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This article is about Baby Esther Lee Jones. Not to be confused with Little Esther Phillips. See Gertrude Saunders for the originator of Boop-Boop-a-Doop. 

Baby Esther
Helen Kane oh no wait it is Baby Esther Jones aka Little Esther the REAL Betty Boop1929Paris

Name

Esther Jones
Baby Ester
Bay Esther
Lil Esther
Baby Esther Lee Jones
Little Esther
Child Wonder
Miniature Florence Mills
Miniature Josephine Baker
Sepia Dancing Doll

Baby Esther Lee Jones originally billed (Lil Esther) and later known as (Little Esther) was a child entertainer who lived in Chicago, Illinois. Esther was a trained dancer who used to perform at nightclubs in Harlem in the 1920s. In her act Baby Esther would dance, make funny faces, roll her eyes and interpolated words such as "Boo-Boo-Boo", "Wha-Da-Da","Doo-Doo-Doo" & "Do-Do-De-Do-Ho-De-Wa-Da-De-Da," "Boo-Did-Do-Doo," "Lo-Di-De-Do," and would finish off her routine with a "De-Do". In 1928, Esther's handlers were brought into court and were fined $100 for having an underage child working at night clubs. Helen Kane first saw Esther perform in 1928, where she had a ring side seat at the Everglades Club on Broadway. According to Lou Bolton, Esther debuted her "Boops" in April, 1928. Helen Kane had adapted the scat sounds she had heard to "Poop Poop Padoop" first using it in the Broadway musical Good Boy in which she interpolated into the hit song "I Wanna Be Loved By You" becoming famous overnight. Helen also used a variety of scat sounds in her 1928 Victor song releases; "That's My Weakness Now" and "Get Out and Get Under the Moon". Kane didn't release the song "I Wanna Be Loved By You" until the 20th of September, 1928. An early test sound film was discovered which featured Baby Esther performing in this style, disproving Kane's claims of inventing the scat lyrics "Boop-Boop-a-Doop". Baby Esther's ex-manager testified that Helen Kane had saw Baby Esther's cabaret act in 1928, and suddenly started to scat sing in shows. Supreme Court Judge Edward J. McGoldrick ruled: "The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force." In his opinion, the "baby" technique of singing did not originate with Kane. Other claims asked to Kane during the trial were that an witness claimed to have heard the phrase uttered in a Edith Griffith song, another defense asked if Helen had heard a 1913 song called "Bou-Dou-Ba-Da-Boum" to which Helen had denied. Due to Baby Esther being unable to attend the trial in the defense, three voices of Betty Boop, (Margie Hines), (Mae Questel) & (Bonnie Poe) were then focused on in the second part of the trial. Helen attempted to prove that they performed their vocal shimmies in a way so similar to her that it constituted unfair competition. When Max Fleischer, invented Betty Boop he was not only imitating Helen Kane but a whole image of women in the 1920s. Helen Kane did not initiate the phraseology "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" even though she most certainly popularized it. This catchy, inane line of scat was first used by a black child entertainer by the name of Baby Esther. It later came out that Gertrude Saunders had used the baby singing style with scatting included before Baby Esther in the 1921 musical Shuffle Along. Baby Esther would have only been 2 years old in 1921. Which is the reason why Saunders declared herself the originator of "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" and was tributed as the original "Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl" in several newspapers from 1934-1950, because she did it before Jones. Although in history and media, 8-year-old child wonder Esther Jones is better known as the originator of the singing style. Today in media Baby Esther is mistaken for a grown woman rather than a child, due to several misleading sources claiming that Baby Esther was a woman. The real Baby Esther was a child performer and was the first child to perform at adult nightclubs. On June 2, 1924, Congress approved an amendment to the United States Constitution that would authorize Congress to regulate "labor of persons under eighteen years of age", and submitted it to the state legislatures for ratification. Only five states ratified the amendment in the 1920s. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration supported it, and another 14 states signed on in 1933 (his first year in office); 28 states in all had given their approval by 1937. An additional 8 states were needed at the time to ratify the proposed amendment. The common legal opinion on federal child labor regulation reversed in the 1930s. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 regulating the employment of those under 16 or 18 years of age, and the Supreme Court upheld the law. After this shift, the amendment has been described as "moot" and effectively part of the Constitution.

Quotes

  • Lou Bolton: "She is known as Li'l Esther, Baby Esther.
  • Lou Bolton: "I was first introduced to Miss Kane at Tony Shayne's office, Broadway at 47th Street. Tony was the agent for Baby Esther in New York City."

Lou Bolton and Little Esther Jones

Lou Bolton conducted a theatrical school in the City of Pittsburgh where he taught children and adults dancing, singing, dramatic art and anything pertaining to the show business in general. Lou had been engaged in the business in the city of Chicago since 1922 and had been in show business for 20 years. Bolton first met Little Esther in 1923, where he saw her performing at The Sunset Club in Chicago, Illinois. When Bolton became her manager she was a Charleston dancer and danced in the streets of Chicago. The songs sung by Baby Esther that were shown on the sound motion picture in court were "Don't Be Like That," "Is There Anything Wrong In That?" and "Wa-Da-Da". The controversy of Esther singing two Helen Kane songs may have been down to the fact that Helen had saw Esther's earlier performances, as both Kane and Jones had the same booking agent in 1928. According to reports Esther delivered her "Boops" in April, 1928, and Helen had delivered hers not too long after, in which she used in Goodboy a Broadway musical which was a hit which made Helen famous overnight. The footage showing Esther performing the Helen Kane songs was more or less likely Esther showing tribute to Kane, as she would have known that Kane had taken direct inspiration from her early act. If the footage featured was rigged, it wouldn't have shown Esther performing her unique "Wa-Da-Da" technique, the technique in which inspired Helen to scat sing in the first place. Esther's career took off one year later in 1929 when she was given a contract to tour Europe. In her prime Esther Jones was the highest paid child performer in the world.

