Jackie "Moms" Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken, in Brevard, North Carolina.
At a young age, she left her large family life to become the wife of a much older man at the forceful urging of her father. Mabley didn't take kindly to the union, which would become ever-so-clear in many of her comedy routines before fans.
At age 14, Mabley's grandmother urged her to leave the family life behind and set out on her own path to make a successful life for herself. Heeding to her grandmother's advice, Jackie Mabley lurched into her own private radiance and hence a comedic star was born.
At the time, Mabley's brother could not easily digest the idea of having a sister in the entertainment industry. In fact it was his own embarrassment of Mabley's profession that caused Mabley to drop the use of her birth given name, and settle upon a new moniker. She crafted the name Jackie Mabley and credited an old boyfriend as the inspiration for the new alias. Mabley often expressed that this ex boyfriend had taken so much from her the least he could
do in return was give her his name.
Mabley joined the troupe of Henry Bowman and Tim Moore and became an instant success. She adopted her own unique persona to carry to center-stage. Mabley's grandmother served as the inspiration for her distinctive character as an outspoken grandmother wearing old-fashioned dresses, clog hopper shoes and floppy hats. This image was a crowd favorite and would be the carriage that hurled Mabley to the top along with her point-blank jokes and self-assured satire.
She was labeled "The Funniest Woman in the World" and considered one of the most successful entertainers of the black vaudeville stage, also cleverly labeled "The Chitlin Circuit". At the height of her career, Mabley was earning $10,000 a week at Harlem's Apollo Theatre.
She was an inspiration for outspoken female comics of the era and would serve as an inspiration for comic followers such as Richard Pryor, Phyllis Diller and Whoopi Goldberg.
During her reign in comedy, Mabley recorded numerous comedy albums and appeared on several television shows such as Rowan & Martin's Laugh In.
In 1975, at age 78, Mabley died from natural causes. Though some might speculate she was a bit older, or younger - Mabley's year of birth has been documented to range from as early as 1894 and as late as 1899.