Moms Mabley

Loretta Mary Aiken (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975), known by her stage name Jackie "Moms" Mabley, was an American standup comedian. A veteran of the Chitlin' Circuit of African-American vaudeville, she later appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.[1]

Moms Mabley
Birth nameLoretta Mary Aiken
Born(1897-03-19)March 19, 1897
Brevard, North Carolina
DiedMay 23, 1975(1975-05-23) (aged 81)
White Plains, New York
Mediumvaudeville, television, stand-up, film
NationalityUnited States
Years active1919–1975
GenresSocial satire

Early years

Loretta Mary Aiken was born in Brevard, North Carolina on March 19, 1894[2] to James Aiken and Mary Smith, who married on May 21, 1891, in Transylvania County, North Carolina.[3] Loretta was one of 16 children.[4]

Her father owned and operated several successful businesses, while her mother kept house and took in boarders. While working as a volunteer fireman in 1909, her father died when a fire engine exploded. Loretta was 15 years old at the time.[5][4] In 1910, her mother took over their primary business, a general store. She was killed after being run over by a truck while returning home from church on Christmas Day.[4]

By age 14, Loretta had been raped twice (at age 11, by an elderly black man, and age 13, by a white sheriff) and had two children who were given up for adoption.[6][7]

At the encouragement of her grandmother, Loretta ran away to Cleveland, Ohio, joining a traveling vaudeville-style minstrel show starring Butterbeans and Susie, where she sang and entertained.[7][8]


Loretta Aiken took her stage name, Jackie Mabley from an early boyfriend Jack Mabley who was also a performer.[9] 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.[10] Later she became known as "Moms" because she was indeed a "Mom" to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 1960s. Mabley also credited her name to her grandmother. She envisioned herself as a woman in her sixties, kind but strict when necessary, similar to her grandmother who was a driving force in the pursuit of her dreams.[11]

She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first openly gay comedians.[12] During the 1920s and 1930s she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of The Emperor Jones with Paul Robeson) and recorded several of her early "lesbian stand-up" routines.[13]

Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers of the Chitlin' Circuit, another name for T.O.B.A., or Theater Owners Booking Association. T.O.B.A., sometimes called the "Tough On Black Asses Circuit", was the segregated organization for which Mabley performed until the organization dissolved during the Great Depression. Despite Mabley's popularity, wages for black women in show business were meager.[7] Nonetheless, she persisted for more than sixty years. At the height of her career, she was earning US$10,000 a week at Harlem's Apollo Theater. She made her New York City debut at Connie's Inn in Harlem.[14]

In the 1960s, she became known to a wider white audience, playing Carnegie Hall in 1962,[15] and making a number of mainstream TV appearances, particularly her multiple appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour when that CBS show was number one on television in the late 1960s, which introduced her to a whole new audience.[16][17]

Mabley was billed as "The Funniest Woman in the World". She tackled topics too edgy for most mainstream comics of the time, including racism. Along with racism, she spoke of sexuality and having children after becoming a widow.[18]

One of her regular themes was a romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old "washed-up geezers", and she got away with it courtesy of her stage persona, where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat.[19][20] She even mimicked regular talks with President Eisenhower and the First Lady, offering advice where she could.[11]

She also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes, and her (completely serious and melancholy) cover version of "Abraham, Martin and John" hit #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 19, 1969. At 75 years old, Mabley became the oldest living person ever to have a US Top 40 hit (Louis Armstrong, who would have been 86 when "What a Wonderful World" became a hit in 1988, is the oldest overall, although Armstrong was younger than Mabley when the record was made).

Personal life

Mabley had six children: Bonnie, Christine, Charles, and Yvonne Ailey,[14][21] and two given up for adoption when she was a teenager.[22] While filming Amazing Grace Mabley suffered a heart attack and had a pacemaker installed. She returned to work three weeks after the attack.[11] She died from heart failure in White Plains, New York on May 23, 1975.[1] She is interred at Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.


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.[23]

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.[24]

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

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Moms Mabley among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[26]

Moms was played by Wanda Sykes on the TV show "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" in the final episode of the third season.




  1. "Moms Mabley Dies at 77". Associated Press. May 23, 1975. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  2. {{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.}}
  3. "North Carolina, Marriages, 1759–1979", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed November 21, 2013), James Aiken and Mary Smith, May 21, 1891.
  4. Leslie Bennetts, "THEATER; The Pain Behind The Laughter of Moms Mabley", The New York Times, August 9, 1987; retrieved November 18, 2013.
  5. "James P. "Jim" Aiken (1861–1909)". Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  6. "Profile". The Writer's Almanac. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  7. Dance, Daryl Cumber (1998). Hush, Honey: An Anthology of African American Women's Humor. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 637.
  8. Kliph Nesteroff (August 26, 2007). "Moms Mabley – Agitation in Moderation". WFMU's Beware of the Blog. WFMU-New York. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  9. "Moms Mabley". Biography. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  10. "Moms Mabley: She Finally Makes the Movies". Ebony. 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.'
  11. "Moms Mabley |". Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  12. Keith Stern. Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical, pg. 295.
  13. Jr, Lou Chibbaro (August 8, 2017). "Meet the legendary queer comedian 'Moms' Mabley". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  14. "Moms Mabley". Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2009. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  15. Wiegand, David (November 15, 2013). "'Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley' review". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 8, 2014.
  16. Jackie Mabley,; retrieved October 30, 2010.
  17. ""The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" Episode". IMDb. January 21, 1972. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  18. Finney. (2014). Look Who's Laughing. Taylor and Francis. ISBN 978-1-134-30466-0. OCLC 884014682.
  19. Leslie Bennets (August 9, 1987). "The Pain Behind The Laughter of Moms Mabley". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  20. Alden Reimonenq (October 9, 2007). "The Harlem Renaissance". glbtq Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  21. M.Cordell Thompson (July 24, 1975). "Moms Mabley Leaves $½ Million Estate". Jet. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  22. "Moms Mabley Biography". St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Thomson Gale. 2009. Archived from the original on October 16, 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  23. "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.
  24. Malcolm Lazin (August 20, 2015). "Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month". Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  25. Sams., Initial design & architecture by Carl Uebelhart. Further development by Aaron. "u2songs – The Women of Ultra Violet: Light My (Mysterious) Ways: Leg 1 -".
  26. 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.
  27. Internet archive free download available
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