Jackie “Moms” Mabley was a trail-blazing stand-up comic, achieving great professional and commercial success in an age where there were few Black women in the field of comedy.
She was born Loretta Mary Aiken in 1894 in Brevard, North Carolina. At the age of 15, she ran away from home and went to Cleveland with a traveling minstrel show, where she began singing and entertaining.
By the 1950s, Mabley had become one of the most popular and successful women comics in the nation, earning $10,000 a week at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She recorded more than 20 albums of various comedy routines. Some of her most successful albums were Moms Mabley at the U.N., which was recorded in 1961, and Moms Mabley Breaks It Up, which was recorded the following year.
In 1969, she recorded a satirical song, “Abraham, Martin and John,” which hit number 35 on the Billboard charts, making her the oldest person ever to have a Top 40 hit.
At 81 years old, Mabley died on May 23, 1975 of heart failure. She left an estate of more than $500,000.
See one of her classic moments below from 1948:
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images