The new exhibition “Baby Doll Ladies” is a collaborative project curated by Millisia White and Vaz, who are both native New Orleanians. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, White was inspired to start a dance company in honor of the city’s culture. She interviewed the elders of her city to gather stories and culture, and worked with her brother, who is a DJ, to create sounds that would complement the baby dolls’ movements. The Baby Doll Ladies first performed on Mardi Gras day in 2009, and a second Mardi Gras performance was held the next year.
Black Storyville Baby Dolls
In her book, Walking Raddy: The New Orleans Society of Baby Doll Ladies, author Kim Vaz-Deville explores the history of Black Storyville, the neighborhood in New Orleans that once boasted prostitution, gambling, and sex for pay. Beatrice Hill was one of these baby doll ladies, and the book offers a close look at life in the neighborhood. To understand the tradition of these women, you must read the book!
Dianne Honore’ founded the Black Storyville Baby Dolls as a continuation of a masking tradition that had begun in 1912. This neighborhood, just outside the French Quarter, was a notorious part of town. The area attracted poor blacks because of its history, and segregation pushed many of them into this neighborhood. The women in the neighborhood called themselves “baby dolls” because they were often accompanied by pimps, although there were groups of black babies in their families as well.
Mahogany Blue Baby Dolls
The Mahogany Blue Baby Dolls are a group of women who are committed to ensuring that children in New Orleans have access to a better quality of life. They are committed to the empowerment of children and young people by providing fun, educational activities that foster a sense of community. The Mahogany Blue Baby Dolls also volunteer at the New Orleans Mission and feed the homeless under the Claiborne Bridge. They also support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the NOLA Blue Doo Run, a fundraiser for prostate cancer. Oubre is a former Queen of the Lady Rollers Social Aid and Pleasure Club and has spent her life immersed in the New Orleans culture.
The Mahogany Blue Baby Dolls have an unusual story behind their name. These adorable, yet irreplaceable dolls started as the product of the dreams of African American sex workers. When segregation made it illegal for the workers to participate in the Mardi Gras parades, they formed the Mahogany Blue Baby Dolls to make the celebration more fun for them and their families. They even started the trend of wearing clothes in parades.
Gold Digger Baby Dolls
The revival of the Gold Digger Baby Dolls can be traced to several women, including Janice Kimble of the Treme, New Orleans, neighborhood. Kimble and her friends were once members of the Million Dollar Baby Dolls, better known as the Batiste Gang and the Dirty Dozen. Kimble talked about her experience as a Baby Doll during the 1970s and the scandalous outfits she wore back then.
The Baby Dolls started in Storyville during the 1910s. There was a racial rivalry among female sex workers, which was centered on skin color, religion, and relative privilege. As a result, the Baby Dolls were born. Their popularity grew over the years, and they soon surpassed the Rebirth Brass Band on the city’s famed big stage. Today, they are best known for their Mardi Gras performance, and are often featured in the Satchmo SummerFest second line parade.
Belmont Baby Dolls
New Waves! MAS, the mas ensemble created by New Waves! founder Makeda Thomas, made their Carnival debut this year with the Belmont Baby Dolls, a group of nineteen girls who play the roles of Spirit Dolls. The ensemble features a mix of local talent and international artists, and its latest offering, Carnival Baby, was blessed during the event. In addition to making their debut at the carnival, the group also collaborated with a Berlin-based artist, Shannon Lewis.
The Belmont Baby Dolls perform an “encoded masquerade,” subverting Caribbean representations and deconstructing the trope of the “respectable” Black woman. The group uses this masked character as a tool to highlight the connection between Black women and their cultural heritage, as well as the divergent paths to Black feminist praxis. The masked characters in Belmont Baby Dolls are not mere stereotypes, but representations of Black women who use their masked identities to express themselves.