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Esther Jones was born in the early 1900s. There is very little known about her early life. In fact, there is little known about her life until she began performing. In the late 1920s, Jones began performing jazz at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Her theatrical manager Lou Walton helped her land the gig and took Esther’s career seriously.
While performing, Jones became well known for integrating scat into her singing. She would replace stanzas of any song with “boo-boo-boo” or “doo-doo-doo.” Jones’ form of scatting caught on quickly at the Cotton Club. Because her scatting mimicked the “coos” of a baby, she was given the name ‘Baby Esther.’ It was a name and a brand that endured for the entirety of her career.
A White woman named Helen Kane saw Jones perform in 1928. From there she appropriated Jones’ scatting. From Jones’ foundation, Kane coined the scat phrase “boop-boop-a-doop” on a recorded track, titled I Wanna Be Loved By You. Kane’s appropriation of Jones’ musical style laid the foundation for the famous Betty Boop character.
In 1930, Fleisher Studios released a caricature of Helen Kane named Betty Boop. Boop was originally drawn as a dog but was later changed to a human as she grew in popularity. Once Kane became aware that her image and singing style was used, she sued Fleisher Studios. After two years of legal battles, it was declared that Betty Boops scatting did not originate with Kane.
Jones was called to testify in the case but she had since died by that time. Esther “Baby Esther” Jones died in 1934. She was a young woman with a short-lived career but a long-standing legacy. She has been referred to as Betty Boop’s Black grandmother. Her case is a prime example of cultural appropriation but at least justice prevailed. People now know who the real Betty Boop is.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer. Thank you.**