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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

R.I.P. Antoinette K-Doe

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2009 at 8:24 PM

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Two weeks ago, I was writing Antoinette K-Doe's Baby Doll revival story. Today I find myself writing her remembrance. In place of the final installment of Miriam Batiste Reed's transcript, I'm posting my entire conversation with Antoinette, likely the last interview she gave. Some are calling her death on Mardi Gras morning poetic, but for now, at least, it just seems especially sad.  


The Baby Dolls had disappeared, and I brought the Baby Dolls back. I named them the Ernie K-Doe Baby Dolls. The reason I did that was to show the new Baby Dolls are career ladies. We all working ladies. The history of Baby Dolls, from years ago when I was a little girl, I thought they were baby dolls that I could play with. My grandmother told me, “No, it’s ladies.” It developed into getting history on the Baby Dolls, because I was always fascinated by our culture. And I understood that the Baby Dolls was whores. I knew they had the Red Light District, the Baby Dolls here. So when I brought the Baby Dolls back, I didn’t want them to have the reputation they had before. I said, “You know what? Let’s clean up the act.” So we made it career ladies.


We used to go do shows for Sheriff Gusman and Sheriff Foley and serve on Thanksgiving. When they do that Thanksgiving dinner, we’d go out there, and some of the old people that are in wheelchairs, they remembered the Baby Dolls, and they were so glad we brought them back. And I felt good about that. Then we would go into nursing homes and do things. We were doing community work — not just be Baby Dolls on Mardi Gras. Charmaine Neville and Gaynell Neville joined us, and that was good. So you had music women in it, all career people. Cyril Neville would march with us sometimes, you know. It was a real good thing.


We went to Sheriff Foley one time, and we had this girl Lollipop. She was out there with us at Sheriff Foley’s. And this old white man said, “Hey little girl, I have some candy. Come meet me in the alley.” Me, I know these are things nasty men did. So this girl came and told me about it: “Netty, this man wants me to go in the corner with him.” I said, “Where is he?” So I went over there. I said, “Mister, let me tell you something. I know the history of the Baby Dolls. We are not those Baby Dolls. We are career ladies. I tell you what, if you say it to me again, there’s enough sheriffs around here — your butt will go to jail. What used to be, it’s not that way no more.” So I felt good about giving them the Ernie K-Doe name, you understand?


The next year, they had some Baby Dolls wanted to join us. 2005. I told them, “Listen. Y’all can join us, it’s fine. But there will not be a disgrace on these Baby Dolls.” Because we grandmothers, we parents, whatever. We have our life to live after Mardi Gras. So they didn’t like the rules that I had fixed for my Baby Dolls: to wear clothes but wear them decent, not with everything showing. Ms. Miriam Batiste told me, “Antoinette, they had another set of Baby Dolls, over here in the black Mardi Gras area, called the Gold Diggers.” And they were the Baby Dolls with prostitutes, show all their butts, and the first Mardi Gras they got there, they started pulling rubber peanuts all out their drawers, stuff like that. So I told the group that was with me, “If you all want to join them, that’s fine. But I will not join them. Because I am a lady 24 hours a day.” So they didn’t join us, and we didn’t join them.


They was bringing them back, over there in the Treme area. So all the girls who joined us had costumes with Baby Doll clothes, but very neat. I tried to keep the reputation up. I had at least 50. But they would come out Mardi Gras day or Mardi Gras eve and say, “Miss Antoinette, we want to be a Baby Doll.” Sure, you can be a Baby Doll. We pay no dues. Your qualification is, keep yourself like a lady, you understand?


Last year for Mardi Gras, I did not do it because I took a heart attack Mardi Gras Day. When I was getting dressed to go in the yard with my Baby Dolls, that’s when I told the girl that was on my bar, Jeannie — she was dressed as a Baby Doll — I said, “Jeannie, I believe I’ve taken a heart attack.” She said, “No, girl, you’re not.” I said, “Don’t tell me. Keep my bar open and call me an ambulance.” I had a nurse that knew me. I had her call back and tell Jeannie to keep my bar open, but tell any lie you wanted to tell. I didn’t want people to know I was in the hospital. I’m in the hospital with my Baby Doll clothes on. I tell the doctor, “I have to go home and get ready with the Indians and the Skeletons, because I need to go out with my Baby Dolls.” He said, “Young lady, you’re not going out. You’re going to surgery.” 


