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A Note on the Baby Dolls The masking traditions carried on by Lionel Batiste's family go back in history almost as far asjazz itself. Beatrice Hill, who claimed to be "the first BabyDoll," recalled: "Liberty and Perdido was red hot back in 1912 when that idea started. And we decided to call ourselves the Million Dollar Baby Dolls.... I remember one nigger trying to tear my stockings open to get at my money till my man hit him over the head with a chair."24 Austin Leslie, interviewed for the Treme Oral History Project, agreed the Baby Dollswere not to be messedwith: "Then they had the BabyDolls: all those women dressed like little babies,in hot pink and sky blue. You fool with them, they'd cut you too."25 It was indeed a colorful scene, as George Guesnon described it in a 1959 interview : "Gilbert Young took me to the Humming Bird Cabaret on Bienville and Marais on St.Joseph's night 1927, and what I saw there I ain't never sawbefore. It was the Baby Dolls. All those whores with their asses out, kicking high their pretty legs in the fancy lace stockings, filled with fifty and one hundred dollar bills. Allthem bitcheswere just having themselves a ball, you know?"26 These were no ordinary goings-on. "If a girl's dress wasn't way below the knee, people would knock her head off," explained Henry "Booker T" Glass. "The members of the Baby Dolls Club wore short dresses on Carnival Parades, but they also wore masks."27 As Earl Palmer (born 1924) recollected, "The Baby Dolls were women that masqueraded as little baby girls. It just started as a comedic gesture, these great big fat women in baby doll outfits, bonnets tied under their chins, and little socks, and sometimes they wore a diaper. Thighs this big sticking out of their tiny bloomers. Someof them got a little nasty sometimes.But we're talking about the days when they wasn't allowed to do anything real nasty, as opposed to now, when they show their pussieson Bourbon Street.The BabyDolls wouldn't dare do that."28 Mac Rebennack(Dr. John) also recalls the BabyDolls when he was growing up in the late 19405 and early 19505, and the tradition seems to have evolved: One of the gangs was made up of all the whores and pimps from Perdido Street; their parade was called Gangster Molls and Baby Dolls. Everyone in 93 this group dressedas outlandishly aspossible. The women wore eye-popping dresses; the oneswho lookedhighest pricedwore ultra-sharp women'ssuits, but with see-through bras underneath. Others wore slit miniskirts showing lace panties,stilettoheels,and flowing low-cut blouses.... They were ridiculous and funny all at the same time. They'd come busting out of their dives during Mardi Gras, their dresses and suits lined with satin and glitter, real sharp-looking and hilarious. They'd march down the greens, that broad strip of grass that separatesone side of the street from the other, cutting up, shakin' the bacon and carrying on, and everyone would back off to let them start high-steppin.' And you had best back off, too, because they took their kicks seriously.29 Jerry Brock believes he saw the last parade of the BabyDolls: I remember1981, when I went out with the Kazoo Band and Baby Dolls.That was the last year they paraded. They invited me along. Wemet at Felicia's house. Shewas one of the Baby Dolls—she lived on Orleans Street. Wehad a big breakfast—eggs, pork chops,gumbo, biscuits.There were about twentyfiveto thirty of us. Everybody was prepared—making sure their costumes were right, making sure their instruments were as out of tune as possible.Then everybody got on their knees and said a prayer that Godwould keep them safe on Mardi Gras Day. Then we hit the door. It was one of the most surreal things I've ever witnessed . It was like a Fellini experience.Wesang all those bawdy songs, with a crowd of fifty or sojoining in. Songslike "The Pecker Song," about a man that playedwith his pecker so much that his peckerwouldn't peck no more. I was just flabbergasted. We'd turn a corner, pull up in front ofsomebody's house, and there'd be a barren card table with a single bottle of whiskey on it. Everybody knew that it was for them, and a friend was honoring them on...


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