Does Betty Boop Have Roots In Black Entertainment?

September 4, 2014  |  

Esther “Baby Esther”Jones Source: Tumblr

Just yesterday, I wrote about cartoon characters that were particularly popular with all the around the way girls. And Betty Boop made the list.

Perhaps so many Black girls from neighborhoods from across the country were so attracted to her because the character was actually inspired by a Black woman.

By now, you may have seen the pictures on your social media networks of a real woman who looks just like a real life version of the cartoon character. Her name was Helen Kane. She’s undeniably the inspiration for Betty Boop.

But there is quite a bit of evidence showing that Kane stole her schtick from a Black woman named Esther Jones who went by the stage name Baby Esther.

Jones, an African American singer in the late ’20’s, worked regularly at the Cotton Club in Harlem.

Jones was known for singing in a distinctive baby voice. Her signature song was” I Wanna Be Loved By You” where she scatted the lines “Boop oop a doop.”

Helen Kane
Source: Tumblr

According to testimony from Jones’ manager, Helen Kane saw Esther Jones’ act in 1928.

At some point, Jones learned that Kane was using–or had stolen her style of singing and she took her to court.

A test sound film showed Jones performing which disproved Kane’s claims that she was the originator of the style.

A Supreme Court Judge ruled that Kane, the plaintiff had “failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force.” In other words, he deduced that the baby technique did not start with Kane.

And Jones was awarded with a $250,000 infringement lawsuit. Sadly, Jones was presumed dead in 1934, just around the time the lawsuit was ending.

So now you know.

Scholar Robert G. O’Meally said that Betty Boop may have been inspired by a White woman but she had a Black grandmother.

 

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