What Became of Esther Jones?
The real in-depth story about Baby Esther Jones, who today is most associated with the Betty Boop story and has made her way into Black History, and has also been spotlighted for several Black History Months over the years, starting from 2014 when the Baby Esther story went viral. Usually false images and information are circulated, but the real Esther Jones was a child performer. Only those who have read the lawsuit documents have the valid information on who Baby Esther really was, and she wasn't a woman. Although most people tend to ignore facts, and push forward a lie and have spun it out of control. This article is by "Boopoopadoop" and was created to help people who are confused by misinformation. Research was conduced from 2017, and more in-depth in 2018. Was given access to archives on Esther Jones and tip that she went by a variety of names. The article here is worded by Boopoopadoop, from personal research is to help people learn about the real story. Prior to this article being written, Baby Esther's story was a little misleading due to the original "Esther Bigeou" source which was used for decades. However Esther Jones is often brought up when it comes to the "$250,000 Infringement Lawsuit" and was partially used as evidence against Helen Kane proving that she was not original when it came to her singing style.
Partially as in, Esther Jones was not the only evidence used in the Betty Boop and Helen Kane lawsuit. Many other singers who sang in the "baby-talk" and "scat singing" styles were also used as evidence. Jones had a natural baby-singing voice because she was a child in 1928, not because she was using a Helen Kane impersonation like women such as Margie Hines or Mae Questel, who were teenagers in 1929, which is when the "Helen Kane Impersonation Contests" were held.
Other performers used as evidence in court were Clarence Williams, Duncan Sisters, Irene Franklin, Nan Halperin, Peggy Bernier and Edith Griffith. According to a historian, who covered the story in his books, Esther Jones footage of her scat-singing is what helped Edward J. McGoldrick make a decision in favor of the Fleischer Studios.
Prior to creating the Betty Boop character. The Fleischer Studios had no idea who Baby Esther was. Grim Natwick who is often uncredited for creating Betty Boop as he would often credit himself as sole creator, has admitted on many occasions that he used a photograph of Helen Kane to create Betty Boop.
As Betty progressed from 1930 to 1932, she seemed to have taken more traits from Helen Kane impersonator Mae Questel. As seen in her 1932 debut, when the character would impersonate people, something Questel often did. Mae Questel was considered to be the new Helen Kane. In 1930, Helen Kane who often classed herself as "The Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl" was upset with Mae Questel using "The Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl" title and made a complaint. Indicating that she did not like other people using the "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" title, two years before she sued the Fleischer Studios in court.
When interviewed Mae Questel would often state that she was the model for Betty Boop, not Helen Kane. However Helen is the initial source, as Betty is plump in her first appearance in 1930, not slender. Grim Natwick merged Helen Kane with a French poodle to create Betty Boop.
Margie Hines the original voice of Betty Boop stated that "she" herself created the voice for Betty Boop. Using her "own" baby-speaking voice. She stated that the voice she used was not Helen Kane's but her own. As Kane had tried to sue Max Fleischer for a voice she did not own. Helen Kane did not voice Betty Boop in the cartoons, the voices used in the cartoons were done by known impersonators, who used their own voices making "Betty Boop's" voice in the cartoons not exactly Helen Kane's.
Margie Hines tried to explain that Helen Kane was suing for a voice she did not own. Which was later backed up by Judge Crew, when Kane was told that she could "not" copyright a voice. This is what happened when Kane continued to pursue the Fleischer Studios after the lawsuit had taken place.
It has to be stated and acknowledged that Esther Jones who was actively performing in America under the name "Little Esther" in 1933 and 1934, never once laid claim to Helen Kane's "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" singing style. Though she may have gave Kane the idea, the "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" was not Esther's style. Esther had her own unique scat-singing and dancing style. Jones mostly incorporated the Charleston dance into her act. Among her own unique singing-style and dancing-style. In America was known as the next Florence Mills and at one point in Paris, Esther was considered to be Josephine Baker's miniature rival.
Baby Esther did not sing or debut the song "I Wanna Be Loved By You" and she was not the model for Betty Boop. Helen Kane was the model for Betty Boop as admitted by Betty's initial creator (not Max Fleischer) but Grim Natwick. Esther's influence on Betty was actually the scat singing style. Esther Jones had been scat singing since 1925, and was trained to do so by Lou Bolton.
