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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

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Mardi Gras' Baby Dolls

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Ernie K-Doe "Here Come The Girls"

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Ever heard someone call someone “baby doll” and wondered why and how that was? My hunch is that its got some New Orleans roots, and roots that ultimately have a Mardi Gras connection. In New Orleans, Baby Doll is understood to be a tradition, and has a special place at the Mardi Gras. Specifically, a Baby Doll was a  member of an informal sisterhood who dress in frilly, sexually titillating Baby Doll outfits— you know, short skirts, bloomers, satin blouses and bonnets tied under their chins with ribbons.

The Baby Dolls of yore were known for ribaldry and indeed, some of the earliest were from New Orleans's uptown red light district, They sought “kicks” on Carnival Day, when male revelers came around looking for action and would stuff money into the girls' stockings. Baby Doll masking caught on, enabling women from various walks of life to publicly partake in festive transgression—flaunting or mocking conventional expectations that required them to suppress their sexuality.

Traditionally associated with the Tremé neighborhood, these promiscuous maskers dwindled in number and had become virtually extinct by the time Antoinette K-Doe, who fondly recalled the Baby Dolls from her childhood days in the Tremé, came to fame as the Empress wife of the Emperor of the Universe—the late Ernie K-Doe, a flamboyant showman of mythical proportions who is forever associated with the 1961 R&B hit “Mother-in-Law.” Today’s MGM is a tribute to this tradition and the K-Doe’s, I’ve got Ernie K-Doe on another of his classics “Here Come The Girls,” indeed…