Happy Black Herstory Month, everyone!!
In an effort to bring some levity to 2020 the Sequel, I’ve decided to have some fun with Black Herstory/History Month this year. I will be spotlighting American pop culture icons with Black ancestry. Now, some of these icons truly have Black ancestry but for others, I’ve made up their Black ancestry for fun. It’ll become clear what I’m doing as the month goes on. I’ll provide references for everything I say that’s true. With that, let’s get this party started!
We’re kicking off Black Herstory Month with…Betty Boop! I mean look at THE FIGURE AND LIPS, OK?! Of course that’s a Black woman! 🤣 But seriously, the character of Betty Boop is mostly based on an actual Black woman named “Baby” Esther Jones. Ms. Jones was a jazz singer who regularly perfomed at the Cotton Club in Harlem in the 1920s. Betty Boop’s voice and use of scat phrases is based on Esther Jones’s voice and singing style.
Now, Max Fleischer, the creator of Betty Boop, mostly created her “as a parody” of a popular white singer named Helen Kane…who stole her style of singing and learned scatting from…you guessed it…Esther Jones. Helen Kane eventually sued Fleischer for “stealing her singing style and catchphrase”, boop-oop-a-doop. Fleischer defended himself by arguing Betty Boop was based on many women and even showed footage of Baby Esther singing in court. Kane lost her suit, but continued to be the woman most associated with Betty Boop. By the time the case was over in 1934, Baby Esther Jones had disappeared and was thought to be dead. Sadly and predictably, she never made a dime from the use of her voice and singing style in compiling the character of Betty Boop. You can find the article I’ve quoted from here.
Here is a clip of Baby Esther singing.