Esther Jones was a child singer and performer whose stage name was Baby Esther. She performed regularly at clubs, where a white woman stole her style and was subsequently used to create the image and sound of Betty Boop.
Esther was a child entertainer who lived in Chicago in the 1920s, dancing, doing acrobatics, and singing (which she eventually could do in several languages.) According to sources Baby Esther based her act and singing style on Florence Mills and would often impersonate her.
In 1928, Esther’s handlers were fined for having an underage child working at nightclubs till 3am, and her parents (who managed her) were charged with improper guardianship. Esther was remanded in the custody of the Children’s Society until the case was disposed of. That was the same year she debuted her “boops” and when Helen Kane saw her perform, and subsequently ripped off her style (which was then used to develop the image and sound of Betty Boop. Some note that the style was actually popular at the time, but none the less, Kane learned it from…nay…STOLE it from Esther.)
It’s difficult to find much about Esther on-line, outside of the story of the lawsuit between Kane and the studio over their “using her likeness” to create Betty Boop. That lack of easily-found info is likely why the photo below has been floating around the internet, saying it is Esther. It’s actually a photo of a Ukrainian cosplayer by the name of Olya Gussy who posed in several photographs as Betty Boop.
Some seem to confuse Baby Esther Jones with Esther Mae Phillips, who also went by Baby Esther. Also, in 1934, a woman by the name of Gertrude Saunders was featured in the Afro-American as the Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl, so people have claimed she was Baby Esther.
But, this article seems to have unpacked and cleared up a lot of info about Baby Esther, with a lot of the info coming from this blog. They say Baby Esther went on tour in Europe in 1929, where, it’s said, she had a six week engagement at the Winter Garden, Berlin’s finest vaudeville house. She then went to Brazil, where she was popular. And, when she came back to the US in 1933, she supposedly danced for Cab Calloway and toured the vaudeville circuit. Esther retired in 1934, with one final reference stating that did did acrobatics at a Bill “Bojangles” Robinson benefit show.
I feel like Esther’s story highlights the need for black history being taught and for celebrating the accomplishments of African-Americans, in real time and throughout history. For too long the accomplishments of black Americans have been overlooked, ignored, dismissed, and outright stolen, as well as lost in white people’s telling of history.