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- Moms was a first; no previous stand-up female comedian preceded Mabley
- First woman comedian to be featured at the Apollo Theater (1930s); she went on to appear there more times than any other performer.
- Oldest person to have a song on the Top 40 Billboard chart. Her recording of “Abraham, Martin and John” reached #35 in 1969.
Jackie “Moms” Mabley was a trailblazer in every sense of the word—there were no female standup comedians that preceded her—yet, despite a 50-year career in show business, she might have fallen into oblivion had it not been for two women who resurrected her story.
The first woman to step forward to explore Mabley’s story was Clarice Taylor, an actress who played Bill Cosby’s mother on The Bill Cosby Show. One day at lunch with friends, Taylor realized no one knew who Moms Mabley was, so in the early 1980s, she began working with Harlem-born playwright Ben Caldwell to create a play about Moms’s life that went on to be a big hit off-Broadway.
More recently, Whoopi Goldberg took an interest in what Mabley has meant to African-American performers. Goldberg directed Whoopi Goldberg presents Moms Mabley (2013). To Whoopi, it was Moms ability to tell a great story.
From Clarice Taylor’s research, we now know the story of what Moms Mabley never shared about her childhood. Born in Brevard, North Carolina, Loretta Mary Aiken—who was to become Jackie “Moms” Mabley—was a great-granddaughter of a slave and part of a very large family of 16 children, who experienced much sadness and trauma.