Scat sounds Esther made were "Boo-Boo-Boo", "Wha-Da-Da" / "Wa-Da-Da", "Doo-Doo-Doo" & "Do-Do-De-Do-Ho-De-Wa-Da-De-Da," "Boo-Did-Do-Doo," "Lo-Di-De-Do," and would finish off her routine with a "De-Do."
Bolton claimed that in Chicago he taught Esther how to interpolate "scat singing" between the bars of music in popular songs, which is possibly true due to Esther being a Florence Mills impersonator, Florence did the exact same thing by copying her Shuffle Along predecessor Gertrude Saunders. While Mills emulated Saunders in that category, the great Josephine Baker is said to have emulated Florence Mills. Other scat sounds Esther used to interpolate include "Roop-Woop-a-Woop," "Ud-Up-Deo-Do," "Skeet Scat," "Bup-Bup," "Poo-Poo-a-Doo" and Esther was even said to have used "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" as it was a very popular phrase in 1928. However Esther Jones' contribution to the "Boop" phrase originates in her original scat interpolations.
Florence Mills used to frequently use a "Tooty-Tooty-Too" in her song "Baby and Me," in a higher pitch obbligato, kind of like a flute. Esther being a Florence Mills impersonator, sums up where she got the idea to scat sing, which was directly from her Florence Mills impersonation. Only difference is that Jones did not use the exact same scat rhythm as Mills.
After hearing about the lawsuit Gertrude Saunders the first female scat-singing sensation to inspire and pave the way for others told the newspapers that she had did the "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" before Helen Kane, Baby Esther and cartoon character Betty Boop. Saunders also stated that in Shuffle Along she would end the entire scat chorus in baby-talk. And for years had been given tribute as the "Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl" in "African-American" newspapers, mostly the Afro-American newspaper. A few articles include Gertrude Saunders the Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl (1934), Negro Booper (1938), Gertrude Saunders Gets A Break (1939), Remember Gertrude Saunders? (1950) Gertrude Saunders Returns to Broadway (1950), Gertrude Saunders Broadway Comeback (1950), Betty Boop's Rival Gertrude Saunders (1950), most of the articles reference Betty Boop and or Helen Kane. However Gertrude forgot to mention that she did more of a "Tweet-Tweet-Tweet" rather than a "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" but indicated that she was the "first" woman to interject scat-singing into songs, something Helen Kane tried to lay claim to in court. Gertrude also did a variety of scatting which included scat-sounds such as "Twa-Twa-Twa," "Tweet-Tweet-Twat," "Ska-La-De," "Scoodly-Da," "Booly-Boo-Roo-N-Toodly," "Wa-Wa-Wa," "Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa," "De-De-De-De-De-De-De-De," "Rooden-De-De-Do-De-Rooden-De-De," "Dooden-De-De," "Roo-Dooden-De-De," "Skee-Ripple-Skee-Rubble," "He-Den-De-Dee," "Rrr-Ree-Rrr-Rrr-Rrr," "Rom-Bo-De," and had been scat-singing since 1921. Saunders did it before Florence Mills as Mills replaced her in ''Shuffle Along'' as explained above.
Vaudeville star Esther Bigeou a model, dancer and singer who had been mistaken for Esther Jones for decades by an article on a website Betty Boop Checks since 2003, also did a "Twa-Twa-Twa" with a "Twe" scat technique in 1923. Possibly imitating Gertrude Saunders who did it first. However in Esther Bigeou's 1921 song "If That's What You Want Here It Is" she can be heard scatting "Doop," Deet," "Doot," "Da" and "Deep" at the end of her song before saying she is heading home.
Betty Boop actually uses Esther Jones' "Wa-Da-Da" / "Wha-Da-Da" scat singing technique in several cartoons. Which include A Language All My Own, The New Deal Show, and a "Da-Da-Da" in Betty Boop's Trial. Betty Boop also uses Gertrude Saunders' "Tweet-Tweet-Tweet" in the song "How'm I Doin'?" in the Fleischer Studios' cartoon I Heard.