Miniature Florence Mills

Florence Mills

Florence Mills

According to sources Baby Esther based her act and singing style on Florence Mills and would often impersonate her. At the Everglades Nite Club in 1928, Esther Jones would often incorporate Mills style into her act. Florence Mills had died a year before Esther started taking on Mills persona.

Florence Mills Shuffle Along Gertrude Saunders

In Florence Mills' earlier career she was known as Baby Flo. Florence later hit the limelight by substituting for Gertrude Saunders in the musical Shuffle Along, the same musical in which Saunders originated "Boop-Boop-a-Doop". The scat singing technique in general originated in African-American night clubs and is mostly associated with jazz.

The Life, Music and Times of Carlos Gardel (1986)

Baby Esther (Little Esther) is referenced in The Life, Music, and Times of Carlos Gardel by Simon Collier on page 115. In which Gardel shared a bill with Little Esther, "a Josephine Baker in miniature," the roller-skating acrobats Van Horn and Inez and a chimpanzee called Djibo, who did a trapeze routine. 

Paris Blues (2014)

Little Esther is also referenced on page 49 in Paris Blues: African American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960 by Andy Fry which was released in 2014.

Tropical Travels (2018)

Little Esther is referenced on page 24 in Tropical Travels: Brazilian Popular Performance, Transnational Encounters, and the Construction of Race which was released by Lisa Shaw in 2018. The book states that in June 1931 Gordon Stretton, who was accompained by his jazz band teamed up with the Afro-American child star Little Esther, an acrobatic dancer, who was billed by the press as "Josephine Baker's legitimate successor." Stretton would impersonate Al Jolson at Rio's Eldorado Theatre, singing "Sonny Boy" and "My Mammy," the latter in duet with Little Esther. Preempting Josephine Baker's adoption of this Afro-Brazilian persona in Rio in 1939. Little Esther also performed in the city as a baiana during the tour.  

Exhibitors Herald (1926)

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Li'l Esther, four-year-old colored girl Charleston dancer, stepping the house into a riot. Givot came back to finish with her and the show closed with the crowd screaming.

The Pittsburgh Courier (1926)

Baby Esther Lil Esther 1926

Covan & Ruffin, playing a return engagement last week at the Mc-Vicker Theater, Chicago, proved show stoppers at every performance, their acrobatic dancing going over as a sensational feature. Lil' Esther a five-year-old Charleston prodigy, was also a great sensation at McVicker's Theater, Chicago, last week. She was used as a closer for the bill which carried Covan & Ruffin.

Detroit Free Press from Detroit Michigan (1928)

Other stars from the Capitol's anniversary show to be heard over WGHP Include Roy Sedley, who will net as master of ceremonies, McKensle und Bishop, harmony duo. In popular numbers; Louise Mas-sart "blues singer"; the Capitol Birthday Oris, and Li'l Esther, six-year-old piccaninny, in typical "hot" numbers. (Detroit Free Press)

$100 Fine For Minor (1928)

BabyEstherJonesFatherandLouBoltonArrested1928

Manager and booker of 7-year-old pleaded guilty. For permitting a seven-year-old girl to appear publicly and dance and song act without obtaining a permit, Louis Bolton, theatrical manager and booking agent of 1376 Broadway, and William Jones, decorator, of 44 West 98th street, were each fined $100 in Special Sessions. The two pleaded guilty to the charge. Both men were arrested on the complaint of agents of the Children's Society after the latter had witnessed Esther Jones, the minor daughter of one of the defendants, do an imitation of the late Florence Mills at the Everglades nite club, June 13. The officers told the Justices that the child did her act at the club at 9pm and again about midnight. 

Lil' Esther for Talker (1928)

Lil Esther Movietone Booke William Morris 1928

Lil' Esther, child (colored) vaudeville performer, has been signed for a talking short by Movietone. Booked through William Morris. 

The Times-Union, Albany, N.Y (1928)

Baby Esther aka Lil Esther April7th 1928

A sad situation at that, these benefit shows. Performers wanting to do their share for charity must wait around for hours. Some never get on the stage after being invited many weeks ahead. A big name, arriving suddenly, is always pushed on before the lesser light, who may be bigger of heart. Doris Nurlinger's mother broke into tears back stage because they manipulated Li'l Esther, Harlem's miniature, to the fore.

The Pittsburgh Courier (1928)

Baby Esther Little Lil Esther Lee Jones 1928

Little Lil Esther, who had for the past week starred at the Capitol Theatre, entertained the guests. (February 4, 1928)

 Lou Bolton Has a Find (1929)

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Lou Bolton, for several years, an independent theatrical agent in Chicago, has finally fallen into good luck. Lou has a protege called Li'l Esther, who is called "The Miniature Florence Mills." The child has just finished a four years' training under Bolton's management and recently won a European engagement through her New York success. Her eccentric dancing and her inimitable singing places her in a position as the most phenomenal juvenile in the profession.

New York Billboard, (1929)

L'il Esther was Baby Esther's original title 1928 Lou Bolton Billboard Feb

L'il Esther colored prodigy, has been booked for a string of European dates, arranged thru the Davidow-Sherman office. She has been playing picture houses and clubs of late, under the personal direction of Lou Bolton, who remains as her personal manager.

Lil' Esther Jones (1929)

(Afro-American, April 6, 1929)

Lil Esther to Paris (1929)

Baby Esther Jones Betty Boop Paris 1929 Leviathan

Signed for a six weeks' engagement at the Empire in Paris, Li'l Esther, the child eccentric dancer, leaves today on the Leviathan.

"Baby Esther" a Hit in Paris (1929)

Baby Esther Jones Paris 1929 Lew Bolton

"Baby Esther" Jones, who sailed a few weeks ago for Europe, headlined last week at the Empire Theater in Paris. She has been heralded as child wonder of Paris and is creating a sensation wherever she appears.

Little Esther Red Hot (1929)

Babyestherjonesbettyboopgirl2helenkane

Little Esther, who recently opened at the Empire (vaudeville), is doing exceptionally well for a red hot interpreter of the latest in jazz. She's a little over the heads of the natives but is drawing considerable applause at each performance.

