Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Baby Dolls

Mardi Gras is in full swing in New Orleans- there's a parade every day it seems, and the city is gearing up for Fat Tuesday as only AGC can. As a public service to lucky L by L readers, I've set up a camera on the parade route! Well, not really- but someone else has and here's the address:

A quote from Gumbo Ya Ya, reprinted in Al Rose's invaluable Storyville, New Orleans:
"A crowd of Baby Dolls came along, all dressed up in tight, scanty trunks, silk blouses and poke bonnets with ribbons tied under dusky chins. The costumes were in every color of the rainbow and some that are not. They joined the crowd, dancing and shaking themselves."

The Baby Dolls, an African American all- female Krewe (for lack of a better term- I doubt there's a formal krewe) still parade during Mardi Gras, sometimes in conjunction with the Zulu celebration. The  earliest known activity of the Baby Dolls is recorded in 1912, well prior to the closing of Storyville.

In 2003, the irrepressible Antoinette K- Doe revived the flagging Krewe. Under her tutelege, the Baby Dolls enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.

Antoinette K- Doe's Baby Dolls
In an article published in the Gambit shortly after Antoinette's death on Mardi Gras Day,  2009, she said, "The Baby Dolls had disappeared, and I brought the Baby Dolls back. I named them the Ernie K-Doe Baby Dolls. The reason I did that was to show the new Baby Dolls are career ladies. We all working ladies. The history of Baby Dolls, from years ago when I was a little girl, I thought they were baby dolls that I could play with.

"My grandmother told me, 'No, it’s ladies.' It developed into getting history on the Baby Dolls, because I was always fascinated by our culture. And I understood that the Baby Dolls was whores. I knew they had the Red Light District, the Baby Dolls here. So when I brought the Baby Dolls back, I didn’t want them to have the reputation they had before. I said, 'You know what? Let’s clean up the act.' So we made it career ladies."

Ms. K- Doe was due to lead the Baby Doll Krewe on the very day she died. They marched without her, knowing she'd want the parade to keep going.

This set of photographs, found in the excellent Louisiana Digital Library show the Baby Dolls circa 1942. There's no real caption information beyond that and the people in the pictures are not identified.


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