As sources state that Baby Esther's singing style was "flute" like and was based on Florence Mills' style of singing. It's not 100% known how much Baby Esther inspired Helen Kane, but another comparison would be Helen who was a grown woman at the time pretending to be a little girl and taking on this "baby" child-like little girl persona which adds more controversy to the style she laid claim to. The articles on the Betty Boop Wiki are the only articles online to feature real information on Baby Esther, most media have spun a fabrication and continue to spin a fabrication due to early misleading sources.
Baby Esther's career began in the early 1920s when she won first prize in a Charleston contest in Chicago. Esther lived in the obscure "colored" part of Chicago with her mother and father. She was then only 4. Russian-American theatrical manager Lou Bolton saw her performance and got her engagements in Chicago, New York, Detroit, Toronto and other cities, after which he brought her to Europe.
Esther Jones was rarely called Baby Esther while performing and went by the names "Li'l Esther" and "Little Esther". Originally she was billed "Farina's Kid Sister", but was later known as the "Miniature Florence Mills". Esther started her career impersonating Florence Mills. A 1926 article advert with The Cansinos above references Esther as Lil' Esther Jones. In some early articles she is also referenced as Little Esther and others from circa 1925 as Baby Esther.
Lou Bolton, who was Esther Jones' ex manager, used Farina's fame to promote Esther in her earlier career. In 1926, Farina, better known as Allen Hoskins was an expert Charleston dancer, along with his sister Baby Jane. When Esther Jones debuted as Lil' Esther, she was impersonating and or copying Lil' Farina, and was even using his name. Farina was also known as "Little Farina" and that is where the name "Little Esther" originates. While touring Spain, Esther was referenced as a "La Pandilla" which translates to "Little Rascal." In reality this had more to do with Esther's impersonation of Farina. Sources indicate, that Esther might have appeared in a MGM Our Gang film short. Before Esther left for Europe she was connected to Loew's vaudeville theatre. It states that she, alongside Sunshine Sammy filmed shorts for MGM, but did not specify which films. It is indicated that Esther might have appeared in an Our Gang episode. Most content featuring African-Americans, was later removed, due to being offensive. But a newspaper article that references her film short, just states "Little Esther." It is quite the coincidence, that Esther suddenly became Baby Esther and Little Esther, around the same time Little Farina and his sister Baby Jane were actively performing on the stage, indicating imitation.
In 1928, Esther performed briefly at an obscure nightclub called the Everglades Club in which she would do imitations of the late great Florence Mills late at night.
One time Esther's 60-year-old father William Jones and manager Lou Bolton got fined for having Esther perform on stage. Esther's booking agent was Tony Shayne at the time, who one night brought Helen Sugar Kane (another person who he managed) to meet Lou Bolton. There both Kane and Shayne had ringside seats and watched Esther sing and dance on stage. Not too long after watching Esther's performance, Helen Kane suddenly started to scat sing in her act. Four years later Helen Kane sued the creators of Betty Boop for stealing her look, singing style and her "hot lick" scat singing technique "Poop-Poop-a-Doop" which she later dubbed "Boop-Boop-a-Doop", forgetting that she herself took direct inspiration for her unique scat singing from Esther Jones, and that her look wasn't unique, and that a galaxy of performers had already originated her style, making her unoriginal. Kane slipped up in her lawsuit by trying to lay claim to being the "first" person to interject scat sounds into songs. Everything Kane laid claim to in court was outed. Like jazz, scat singing also originated from African-Americans. Notable people who sung in that style include Clarence Williams, Cab Calloway and Gertrude Saunders, among many others.
In 1928, Esther was signed for a talking short by Movietone booked through William Morris for M.G.M, flanked by a 26-piece orchestra from the Capitol theater, New York city. It is stated that the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that Esther Jones appeared in was nameless and that Esther performed three songs which were, "Don't Be Like That," "Is There Anything Wrong In That?" and "Wa-Da-Da."
During the 1920s, Baby Esther performed in Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Michigan, Jackson, Michigan, Toronto, Ontario, Atlantic City, Elizabeth, Union City and New Jersey.
Songs furnished for Esther by Harrison G. Smith, a business associate of Bolden Smith of New York. "The Turtle Walk," "My Little Dixie Home," "I've Got the Blues for Dixieland" and "I need a Man (Around My House)" were used for Esther's 1929 European tour.