Lou Bolton's Troubles (1929)

Babyestherjonesbettyboopgirl1helenkane

Lou Bolton, manager of Little Esther, left suddenly for New York on the America, March 19. Partnership dissolved by mother of colored child. Understood French negro, Jacques Garnier, used as interpreter, stirred up trouble.

Baby Esther at the Moulin Rouge (1929)

Baby Esther Jones Paris Moulin Rouge

"Baby Esther" Jones, who was taken to Paris by Lou Bolton, white, is still all the rage at the Moulin Rouge, where she is appearing with Abe Lyman's band, and will soon leave for an engagement in Madrid Spain. After a fight with her mother about her contract, Bolton has returned to the States, leaving her under the management of a colored Parisian.

The Billboard (1929)

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Little Esther, the little Chicago entertainer, is at the Theater Monumenta in Mandrid. 

Le Petit Parisien: Little Esther (1929)

BabyEstherJonestheRealBettyBoopParis1929akaLittleEsther

Little Esther a un visage terriblement expert, où luisent des yeux lourds d'ex périence et où grimace une bouche sinueuse, épaisse, énorme, multiforme et informe, une bouche de cauchemar, en vérité. Quand elle danse, Little Esther est drôle, mais quand elle chante on ne voit plus que cette bouche comme une chose vivante et monstrueuse dans son visage de caoutchouc, une chose rouge et molle et qui, n'était la couleur, rappellerait ces méduses aux souplesses incroyables que nous montre le cinéma dans les documen-taires.

Stage Celebrities Heard at Jewish Guild Benefit (1929)

Baby Esther Jones Jewish Betty Boop Celebrity Benefit 1929

The annual benefit for the Charity Fund of the Jewish Theatrical Guild of America was presented to a packed house last night at the Century Theater. A three-and-a-half-hour program with personal appearances and bits by many well-known artistes was interspersed by introductory talks by Captain Irving O'Hay. Harry Hershfield. S. Jay Kaufman. Loney Haskell and William Morris. Among those who appeared were Sophie Tucker, Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra. B.A Rolfe and his Orchestra. Essie Mayo and his Harmonica Boys, Jack Osterman, Vincent Lopez. Fred Vadja, Lola Menzell, Mary Nash, W.C. Kelly, Eva Galliene, Leon Errol, James Wolfe, Mitzi and an ensemble from Madcap, Milt Gross, Buck Jones. Will Mahoney, Norma Terris, Alexander Carr, Weber and Fields, Pat Rooney and Pat Rooney 3d, Helen Grobus, Lester Allen. Miller and Lyles, Louis Mann, Elliot Dexter, Clayton. Jackson and Durante and Little Esther, colored prodigy. An interesting feature was the rendering by lopez of Just a Memory, as a tribute to the late Nora Bayes.

Insult to U. S. A. Child Abroad, Year's Biggest Scandal (1929)

After Lou Bolton returned to the US, Sidney Garner was Esther's new manager. Little Esther, the ten-year-old dancing wonder, accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Jones of Chicago, and her manager, Sidney Garner. (Afro-American, Oct, 5, 1929)

The Billboard (1929)

The Billboard March 1929 Baby Esther Jones Paris NightClubSinger

The Moulin Rouge closed on Sunday night for a period of several weeks during which the auditorium and stage will be modernized. Little Esther, Chicago dance prodigy will probably be featured of the new revue of the Casino de Paris, and directress of a new nightclub Sammy Pierce is presenting May Alix the Chicago entertainer, as a feature of the new show at the Plantation. Jack Holland and Nitza Vernille have been booked to dance at the Lido, now under the management of M Rouger. proprietor of the Hotel de Paris. 

The Billboard (1929)

The BillBoard April 1929 Baby Esther Jones

Little Esther, colored child prodigy leaves for Spain at the close of her engagement at the Moulin Rouge to appear at the Eldorado in Barcelona. 

Lil Esther Guest of Spanish King (1929)

Ten year old girl dancer also at fete honoring King of Portugal. Earns $750 weekly foreign language press lavish in praise. Little Esther, the ten-year-old colored child, who has been astonishing Europe by her marvelous mimicry and dancing, was the principal attraction at a fete. (Afro-American, December 14, 1929)

"Lil' Esther Jones" (1929)

BabyEstherJones1930AfricanAmericanScatSingerLilEsther

Baby Esther Jones highest paid child dancer, who was taken abroad by the Dancers News Bureau 1537 Broadway, Suite 308, Miss Jones receives a weekly salary of $750 per week.

How Much You Know (1929)

Baby Esther 1928-1929 Child Wonder

Baby Esther was referenced in a 1929 article to how much people know, Baby Esther was placed at number five.

Theatrical Review (1930)

Ethel Waters becomes Keith-Albee star. Little Esther Jones gets a $750 contract in Europe. (Afro-American, Jan 4, 1930)

She Makes 'em All Take Notice (1930)

TherealBabyEstherJonesChicagoChildWonder1930Age10bettybooploverbettyboopwikia

Little Esther Jones, of Chicago, Illinois, the ten-year-old stage prodigy of song and dance fame. She is shown with her Norwegian prize dog during her visit to the land of the "midnight sun." She has been highly distinguished on her continental tour.

Little Esther (1930)

BabyEstherJonesHelenKane1930TheBillboard Europe1930

Little Esther the rage of the European continent. Headlining everywhere! Manager: Sydney Garner. 

Theater Notes (1930)

Li'l Esther, dancer, still hit in Europe. Child star leaves Berlin for engagement at theatre in Oslo, Sweden. Salary $800 weekly. Unable to fill all engagements that are offered. Little Esther, who has the reputation of being the highest paid child artist in the world has left Berlin for Oslo. (Afro-American, July 12, 1930)

The Billboard (1930)

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Little Esther, famous colored juvenile star, is now appearing at three houses in Berlin, the Wintergarten, the Kabaret der Komiker and the Plaza.

