Moms Mabley: The Youngest Teenager ("What Generation Gap?"), 1969

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Vintage 33 rpm vinyl comedy record album

Born Loretta Mary Aiken around 1897 in Brevard, North Carolina, Jackie "Moms" Mabley ran away from home, beginning her career at 14 and falling under the seasoned tutelage of vaudeville performers Butterbeans and Susie. Moms--who had adopted her original stage name from a boyfriend, Jackie Mabley--was quick-witted and quick-tongued, and her routines as an outspoken grandmother wearing old-fashioned print dresses and floppy hats was a favorite with Black female audiences, particularly when she was lampooning the psychology of men. Mabley focused on conventional topics such as family and others not normally covered by comedians of the era, such as infidelity, poverty, welfare, and inebriation. One of the hallmarks of Mabley's humor is that she maintained that she didn't tell jokes, she told the truth

"We called her 'Mister' Moms," according to dancer Norma Miller. Mabley came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first openly gay comedians. 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. Traveling the Chitlin' Circuit, Moms took Harlem by storm, the first Black woman on the stage of the Apollo Theatre around 1930 (at the height of her long career, she would earn $10,000 a week there), hanging out with Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway, and even writing a musical with Zora Neale Hurston. 

Mabley's career spanned five decades. She played Carnegie Hall in 1962 and appeared frequently on television in the 1960s, including variety appearances on shows hosted by Flip Wilson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, The Smothers Brothers (1967), and Rowan & Martin (1967). In her final years, Mabley poked fun at the president and other government officials, and she also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes. However, it was her serious and somber cover of "Abraham, Martin and John" which would become one of her most enduring legacies--it 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.

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