Esther toured Europe in 1929 and became the highest paid child artist in the world. While touring Europe she delighted audiences including Kings and Queens. In Spain she played for King Alphonso and Queen Victoria. In Sweden King Gustave and the Queen came to the theater especially to see her. In France, Germany and Sweden, Milan, Oslo and other countries Esther also gave private performances for the nobility and high society. According to information, while touring with Josephine Hall, it stated that Esther was constantly going from one country to another to fill engagements. One minute she was with Josephine Hall in Sweden, the next she was off to fill her next engagement in Europe. Esther also returned to America a few times.
Esther Jones' first appearance was at the Moulin Rouge. In Paris, Esther was known as the "Miniature Josephine Baker". Audiences raved over her and the Parisian papers, daily and illustrated gave much space to her. Vu, leading illustrated weekly, devoted the entire front cover to her picture and a full page in the interior. Esther would sing, dance, do the splits and generally carried on to the great delight of her audiences and was dubbed as being "too cute for words".
The London Sunday People in its review of Paris plays said of Baby Esther: "Thousands flock no longer to the Moulin Rouge to see Mistinguett herself or the clever American ballet girls, or the beautiful women of the chorus, but to applaud a little mite, 10-year-old, who has won fame and wealth within the space of a few weeks. We are living in an age of speed but this amazing little child has broken every record of sudden theatrical success."
Despite being African-American, whenever Esther Jones appeared on the streets or in restaurants she was always the centre of admiring crowds and many people were anxious to speak to her. And with it all she was unspoiled as the average child, black or white.
Vu described Esther Jones as: "Dressed in a costume with spangles like some brilliant little butterfly, the light of the projectors is shining on her. With surprise one realizes that her flute-like voice comes distinctly to each in the audience. Because she sings at first, her body softly swaying to the accompaniment of the popular American songs that she interprets with a very seductive mixture of seriousness and childish mischief."
After appearing at the Follies Bergere, the Empire and other leading Paris theaters and cafes she went to Spain, where the audiences and the press went wild over her. But it was in Stockholm, Sweden that she caused the biggest sensation. This was not only because of her work, but because the leading Swedish restaurant owner drew the color line against her.
Baby Esther traveled with her mother and her new manager Sidney Garner, who was also black. When the party entered the restaurant the owner Branda Tomton, who had lived in America was catering to white Americans, refused service.
At this Mr. Garner demanded that a glass of milk be brought for the child and when the owner still refused Mr. Garner sent for the police. Other guests in the establishment voiced their indignation at Tomton's conduet, and to show how thoroughly they disapproved of it, several of them gave the party invitations to their homes, among the number being a Swedish baron.
The next morning every Stockholm paper carried articles denouncing the lone apostle of Jim Crow. The Swedish Blad called the incident "the greatest scandal Stockholm has ever had."
It asked: "Has the owner of a restaurant the right to behave the way he likes to customers who visit his place? That was the question asked in Stockholm. The glass of milk that was refused Esther has caused as much indignation as a real crime.
A correspondent to this same paper wrote: "I hope that the colored persons who were refused service at Tomton's will not think that all Swedish people are like that. The Swedish people are indignant over the affair."
The Jim Crow restaurant was eventually closed while Baby Esther's popularity rose higher than ever. Offers poured in on her and on leaving Stockholm thousands of children with flowers came to see her off.
While touring Europe Lou Bolton was fired. He was coining the Jones' out of their rightful earnings and would pass off Esther's mother Mrs. Gertrude Jones as a maid whenever they went to fill private engagements.
After firing Lou Bolton and replacing him with Sidney Garner, Esther's mother Mrs. Jones declared that she was thoroughly satisfied with Mr. Garner's management, and that he submitted all contracts to her so that she knew what Esther was earning. Mr. Garner came from New York City, and had been in Europe for 16 years and was well acquainted with the theatrical situation. Garner spoke several languages and served as secretary and interpreter for many black stars, among them being Johnny Hudgins. During the entire period of the war he served as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross and worked with Mrs. W.K Vanderbilt and others.