The Billboard (1930)

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Kabaret der Kimiker has Little Esther, Karinaka and Rylber, and Rio and Santos the current month, with the usual cabaret additions.

The Billboard (1930)

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Little Esther returns to the Kabaret der Kimiker September 1 after a successful month in Oslo.

The Billboard (1930)

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Little Esther returns in December to the Ufa Palace in Hamburg.

The Billboard (1930)

Blackbettyboopestherjones the billboard 1930

Ernest Rolf is presenting an excellent revue at his China Theater in Stockholm. Among the features are the American comedians, Short and Long (Crabtree and Sturgess). Olympe Branda, the young acrobatic dancer Little Esther, the Negro dancer. Josephine Hall, the radio entertainer. The 10 Gordon Ray Girls an the 42 Rolf's Girls. The Frank Pichel Trio of clowns are at the Medica in Bologne, Italy.

Honored (1930)

Baby Esther Dancer 1930 10 years old

Two years later at the age of 10 after touring several countries Baby Esther who was also a dancer, shared honors with Josephine Hall, both of which represented their race as well as the United States. Miss Hall was chosen for this unusual engagement through the appreciation of her radio and night club presentations, having appeared with great success at the Cotton club and Plantation. The production was a highly selected conglomeration of international stars representing a dozen European countries. She shared honors with Baby Esther Lee Jones, 10-year-old dancer of Chicago, who represented their race as well as the United States.

Little Esther Now So. America Bound (1931)

BabyEstherJonesParis1931

Paris-(Afro Bureau) - Little Esther, whose dancing has captivated theatre-goers of many large European cities to Marseillies, to take ship for South America, where she is to make a six-months' tour. Accompanying her is her sister, Miss Jones of Chicago, and her manager, Sydney Garner, of New York. While in Paris, Little Esther, who is 12 years of age, was received on the stage of the Casino de Paris by Josephine Baker, and presented with a box of candy. The little star was heartily applauded by the audience.

The Billboard (1931)

Baby Esther Paris 1929 The Billboard

Little Esther, colored juvenile star from Chicago, will appear at the Empire in February. (February, 21, 1931)

German Theatre Still Raving Over Esther (1931)

Chicago 12-year-old drawing over a thousand a week. (Afro-American, Mar 28, 1931)

Brazilian Navy Band Played For Lil' Esther (1931)

Baby Esther Jones 1931 the Black Betty Boop Esther Was Not Obscure Helen Kane Copied Her Scat Singing

Little Esther, whose dancing and mimicry have delighted European royalty and theatergoers continues her success in South America. In Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, San Paulo, and Montevideo the phenomenal little artist has proved a sensation. At Rio de Janeiro American Ambassador Morgan came to see her play and after the performance came back stage to congradulate her and said it was simply marvelous that she could sing in so many different languages. He invited her to sing for him at the American Embassy and at a party at which the president of the Brazilian republic was present and the elite of society. The little colored star from Chicago again made a big hit. The Brazilian president warmly congradulated her and signed her autograph book, as also did Ambassador Morgan. Accompanying Little Esther is Gordon Siretton, who is the Prince of Wales favorite jazz entertainer. In the course of the evening the president of Brazil expressed to Sydner Garner, the manager of Little Esther, his great pleasure at seeing such capable colored American artists in Brazil. When Little Esther arrived off Rio de Janeiro a detachment of the Brazilian naval band was at the pier to recieve her and escort her with music to her hotel, followed by a great crowd. Little Esther is due to return to Europe in November to fill her contract with the Scala Theatre in Berlin. This little entertainer, who is only twelve and was a few years ago dancing the Charleston on the streets of Chicago is said to be the highest paid child artist in the world. (Afro-American, Paris Bureau of the Afro-American, Aug 22, 1931)

Scores Hit (1931)

Baby Esther Lee Jones Real 1931 Lil Esther

Accomplished juvenile entertainer, shown as she sailed abroad the SS. Leviathan for Paris, where she has scored signal successes in entertaining Parisians and tourists alike.

Esther Jones Masters Many Languages (1931)

Eleven-year-old child singer scoring in appearances abroad at royal palace sang for Denmark's King and Queen. (Afro-American, Paris Bureau of the Afro-American, Jan 24, 1931)

And Others (1932)

Baby Esther Jones 1932 Child Wonder Helen Kane

Baby Esther is listed in a 1932 newspaper article among several African-American performers who had toured the world from Honolulu, Rome, Africa France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, and back home to the United States. Miss Josephine Hall played in Roth's "Revue," an all-star galaxy of international artists, and along with Baby Esther represented the American Negro at the Chiena Theater in Stockholm, Sweden, the land of the midnight sun. Roland Hayes, renowned soloist spends the greater part of each year appearing in recitals all over Europe where he is heralded elaborately. The late Florence Mills was the idol of London when Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds" played a most successful season there in 1927. Hattie King-Reavis who remained abroad for three years found that the foreign people, and especially the Russian, are very fond of the Negro and pay homage to his artistic ability. Johnny Hudgins, the pantomine comedian, is loud in praise of the wonderful reception accorded him while touring the continent.

The Indianapolis Star (1933)

As a special extra attraction, "Little Esther," diminutive dancing star, who recently returned from Europe. (The Indianapolis Star)

Nightclub Performer

1925 Cotton Club Harlem

Baby Esther used to perform at a number of nightclubs in Harlem most notably the Cotton Club. The only person who would have been able to confirm this today had he not been deceased would have to have been Cab Calloway the Hi-De-Ho Man, as he used to headline at the Cotton Club in 1925 and was strongly associated with the club for years. A 1934 article states that Baby Esther dubbed "Little Esther the Sepia Dancing Doll" was a former singer and dancer for Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. According to Marion Luber who was a nightclub dancer she heard Baby Esther perform at an Atlantic City, New Jersey nightclub in 1928.

