Pictured Black Storyville Baby Dolls: Joell Lee "Jo Baby," Dianne Honore' "Sugar Baroness," Arsene DeLay "Scarlett Monarch," and Laurin Blouin "Baby Blou"
We are the Black Storyville Baby Dolls. We continue a masking tradition started around 1912 in New Orleans by black women in an area just outside the French Quarter known as Black Storyville. It was a notoriously dangerous area filled with vice and honky tonks while also housing many working class people. Segregation and Jim Crow led many poor blacks to live and work in this area.
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 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, yes JASS.
Today we go to great lengths to design each of our costumes. While still paying homage to the ealier dolls with the use of satin, ours are more elaborate. We also mentor 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 now resides.
There are approximately 14 black masking baby doll groups around the city of New Orleans today; Each tirelessly carrying on a cultural tradition paying homage to their black foremothers, mentoring youth, and supporting programs in the community. There has been a resurgence. Women were historically the bedrock of our community. It is time for others to take notice and for baby dolls to have their rightful place alongside all other old-line black masking traditions. These women looked oppression, poverty, their ancestors enslaved past in the eye and took it to the streets! They organized, broke barriers and expressed themselves in ways that were unheard of during their time.
Joell Lee aka "Jo Baby" is the epitomy of an "empowered" baby doll masking in the present yet strongly connected to her ancestral past. An educated professional she feels with empathy the strife of the original baby dolls who resided in Black Storyville as well as other women of the Jim Crow era.
In her words: "Being a baby doll means more than putting on a frilly dress with lace, stockings, and dancing in the streets. It’s about preserving a part of New Orleans black culture that was beginning to fade away. It is truly an honor to parade as a baby doll. I believe that I sometimes feel their spirits, struggles of surviving as a woman in a time when women were treated as second class citizens. I believe it is our duty to educate others about our past and where we stand today. We are not just women who dance in the community, but empowered women who desire to preserve, educate, and honor our ancestors the correct way."
We mask on Mardi Gras, St. Josephs night, and for other special events.
TAKE A BABY DOLL WALKING TOUR:
Join the baby dolls for a special walking tour. You'll learn about the baby dolls tradition from a practicing Doll as you walk by "Back O'Town" and sites in the French Quarter. Enjoy a cocktail as you hear true stories of New Orleans madams and how prostitution, politics, Jim Crow, and railroad tracks led to Storyville's evolution and ending; Hear about the girls who danced to early Jazz, Jelly Roll Morton's other profession and more!
We also hire out privately for parades and events such as weddings and secondlines. Please contact us for info. Gumbomarie@gmail.com
We carry on a 105 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 team who we feel represents a better portrayal of early 1900's New Orleans. This brings dimension to our cast of Baby Dolls. They are vibrant, personalities who look, feel and act like folks residing in or passing through the Vieux Carre over a century ago! We call them the Mahogany Hall Auxiliary: Madame Rebecca aka Thayer, Can-can dancer extraordinaire aka Nina, and our own Gilmore Girl Bebe! Not pictured is Angela Carll, 1900's woman about town! Sometimes you will even catch a baby doll portraying a Mahogany Hall Character!
Joell Lee performing the part of Lu in the new skit "Millie's Bag" written by founder Dianne Honore'. It is centered around the misfortunes and mayhem of the day! Stay connected for upcoming performances.
We have done 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.
To learn more about the masking tradition of the baby dolls read Dr. Kim Vaz Devilles' book "The Baby Dolls, breaking the race and gender barrier of New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition"