Pictured: Black Storyville Baby Dolls
The Black Storyville Baby Dolls were founded by Dianne "Gumbo Marie" Honore' for the purpose of continuing a masking tradition that was started ca. 1912 in New Orleans by black women. It began in an area just outside the French Quarter known as Black Storyville. The area was notoriously dangerous , filled with vice, tonks and nightly brawls while also housing many working class people. Segregation and Jim Crow led poor blacks to live and work there.
The masking group of 1912 called themselves "baby dolls" because it was a name used by their pimps. Other groups of "baby dolls" began within families.
Most original baby dolls formed groups and collected dues. Some had men and cross dressers who joined in the merriment. It was a form of benevolence. Often groups competed with each other. The women smoked cigars, carried knives, and danced "raddy" to "Jass" music which would later known as Jazz.
Being a Baby Doll was not always popular, mostly due to the secret lives and rowdy habits of earlier groups. The tradition made a resurgence in 2004 thanks to Antoinette K-Doe. It continues to grow today with over 14 groups.
After founding the Black Storyville Baby Dolls, Dianne saw the need to cultivate more educational outreach and community empowerment. She also began to implement rules that would help to maintain the integrity of the community-driven tradition.
Aside from such programs as the annual Gritz Garters and Girdles Empowerment Luncheon, free sewing and dance classes, film screenings and panel discussions, the company serves as a resource for those in need.
Black Storyville has also updated the way baby dolls dress in maintaining the old but evolving into newer traditions of dress and style. Today they go to great lengths to design each costume. While still paying homage to the earlier dolls with the use of satin, they are more elaborate. Styles date between 1890s-1940s.
Known for their hats, shoes, beadwork, tapestry, glitz, and glammour.
Black Storyville also mentors youth into the culture as it is part of their history. Pictured above is "Baby Doll Fancy" aka Evangeline Marsalis who came out as a baby doll at Jazz Fest 2015. She has become our ambassador and taken the Baby Doll tradition to Orléans, France where she and her family resided.
Written in her own words, Living the Black Storyville Baby Doll Life, takes the reader inside the life of a Cultural Preservationist practicing a 105 year old tradition in New Orleans. Truthful historic storytelling, it is a realistic portrait of life as it was in Black Storyville and what it means today. Photography is bright full-color full-page and enhances the story. It is truly a keepsake for generations to come.
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We carry on a 106 year old tradition. We believe in portraying real history as it would've been. Storyville did not exist in and unto itself. The ladies of Black Storyville would've been surrounded and befriended by more than just their immediate neighbors so, we have created a living history troupe who we feel represents a great portrayal of early 1900's New Orleans. It brings another dimension to our group of Baby Dolls. Vibrant personalities who look, feel and act like folks residing in or passing through the Vieux Carre over a century ago. We share a bond and enjoy creating historical, educational, fun events.
Black Storyville Tour. Join Dianne "Gumbo Marie" Honore' on this intriguing walk through parts of what was once the most notorious red-light district in the country, Storyville. Hear stories of cribs, chippies, the Tango Belt, and the last madam along with the mayhem each night brought forth. Louis Armstrong referred to his childhood neighborhood of Black Storyville as the "worst" area in the city during Jim Crow era New Orleans. It was also home to the beginnings of Jazz, popular music joints, secondlines, the birth of the baby dolls Mardi Gras tradition, and Jelly Roll Morton’s other profession. We stop along the way for a refreshing cocktail!
Photo credit: Erika Goldring
We also offer public exhibits on black Mardi Gras traditions, film screenings, evenings of Jazz music and New Orleans created cocktails, tours, secondline classes and more! Stay tuned as our mission is education so, we are continuously having events.