Did Helen Kane Base Her Earlier Style on Baby Esther 1928

When Kane first made her debut in 1928 she used to dress up like a little girl, in which she dubbed her "baby" style. Around that time Kane was a grown woman in her late 20's. Her idea to dress up like a little girl may have also originated from Baby Esther, a real child performer who Kane had seen perform in 1928. From 1928-1929 Kane was most notable for wearing frilly dresses, Mary Janes and gigantic bows in her hair. This style was also present in the 1930 film Dangerous Nan McGrew. By the end of 1930, Kane's fashion sense changed and she wanted to be more sophisticated. She dubbed her new style cute yet sophisticated. In 1934 after losing the suit against the Fleischer Studios, Kane decided that she wanted to be a minature Mae West and refused to utter anymore baby talk.

Dan Healy and Helen Kane

Dan Healy who had starred with Helen Kane in the 1928 musical Good Boy had worked in the Cotton Club since 1925 and would often produce and appear in the stage shows as he himself was a singer and dancer. The stage show was often advertised as Dan Healy's Cotton Club on Parade. The link between Dan Healy, the Cotton Club and Helen Kane is quite the coincidence. At the Cotton Club a lot of African-American performers would often scat sing in their acts. It is known that Danny Healy was still working at the Cotton Club between 1927-1928, around that time period (1928) Daniel was also working with Helen Kane in the musical Good Boy and they were paired together because the Broadway characters they played, "Pansy McManus" and "Bobby D'Arnell" appeared in a small scene incorporating the song "I Wanna Be Loved By You" a song in which would become a hit overnight. Dan would continue to produce shows for the Cotton Club in 1934 & again in 1936. Three years later in 1939 Dan Healy married Helen Kane and they stayed married until Helen died in 1966. According to information given there were a lot of African-American performers who used to perform at the club. Duke Ellington, Baby Cox, The Cotton Club Boys who were a chorus of male African-American dancers who appeared exclusively in Cotton Club performances who made their debut in the Spring of 1934 Edition of the Cotton Club Parade. The Cotton Club Girls in the early years included Mae Robinson and Isabel Washington, as well as sisters Hilda and Vivian Brown, Margaret Cheraux, Millicent Cook, Mildred Dixon, Peggy Griffiths, Carolyn Rich Henderson, Ethel, Lucia and Julia Moses, Julia Noisette, Evelyn Shepard, and Tondelayo. The Cotton Club Girls had already become an institution in their own right and the Club's management, feeling they needed a new gimmick, decided to use a line of young male dancers. Dozens were auditioned, and ten were finally chosen: Maxie Armstrong, Louis Brown, Charles "Chink" Collins, Howard "Stretch" Johnson, Thomas "'Chink" Lee, Eddie Morton, Tommy Porter, Walter Shepherd, William Smith, and Jimmy Wright. They were made a feature act of the show and their new style of group dancing, in which all moved together in rhythmic unison, was immediately popular. At the end of an eight-month run they became an established feature at the Club. The Boys later performed in specialty acts at the Apollo Theater and also toured with Cab Calloway and his band. Subsequent members of the Cotton Club Boys include Julius Adger, Al Alstock, Roy Carter, Sherman Coates, Warren Coleman, Ernest Frazier, Freddie Heron, and Roy Porter. Author Jacque Malone notes that in 1940, the Cotton Club Boys’ performance in Chicago included Jules Adjers, Louie Brown, Freddy Heron, Chink Lee, Eddie Morton, Charles “Cholly” Atkins.

I Wanna Be Loved By You – Three Little Words (1950)

I Wanna Be Loved By You – Three Little Words (1950)

There is no existing footage of Baby Esther scat singing and the footage is lost to time. There is also no live-action footage of Helen Kane and Dan Healy performing the 1928 hit song "I Wanna Be Loved By You" from the musical Good Boy. The show in which Kane first started to "Boop" was referenced in the 1950 film Three Little Words where Helen is played by Debbie Reynolds and Dan Healy is played by Carleton Carpenter. The sequence shows that the production of Good Boy featuring Kane was a hit. It also went down to her adding the scat sounds, in which made her a star practically overnight.

Boop-a-Doop Mystery (1932)

Helen Kane 1932 Harlem Negro

The great Boop-a-Doop mystery now joins those other famous cases. Watson! There's the unsolved matter of whence came "Hi-De-Hi" and "Ho-De-Ho." And the hot-cha-cha affair still baffles the po-police. It's not elementary this time my dear fellow! Helen Kane, who once cashed in on "Booping" and cashed out on court litigation, believes there's still gold in them boops. In fact she asks $250,000 of that animated cutie Betty Boop. It all depends upon where Boop-a-Doop came from. Was or was not Miss Kane the first of the Boopers? The answer is believed to lie in Harlem. Scouts now search the Negro cabarets for data. They find themselves getting a bit tangled in the ramifications of the scat song. And one of the amusing issues will be whether or not anyone can "Boop" or whether boop-ing is Miss Kane's own and particular property. 

Negro Girl Of Nightclub Is A Real Dooper (1934)

1934

Helen Kane's Boop-Boop-a-Doop trial today went Booping back to the night clubs of 1928 and a little Negro girl, proclaimed as the original Dooper. It was Summer of 1928, Helen already has told Justice McGoldrick, that she pursed her lips first and "laid 'em in the aisles" with her initial Boop-Boop-a-Doop. That date is important in her $250,000 suit against Paramount Publix Corporation and the Fleischer Studios for imitating her in the Betty Boop animated cartoons. For Baby Esther, 8 year old girl, delivering many a Boop-Boop-a-Doop in New York months before according to the testimony of Lou Bolton, the child's manager. Bolton claimed that Helen had a ring side seat at the Everglades Club on Broadway one Winter's night when Baby Esther was Booping - that was before Helen's first Boop too. The defense, through Attorney Louis Phillips, also submitted testimony that Helen actually encouraged imitation.

