Jackie “Moms” Mabley started her career as a singer when she was fourteen years old, appearing in clubs and theaters. Born in North Carolina in 1894 and raised in Maryland, she changed her name from Lauretta Alken because her family didn’t support her show business career. Mabley became a successful stand-up comedian, very unusual for a woman at the time, especially a black woman. But by the early 1920s, she was spearing in clubs in New York City.
In the late 1930s, Mabley became the first woman comedian to be featured at the Apollo. In 1947 she appeared in the film, Killer Diller and a year later she was featured in a movie Boarding House Blues, which she played the operator of a boarding house for entertainers. Mabley, who had adopted a costume of print housedresses, floppy hats, and clunky shoes, became a hit on television’s Ed Sullivan Show and made her first comedy record album in 1960. Her standup routines were “riotous affairs augmented by the aesthetic she presented as being an older, housedress-clad figure who provided sly commentary on racial bigotry to African American audiences” (Moms Mabley Biography). In the 1974 movie Amazing Grace, Mabley portrayed an elderly woman determined to remove political corruption from the city of Baltimore. She suffered a heart attack while making the movie and was forced to wear a pacemaker to complete the filming. A year later, Mabley died at her home in Westchester County, New York.