Betty Boop was an animated cartoon character created by Max Fleischer in the 1930s, but what fans don’t know is that Betty Boop was inspired by an African-American entertainer from the 1920s.
Esther Jones, otherwise known as Baby Esther was an African-American singer and entertainer of the late 1920s. She performed regularly at the world famous Cotton Club in Harlem, NY.
Jones’ singing trademark was “Boo-Boo-Boo and Doo-Doo-Doo” during her set at the Cotton Club. Her singing trademark went on to become an inspiration for Max Fleischer’s cartoon character’s voice of Betty Boop.
Singer Helen Kane saw Jones’ cabaret act in 1928 and copied her “Baby” singing style for a recording of the song “I Wanna be Loved by You.”
In May of 1932, Helen Kane took Max Fleischer and Paramount Publix Corporation to court under a $250,000 lawsuit. Kane claimed that Fleischer and Paramount exploited her personality and image, through Betty Boop. Kane had risen to fame in the 1920s, but her career was dying out by 1930s.
The case was brought to New York in 1934. The court heard the claims from both parties and a decision was reached, after a witness said that they saw Kane watching performances of Esther Jones, who used the similar “Baby Style” singing technique.
Following that statement, a recording of Baby Esther was played and it demonstrated her singing in the exact same style. Supreme Court Judge Edward J. McGoldrick ruled:
“The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force.”
In other words, the “baby” singing technique was not originated by Kane.
Following the ruling of the lawsuit, Esther Jones passed away. A cause of death was unknown. Esther Jones is now referred to as Betty Boop’s black grandmother.