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 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.
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.
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