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The History behind Betty Boop

Sexy, Youthful, Iconic, Classy, Sultry and Sweet!

In honour of Black History Month, we wanted to bring awareness and appreciation to the:

‘Ms. Esther Lee Jones’

Esther Lee Jones was an African-American Harlem jazz singer named Esther Lee Jones, born Gertrude Saunders aka Baby Esther. She was an infamous singer and child entertainer of the late 1920s. Esther's career began when she won first prize at a Charleston singing contest in Chicago at the age of six. Esther toured Europe in 1929, when her age was reported as seven or ten in an article in The Chicago Defender. They also described her as the highest-paid child artist in the world. Esther’s exact age is still unknown to this date. She performed all over the world in clubs like Everglades Club on Broadway, Moulin Rouge in Paris, and the Cotton Club in Harlem. Esther was a trained scat singer, dancer and acrobat who used to perform regularly. In her act Baby Esther would dance, make funny faces, roll her eyes and interpolated words such as "Boo-Boo-Boo", "Wha-Da-Da","Doo-Doo-Doo" & "Do-Do-De-Do-Ho-De-Wa-Da-De-Da," "Boo-Did-Do-Doo," "Lo-Di-De-Do," and would finish off her routine with a "De-Do". Esther’s act inspired many scat and jazz singers of the time. She was honored along with Josephine Hall in 1930, for representing African-Americans in the United States of America when she toured Europe.

Unsurprisingly enough Baby Esther was being copied by many artist during the 1920's and 30's. Actress Helen Kane, who sued Max Fleischer (the creator of Betty Boop) for deliberately creating a caricature that exploited her personality and image. However, things didn’t go as the actress had expected, because thanks to the testimony of Baby Esther’s former manager, Lou Bolton, it was proved that Kane herself had copied Baby Esther’s baby style after seeing her perform in April 1928 at the Everglades Club on Broadway. According to Bolton, Baby Esther debuted with her particular baby style in 1928, and Helen Kane adapted the scat sounds she had heard and used them in “Poop Poop Padoop” in the musical Good Boy, and in “I Wanna Be Loved By You”, a song that made her famous overnight. Esther went missing around the same time of the trial and was never able to testify against Kane or Fleischer, who created the Betty Boop Character in 1930. The court ruled against Kane due to Bolton’s testify. Esther Mae Phillips died in 1984 due to liver and kidney failure.

Today Baby Esther is best known as Betty Boop's black grandmother. In a discovered 1937 Brazilian article, it states in the cartoon that Esther married a South Carolina worker, and that she had performed and danced in a dance troupe in Harlem.

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