Little Esther Formerly with Cab Calloway Orchestra (1934)

Little Esther 1934 Cab Calloway

Little Esther the fastest colored dancer you ever saw and how she can sing! Formerly with Cab Calloway Orchestra. (Muncie Evening Press)

The Star Press (1934)

Little Esther the peer of all colored singers and dancers formerly with Cab Calloway. (The Star Press)

The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky (1934)

Little Esther, a sepia dancing girl appears as an added attraction with the stage show, and is said to be one of the youngest vaudeville artists to have achieved success on three continents. She has appeared in practically every theater of consequence in the United States and Canada. Remained four months at the Empire Theater in Paris, then played lengthy engagements in Berlin. (The Courier-Journal)

Little Esther the Sepia Dancing Doll (1934)

As an added attraction of the stage show The National has booked Little Esther, billed as "The Sepia Dancing Doll." (The Courier-Journal)

Stage Attractions (1934)

Little Esther a red hot dancer. (Muncie Evening Press)

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (1934)

Lou Bolton is in New York to appear as the principal witness for Paramount-Publix and Max Fleischer in Helen Kane's $100,000 suit against them for using the "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" expression in the Betty Boop cartoons. It seems Bolton's colored prodigy, "Little Esther," was "Boop-Boop-a-Dooping" it long before Paul Ash discovered Miss Kane. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Do-Do-De-Do-Ho-De-Wa-Da Claimed Boop-a-Doop Parent (1934)

Court stenographers who struggled to record in shorthand the "Boop-Oop-Doops" of Helen Kane were on the verge of hysterics tonight. Supreme Court Judge Edward J. McGoldrick ordered them to set down "Do-Do-De-Do-Ho-De-Wa-Da-De-Da." The "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" trial, in which Helen Kane seeks $250,000 damages from the animated cartoon creators of "Betty Boop," became this complicated when Lou Bolton testified, for the defense, Bolton testified that nine years ago in Chicago he taught Baby Esther, a negro child to interpolate "Do-Do-De-Do-Ho-De-Wa-Da-De-Da" between the bars of music in popular songs. Bolton said Miss Kane heard Baby Esther's song treatment here in 1928 and shortly afterward began her famous "Booping." Testimony also was heard today from Bonnie Poe and Margie Hines, two petite piping-voiced misses who said they were hired by the Max Fleischer studios as voices for Betty Boop after winning Helen Kane contests. Miss Hines said she won a preliminary contest before she ever heard Miss Kane. (Democrat and Chronicle)

Evidence Against Kane

Edith Griffith Boop a Doop Nebraska 1927

Edith Griffith, and Felix Mayol and Clarence Williams were also used as evidence against Helen Kane

Irene Franklin Baby Singer 1900s

Irene Franklin Baby Singer 1900s

Several other performers who sung in the baby style which went back to the early 1900s, were also used to prove that Kane's baby singing style was not unique. The other women referenced were Nan Halperin, Irene Franklin, Peggy Bernier, Duncan Sisters and Hannah Williams. Helen and Betty Boop both bore resemblance to Clara Bow and Helen's high-pitched singing style was quite common, so the look and singing style was ruled out and went down to the unique scat sounds that made Helen famous overnight. Old footage of Baby Esther performing the scat routine and all the other evidence used in the trial helped prove that Helen Kane was not the "first" Boop-Oop-a-Doop singer in the business. 

HelenKaneBabyEstherEdithGriffithsBoopBoopaDoopOriginator

A number of witnesses testified before Supreme Court Justice Edward J McGoldrick today that they had heard Boop-Boop-a-Doop songs long before Helen Kane says she introduced them to the public. Miss Kane insists that she was the originator of the singing technic which she has claimed as hers since 1928, and that the technic was stolen by Max Fleischer, Fleischer Studios, Inc. and Paramount-Publix Corporation in the promotion of the Betty Boop animated screen cartoons. For this infringement on her alleged rights Miss Kane has appealed to the court for $250,000 damages.

Baby Esther Little Ann Little

The first witness today was Alfred Evans, who said that he was in the employ of Rudy Vallée. He said that in 1927, a year before Helen Kane first offered a Boop to the American theater-going public, he heard a few Boops from Edith Griffith, who affected a baby voice in her stage performances. Another witness, who insisted that Helen Kane's Boops were not 100 per cent novelties, was Marion Luber, a dancer, who told the court that early in 1928 she heard Baby Esther, a Negro child performer employ the Boop style of singing which Miss Kane considers her own. Under cross-examination this witness said she did not recall the songs she heard Bay Esther sing but that she remembered the child's songs were replete with Boops and Doops.

Little Annie Little Betty Boop Actress Mae Questel Wanabe 1935

Alfred Evans, an employe of Rudy Vallée, said he heard Edith Griffith sing "baby" songs in an Omaha, Neb theatre in 1927, with the interpolations, "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" and "Poop-Poop-a-Doop." Mrs. Marion Luber, dancer testified that she had heard similar noises made by "Baby" Esther Jones at an Atlantic City night club in 1928. The chief defense witness was Little Ann Little, 24, whose voice is synchornized with the Betty Boop cartoons. Nine years ago, she testified she sang "baby" songs in the Greenwich Village Follies. "I sang cute baby songs and did breaks at the end of the bars of music, Miss Little said. These "breaks," she continued, included the sounds "Wha-Da-De-Dah," "Bo-Vo-Deo-Do" and even "Ba-Da-Daten-Doop," "Is that one a new one on you?" she ad libbed, directing the question at Louis Phillips, defense attorney who yesterday demonstrated a keen knowledge of spelling "baby" sounds by coming to the aid of a bewildered court stenographer. Justice McGoldrick reminded Miss Little that answering questions was all that the court expected of witnesses.

Helen Kane Is Not Original!

Baby Esther Jones Original 1

A medley of strange unintelligible sounds came today from the court room where Helen Kane's big Boop-Boop-a-Doop trial is being heard. There was a "Boop" or two then a "Doo-Doo-Doo" finally "Wha-Da-Da-Da!" Everyone especially the court stenographer was confused. The stenographer's knowledge of spelling did not transcend the dictionary. The assortment of noises came during the attempts of the defense to show that the art of "Booping" was not original with Helen Kane. That the responsibility rested with others who had preceded her on stage.

