The comic character Betty Boop is enjoying a renaissance, with new cartoons, a new trademark red lipstick, and women’s fashions on offer. At New York, Gabrielle Bellot explores the original inspiration for Betty Boop—a black jazz singer named Baby Esther Jones, whose signature voice and scat-inspired patter inspired not only Betty’s look, but her signature phrase, “Boop-oop-a-doop.” As Bellot writes, Boop was far more than just a cartoon character—she was the first feminist depicted in animated film.
Betty Boop, it seems, continues to dance across the stages of media, makeup, and memories alike. Yet behind her there’s a ghost, a figure who follows her everywhere, but who’s hardly ever seen: The all-too-often-forgotten African-American cabaret singer named “Baby” Esther who, arguably, truly gave birth to the cartoon character, yet rarely receives credit for it, and whose story, in many ways, tells a larger tale about America itself.
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