While touring Germany, Esther appeared in talkies for the Excelsior Film Co of Berlin.
Dutch writer Jo Otten had some kind of weird obsession with Esther Jones, and went to see her perform live several times, and once even met her backstage. He claimed that Esther was 13-years-old in Paris and 14-years-old in Berlin, and that watching her perform took away his depression. Esther is cited as several different ages in history - age fabrication. He also fantasized about her, which comes across very weirdly in his book. Esther is referenced on several pages in his book "Bed and World." Otten also stated that Esther's uncle who toured the continent with Esther was later killed at a nightclub, as the people who booked Esther one night, didn't know they were booking an African-American performer and a fight broke out, and that he never saw Esther again. Otten named his daughter (Alja) Alexandra Esther, after Esther Jones.
Alexandra Esther (Alja) was born on the 3rd of December, an incubator child weighing three and a half pounds. Otten and Dity initially did not agree with the naming. Otten was impressed by the black, American revue star Litle Esther, a prodigy à la Shirley Temple, that is between the 16th and 30th of November at the Arena Theater in Rotterdam, with her facial expressions, her voice and her catchy dance steps, Esther apparently conquered his heart. For that reason, Otten wanted to give his daughter the same name.
Esther continued her success in South America. In Rio de Janeiro Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Montevideo she proved to be a sensation. At Rio de Janeiro, American Ambassador Morgan came to see her play and after her performance came back stage to congratulate her. He said that is was simply marvelous that she could sing in so many different languages and invited her to sing for him at the American embassy. Accompanying Esther was Gordon Stretton, who was known as the Prince of Wales' favorite jazz entertainer. In the course of the evening the president of Brazil expressed to Sidney Garner, his great pleasure at seeing such capable black American artists in Brazil.
In Brazil, Esther was interviewed at Rio de Janeiro in a hotel lobby. She was surrounded by press who wanted to know how she had avoided the racists who lynched and burned black people in Texas and Alabama. Esther replied that she had so far escaped their wrath by staying out of the South.
When Esther returned to the United States she continued touring and danced for Cab Calloway and his Orchestra as one of his Sepia Dancers at his club in New York. From 1933 to 1934, Esther appeared in Helena Justa's Harlem Maniacs revue. One of the main reasons as to why Baby Esther is not remembered, is because she was never a feature attraction in Cab Calloway's New York club, she was a background Sepia dancer, which is why Esther was only given a small tap dancing number in Justa's revue. Justa had loaned the Sepia dancers from Cab Calloway. In 1934, Esther would have been 13-years-old, as she was 7 in 1928. Although with Esther, there seemed to have been a bit of age fabrication, to make her seem either younger or older than she actually was.
In a few articles from 1929, it states that Esther was around 11-12 years of age. This cannot be true, because if Esther was eleven or twelve, that would have made her ten in 1928 and nine in 1927, when articles from 1928, clearly state that she was seven at the time. Other mistakes are that she was eight in 1928, when really she was seven.
Justa was a dancer who was also likened to the great Florence Mills. In 1934 when Helen Kane sued the Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures, Louis Bolton was brought in court to testify. Bolton told the court that he had no idea where Esther was, and he thought that she was still in Paris, forgetting to mention that he had Jim Crowed her in Paris. This information had been twisted online by people who try to change history.
Esther later returned to the stage as "The Sepia Dancing Doll" and was dubbed the fastest colored dancer who was red hot. Misinformation spread by pseudologists lay claim that Esther died, when in reality she was still active up until September of 1934. The liars even went to the length of claiming that Esther was a Helen Kane impersonator. The Betty Boop Wikia found out that Esther was a Florence Mills impersonator in 1928 at the Everglades. Lies about Esther Jones were spread, because people who are part of a Helen Kane fan club got upset when the Baby Esther Lee Jones story came to light. After the story came out, they tried everything to obviate the original scat singing sensation Esther Jones by spreading lies and fabrications by also getting their fans to do the same, in order to discredit anyone who wanted to share what had really happened and as to why Helen Kane lost her $250,000 Betty Boop lawsuit in the first place. During the $250,000 Infringement Lawsuit, Helen Kane's attorney Samuel Weltz claimed that the footage of Baby Esther singing was irrelevant, incompetent and immaterial and stated that Esther Jones was a Helen Kane impersonator. He was denied by the court.