Baby Esther Jones Original 2

Miss Kane is seeking $250,000 damages from Max Fleischer, cartoonist, the Fleischer Studios and Paramount Publix corporation on the ground that the Betty Boop screen cartoons constitute larceny on her mannerisms and song technique. Testifying for the defense Lou Bolton, theatrical manager said that one of his stage proteges, Esther Jones a Negro woman had interpolated songs with syliables similar to Miss Kane's as long ago as 1925. In 1928, Bolton continued, Miss Kane and her manager attended a performance of Miss Jones whose stage name was Baby Esther in a New York night club just a few weeks later he said Miss Kane began to "Boop" at a theater here. Then followed an exhaustive retracing of the history of "Boop-Boop-a-Doopery."

The Last Time We Saw Paris... (1944)

1944 Paris Cab Calloway Baby Esther African Americans

Baby Esther Jones was referenced in 1944 among several other African-American performers who visited Paris, France, including Cab Calloway.

Information on Baby Esther (Ray Pointer)

Ray Pointer:

"The film of "Baby" Esther was a double system sound technique like Vitaphone. Lou Fleischer told me the whole story. The film did not "break" at the point of the Boop-Oop-a-Doop part They did not show this in court. What happened was the print has been spliced in several places due to breakage and went out of sync at the crucial point due to the lost frames. Lou and Kitty Pfister, head Film Cutter stayed up all night locating spots to insert black film slugs to replace the lost frames to put the crucial spot back in sync. A new married print with optical sound was produced, the Paramount News Lab being kept open all night waiting for this to present as evidence the next morning. The remark about Justice McGoldrick being "bribed" is a conclusion not based on fact. There was enough remaining evidence to prove Miss Kane's case. However since there is a Film Trade Ad that places a picture of Helen Kane next to an early version of Betty Boop. Further evidence can be found in the tampering with the original negative to Stopping the Show, which was built around Mae Questel's stage act impressions, which prompted Max Fleischer in hiring her. This is the first official Betty Boop cartoon which consists of a series of contemporary celebrities. Each is introduced by a photograph of that celebrity with animated lips and the voice of that celebrity coming from the picture. Only the voice of Maurice Chevalier is authentic. The voice of Fanny Brice is an imitation by Mae Questel. Oddly, the sequence begins with Betty going right into "That's My Weakness Now", a song made popular by Helen Kane. This song is not set up by the celebrity picture on the easel as the others are. You hear an audio splice from the audience applause going to the song. At two points there is a Long Shot, one of which Pans from the stage to the audience. In the background is an image on a easel that looks like the image of Helen Kane. Why else would it be there? This direct reference to Helen Kane was deliberately removed from the negative so that a new print could be shown in court that would not indicate an edit. But it clearly was removed from the negative. Paramount took advantage of the ignorance of film technology on the part of court, which accepted what they saw not knowing what had been done to alter the evidence."

Lou Bolton

Lou Walton (Sometimes his second name is mistaken for Walton) was Baby Esther's manager. Baby Esther did not attend the trial, but Lou Bolton spoke in the Fleischers and Paramount's defense.

Defense Attorney:

"What sounds did she (Baby Esther) interpolate?"

Lou Bolton:

"Boo-Boo-Boo!" (Recited Walton)

Defense Attorney:

"What other sounds?"

Lou Bolton:

"Doo-Doo-Doo."

Defense Attorney:

"Any others?"

Lou Bolton:

"Yes, Wha-Da-Da-Da." (Said Walton tiring a little)

The court stenographer broke down at this point, He threw his hands into the air as a gesture of despair and announced he would need aid in spelling the "meaningless sounds". Bolton could not give him any aid, Philips did however. Other defense witnesses were Bonnie Poe and Margie Hines who's voices were used in the Betty Boop films.

Help! Stenographer Can't Take Wha-Da-Da's & Boops

Wha da da baby esther

Recording of the Helen Kane "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" jargon in the singers $250,000 damage suit trial in Supreme Court, Manhattan has been driving the court stenographer to distraction. He threw his hands in dismay and yelled for help today when the testimony was offered as to the in-articulate jargon of Baby Esther. Negress night club singer from whom the defense was trying to establish, the Helen of the rolling eyes got the "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" idea.

The Afro-American Newspaper (1934)

Afro american 1934

Baby Esther originated the Boop-a-Doop style of singing, and Helen Kane white movie an radio star barefacedly swiped it and made a fortune from it a court trial reveals as Miss Kane sues imitators, (Mae Questel, Bonnie Poe, Little Ann Little, Kate Wright, Margie Hines) of the Boop style. T'would be logical now for Baby Esther to sue Miss Kane to even things all around. However, Baby Esther who was alive and well did not pursue Kane.

The Boop Song Is Traced

The Boop Song Is Traced

Witness in Helen Kane's suit says negro girl originated style. Evidence that syllables similar to Helen Kane's "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" were sung before she began to use them was offered before Supreme Court Justice McGoldrick yesterday in the trial of Miss Kane's $250,000 suit against Max Fleischer, the Fleischer Studios and the Paramount Publix Corporation on the grounds that they imitated her (Helen's) style in the Betty Boop cartoons. Lou Walton, theatrical manager testified that Baby Esther a Negro girl under his management has interpolated words like "Boo-Boo-Boo" and "Doo-Doo-Doo" in songs at a cabaret here in 1928.

