 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 teenage years were tumultuous. At the age of 14, at the encouragement of her grandmother, Aiken ran away to Cleveland, Ohio, joining a traveling vaudeville-style minstrel show starring Butterbeans and Susie, where she sang and entertained.[6][7] By that time, Aiken had given birth to two children that had resulted from her being raped at age 11, by an elderly black man, and at age 13, by a white sheriff. Both children were given up for adoption.[8][6] In 1909, a year after Aiken left, her father was killed when a fire engine exploded while he was volunteering as a fire fighter.[9][4] 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"

Mabley quickly became one of the most successful entertainers of the Chitlin' Circuit (although, as a black woman, her wages were meager).[6] 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]

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.)[15] 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.[16][17][18] 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,[19] and making a number of mainstream TV appearances, with multiple appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.[20][21] 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.[22] She played the Harlem Cultural Festival during this time.[23]

Final years and death[edit]

Mabley with Pearl Bailey on The Pearl Bailey Show in 1971

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.[24] 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.[15]

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

Over the course of her life, Mabley had six children: Bonnie, Christine, Charles, and Yvonne Ailey,[12][25] and two given up for adoption when she was a teenager.[26]


Moms Mabley in 1944

Mabley was the inspiration for the character of Grandma Klump in The Nutty Professor. She is the subject of Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, a documentary film which first aired on HBO on November 18, 2013.[27]

This 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.[28]

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)"[29] from the band's 1991 album Achtung Baby.

Mabley was among hundreds of artists whose material was destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[30]

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.




  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 c Leslie Bennetts, "THEATER; The Pain Behind The Laughter of Moms Mabley", The New York Times, August 9, 1987; retrieved November 18, 2013.
  5. ^ "North Carolina, Marriages, 1759–1979", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed November 21, 2013), James Aiken and Mary Smith, May 21, 1891.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Kliph Nesteroff (August 26, 2007). "Moms Mabley – Agitation in Moderation". WFMU's Beware of the Blog. WFMU-New York. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  8. ^ "Profile". The Writer's Almanac. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  9. ^ "James P. "Jim" Aiken (1861–1909)". Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  10. ^ "Moms Mabley". Biography. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  11. ^ "Moms Mabley: She Finally Makes the Movies". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. April 1974. p. 88. 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. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  13. ^ Keith Stern. Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical, pg. 295.
  14. ^ Jr, Lou Chibbaro (August 8, 2017). "Meet the legendary queer comedian 'Moms' Mabley". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  15. ^ a b "Moms Mabley". Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  16. ^ Leslie Bennets (August 9, 1987). "The Pain Behind The Laughter of Moms Mabley". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  17. ^ Alden Reimonenq (October 9, 2007). "The Harlem Renaissance". glbtq Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  18. ^ Finney (2014). Look Who's Laughing. Taylor and Francis. ISBN 978-1-134-30466-0. OCLC 884014682.
  19. ^ Wiegand, David (November 15, 2013). "'Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley' review". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 8, 2014.
  20. ^ Jackie Mabley,; retrieved October 30, 2010.
  21. ^ ""The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" Episode". IMDb. January 21, 1972. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  22. ^ "LGBT History Month - Jackie 'Moms' Mabley - Comedian". Erie Gay News.
  23. ^ Morgan, Richard (February 2007). "The Story Behind the Harlem Cultural Festival". Smithsonian. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  24. ^ "Ike & Tina Turner, Moms Mabley" (PDF). Billboard: 14. October 16, 1971.
  25. ^ M.Cordell Thompson (July 24, 1975). "Moms Mabley Leaves $½ Million Estate". Jet. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  26. ^ "Moms Mabley Biography". St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Thomson Gale. 2009. Archived from the original on October 16, 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  27. ^ "The Comedy Pioneer in the Floppy Hat", The New York Times, November 17, 2013.
    It is reviewed by Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker, November 25, 2013, pp. 128–29.
  28. ^ Malcolm Lazin (August 20, 2015). "Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month". Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  29. ^ Sams., Initial design & architecture by Carl Uebelhart. Further development by Aaron. "u2songs – The Women of Ultra Violet: Light My (Mysterious) Ways: Leg 1 -".
  30. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  31. ^ Internet archive free download available

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