In 1934, Esther also attended a NAACP for Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Robinson, also taught Helena Justa, and the great Florence Mills. According to a source, Esther later became a full-time acrobat and had later lost most of her appeal and was then succeeded by other black child stars such as Baby Hilda and Baby Selma.
Baby Esther shares her original name and original stage name with Little Esther Phillips, who was also known as Esther Mae Jones. Both singers used the names "Little Esther" and "Li'l Esther", the only difference is the time that they were active. Baby Esther (Betty Boop) was active in the 1920s-1930s with late 1934 being her last performance on stage, and Esther Phillips debuted in the 1940s and later became a sensation in the 1950s and was relatively known up until her death by a drug overdose in 1984. Photo above is Esther Mae Phillips, not Baby Esther, for those who cannot seem to identify images, for those who don't read and just copy and paste. Ensure you know what you are posting, so you don't mislead people. Esther Lee Jones from Chicago was Baby Esther, and Esther May Jones from Texas was Esther Phillips.
This is a chart that has been created for those truly interested in the Baby Esther story. The chart will tell you who the real Baby Esther is, and who isn't. The real Baby Esther's first manager Lou Bolton was a Russian-American, but Baby Esther wasn't Russian. A image that went viral (dubbed Baby Esther) was a white Ukrainian female model called Oyla. And most people accidentally use images of Esther Phillips (another Esther Jones) when trying to identify Baby Esther. Older images claiming to be Baby Esther went viral because a official Betty Boop Checks source called Betty Boop and Helen Kane, which is no longer online, had used one of James Van Der Zee photographs of a pretty black college girl beside an image of Clara Bow, claiming it to be Baby Esther without solid proof, confusing everyone to believe that the photo was in fact Baby Esther Jones.
An archived copy of the "Betty Boop Checks" page dating back to 2003 has recently been archived on the Betty Boop Fandom. Which is the origination of the false information, which confused millions of people online. In which they used a photo of Esther Bigeou a scat-singer and known light-skinned African-American model from the early 1920s, who would often promote skin bleaching.
Since then the Betty Boop Checks website has closed down, although a screenshot of the image that was once displayed on the website still exists online. The real Esther Jones was a child performer from Chicago who was best known as Little Esther Lee Jones and in history she will always be known as the originator of Helen Kane's "Boop-Boop-a-Doop". Esther Jones has also been incorporated into Black History Month as of 2014. When Baby Esther is referenced, sources and media often use fake images and often twist the story to their liking, due to misleading sources that once confused the world. There are some fabricators that tried to point the finger directly to the Betty Boop Wiki, but the Betty Boop Wiki was only following sources, that everyone else was following, that is until the Betty Boop Wiki decided to look into the matter and find out the truth, mainly to prove that Esther Jones existed, proving that Esther went on to inspire many people. Today Esther is probably best known today for inspiring Helen Kane to scat sing in her act. You can find out more about Baby Esther on the Betty Boop Wikia and also the official Baby Esther website here.
Even though the Betty Boop Checks website was shut down, people are still confused today, because when the story went viral PBS aka the Public Broadcasting Service, who also were confused, decided to set up a page about Esther Jones for Black History Month. People are now using the PBS website as a source for the Esther Jones story, the story featured on the site is a little fabricated, it uses a fake image, that isn't of Esther Jones, it is actually a photo of Esther Bigeou, and the article also claims that Esther died in obscurity, when in reality the real Esther Jones retired from show business in late 1934. Though a 1937 Brazilian article uncovered by the Betty Boop Wikia states Esther Jones formed and danced in a troupe in Harlem and that she had possibly married a South Carolina worker. You can also find out more real information on the real Baby Esther here.
As of 2021, Baby Esther Jones among several other singers was given tribute by the Fleischer Studios. You can find out more in "The Battle Over Booping" article on here, which links to the official article. In September of 2021, PBS put out an apology for circulating misinformation after being confronted by Mark Fleischer in June of 2021 according to Showbiz Cheat Sheet. You can read more about that here "PBS Apologize For Misleading Betty Boop Story" and in the 2021 Betty Boop News listing.