Oyla (Cosplay Artist)

OYLA COSPLAY ARTIST

A photo of a Russian model known as Модель Оля (Model Oyla) who posed in several photographs as Betty Boop in which went viral and has been seen by millions of people on the internet where the photo has been mistaken as Baby Esther, and or Helen Kane. The reason as to why the photoshoot of Oyla was mistaken for Baby Esther was because "HelloBeautiful's" Lifestyle Editor Danielle Young posted the photo of the "white" Russian cosplayer dressed up as Betty Boop and claimed it was Baby Esther without researching the origin of the photograph, which made people believe the photograph was actually "Baby Esther", and also lead some people to believe that the animated cartoon character Betty Boop (a fictional character) was of mixed-race heritage/Mulatto. The real Baby Esther was a child, not a grown woman. 

Not Esther Jones

Not Baby Esther Jones just a normal girl 1923

Several misleading sources claimed that Esther Jones was a woman. Although newspaper articles that referenced the 1934 lawsuit that Helen Kane launched against the Fleischer Studios stated that Esther was a child but there was no proof to back the claims that Esther was a child, as she was also active in the vaudeville circuit in the early 1920s. A Betty Boop website used an image taken by James Van Der Zee as source, claiming it was Baby Esther which lead people to believe that the image in question was Esther Jones. James Van Der Zee was a famous African-American photographer who took photos of African-American celebrities including Florence Mills, Hazel Scott and Adam Powell Jr. - but most of James Van Der Zee's work was commercial (including pictures of the dead for grieving families), family groups, teams, lodges and people wanting to record themselves in fine clothes. James Van Der Zee supplied the props and costumes for most of his clients. According to a valid source, the image which was falsely credited as Esther Jones is in fact just portrait of an unknown woman that was taken in 1923. Though the image of Esther Jones turned out to be fake, the story is pretty much the same.

$250,000 Lawsuit

Betty Boop Era (1985)

Baby esther 1980s

The black gal should have been suing Helen Kane! And, incidentally, where are Baby Esther's recordings? Well at least we have some of Helen's, and they're good fun. They date from 28, 29 and 30 and characteristically there are no personnel listings. A pity, as the pianist really could stride, and someone took a heck of a hot coronet solo at one point. We'll probably never know, and this is one of the frustrations of early 20th century recordings. No data, A studio orchestra.

Black History Month (2016)

Baby Esther Jones was put on the spotlight for Black History Month (2016 ) where she was praised. It was dubbed that she was the true inspiration behind the creation of Boop Boop a Doop.

Baby Esther Merchandise

Baby Esther Jones Black Betty Boop Merchandise

A Baby Esther Jones Afrocentric T-shirt by MindHarvest sold over 400 prints which can be brought directly on Etsy.

MindHarvest Etsy

The same T-shirt by MindHarvest was later sold on Dizinga by R4k4167.

Kylie Dion: Baby Esther (2017)

Kyle Dion Baby Esther

On the 4th of November a song entitled "Baby Esther" was released by singer Kyle Dion. Child performer Baby Esther Lee Jones is depicted as an adult. 

Kyle Dion - Baby Esther (MV)

Kyle Dion - Baby Esther (MV)

The song dubs Baby Esther a "Cabaret Queen" and references plagiarism. 

Kyle Dion - Baby Esther

Kyle Dion - Baby Esther

The song was produced by Joel Alexander Van & Mars Today with co-production by Nate Mercereau. The song was mixed by Erik Madrid and was mastered by Chris Gehringer.

Death

  • False information was spread online that Lou Bolton (Baby's ex-manager) had stated that Baby Esther had died, when in fact in the actual lawsuit documents, he had stated that he didn't know where she was and that he had thought that she was still in Paris. It is noted that in 1929, that Bolton and Esther's mother parted on bad terms after a fight about Esther's contract which resulted in him returning to the United States and being replaced with a new manager. A 1934 article associates Baby Esther (Little Esther) with the Cab Calloway Orchestra, which proves that Esther Jones was still alive and active.

Gallery

Trivia

  • Her father William Jones was a decorator.
  • Esther lived at 44 West 98th street.
  • When Esther became a hit and toured, sometimes her mother (Mrs. Jones) accompanied her. 
  • She also had a grandmother Mrs. Jones and a sister Miss Jones, who like her mother were not named.  
  • Most articles about Esther Jones got her age wrong. Sometimes they would state that she was one year younger, or a year older.
  • Esther met Josephine Baker in Paris and Berlin.
  • Baby Esther had been booping since 1925, whereas Felix Mayol had booped in 1913. Gertrude Saunders claimed that she was the one true originator of "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" and had used it in 1921. 
  • Scholar Robert O' Meally said, Betty Boop was an "imitation of a imitation" and had, as it were, a black grandmother in her background.
  • Baby Esther Jones isn't to be confused with African-American "Double Crossing Blues" singer Little Esther Phillips (from the 1940s-1950s) who had also used the name "Little Esther" in her early career. Baby Esther Lee Jones was originally billed "Little Esther" in the 1920s-1930s. Which is why people mistake both entertainers for one another.
  • Baby Esther was presumed dead in 1934, just when the lawsuit had ended and didn't attend the trial.
  • Lou Walton testified for the defense. Walton testified that nine years ago in Chicago he taught Baby Esther a negro child under his management to interpolate "Do-Do-De-Do-Ho-De-Wa-Da-De-Da" between the bars of music in popular songs, which means the scat lyrics used by the black performer were a variety.
  • Kane was said to have adapted the black performer's scat sounds to Poop, then later from Poop to Boop.
  • Baby Esther made funny expressions (funny faces) and interpolated meaningless sounds at the end of each bar of music in the songs that she performed to the audience in the Cotton Club in Harlem.
  • The image taken by James Van Der claimed to be Esther originated from a Betty Boop website. The image stated to be Esther in 1928 couldn't be Esther, because the woman featured in the image is too old, Esther was only age 8 in 1928 which would have made her 14 years old in 1934. 
  • In a 1934 newspaper interview Little Ann Little one of the several voices of Betty Boop took credit for the African-American scat singers who'd claimed they'd Booped at the trial. Ann stated that she had Booped in 1925 and would often give a "Wha-Da-De-Da". Ann was dubbed the baby of the Greenwich Village Follies in the early 1920s and would sing cute baby songs.

Links

See Also