I stayed in the hospital like five days. But Jeannie had told a lie so good, everybody was believing it. She said, “Oh, she’s upstairs getting dressed. She’s upstairs on a long-distance call.”


Since I took my heart attack, I don’t stretch myself out like I did before, getting the Baby Dolls. I tell them, “You all have to do it on your own. You come here, we’ll still have it.” But I can’t sit down and make your dresses. I used to help them hem or whatever. I’m a heart patient now, so I have to pull myself back. My Baby Dolls used to come here Mardi Gras Day. They’ll have on their housecoat, get dressed all here, put their makeup on, do their wigs or whatever. The Baby Dolls came out of this bar. We would not leave and go out into the Mardi Gras until Sunpie (Barnes) come get us with the Skeletons. And he takes us out this front door, under the bridge and all the way to where the Indians and stuff is at. The route was with him. Wherever he said we go, that’s where we went.


We used to go over [to Backstreet] because WWOZ was live on the air. We’d get on the radio and sing and dance, then we would come back this way. Sometimes I would leave them two hours ahead of time, because I have to come back to my bar.


The Baby Dolls was the pallbearers (at Lloyd Washington’s funeral). But we can’t carry that heavy casket, because we women. So we took Mr. Lloyd’s little urn out of the casket and gave it to Ms. Miriam Batiste — she went in first because she was our oldest Baby Doll, and we went in two by two. All the Baby Dolls had something to say over him, out of respect. Father LeDoux said to us, “I’ve seen everything, but I’ve never seen Baby Dolls be pallbearers.” Now we have to walk from the church to St. Louis No. 1. We had the red truck, pink limousine, and all the Baby Dolls walking behind. We got tired. So we made Jeannie stop and we got on the back of the truck and rolled with the truck to the cemetery. Got there, Ms. Miriam Batiste took the little urn and she carried it inside the cemetery.


So that really blew them Baby Dolls up. We were just not Baby Dolls. Charmaine Neville contacted me, and she said, “Ms. K-Doe, can you get some Baby Dolls together? Because we need to do a volunteer thing at the nursing home.” Which I did. And we found out that a lot of seniors that are in the nursing home were Baby Dolls, or their grandmothers were Baby Dolls, and they were so glad that we had brought them back. When you can take a person in a nursing home and bring life back to them, you have done your job. We would bring Mardi Gras beads, and we had a good time.


They all still relying on me. “Didn’t I tell you I’m a heart patient? Back off of me.” So it still comes out of here. I expect a lot (this year). It was putting a little damper on it when I was sick. You really don’t know. But they know this is the base, right here. The only thing that dampered us was when Katrina came. Back in 2006. Four of us went on Orleans. We only had one Skeleton because everyone wasn’t back. But I have talked to Sunpie, and he said, “Antoinette, do not leave home till I get there.”


The Baby Doll outfit is whatever fits your body. We have all sizes of Baby Dolls. I make the old fashioned Baby Doll dress. But we have some with hats, little short dresses, bloomers showing. Some have heels on, some flat shows. It’s what you feel like. There are Baby Dolls that wear long dresses, short dresses, whatever. We don’t put a stipulation on it. The only stipulation is, don’t come out there with your ass showing. Be a lady. You could have maybe like a diaper on, and pour some mustard in your diaper, but you’re still a lady.


It depends on, have you gained weight? Katrina ruined so many of our clothes. If you saved your dress and want to re-wear it, you can. If you want to pass it on to another Baby Doll, you can do that. But I have the old-fashioned Baby Doll dress. When we’re dressed all together, walking with Sunpie and all like that, older people say, “The Baby Dolls is coming! I remember the Baby Dolls. My grandmother was a Baby Doll.” That’s my enjoyment: to put a smile on these seniors’ faces. And they’re trying to explain to their children, who is a Baby Doll? When I saw them when I was a kid out here, I used to tell my momma and grandmamma, I want to go play with them. My grandmother would always say, “You can’t play with them. Those are grown ladies.”


I remember Claiborne, when I was little girl, with the oak trees. I remember Mr. Tootie Montana. Because he was the prettiest Indian, in my mind. I’ve always been a person that got into my history. And after I put my lounge in, after I got all settled with it, I decided to go into the culture that I remembered — the Mardi Gras.


I’m originally from Gert Town, and we moved to the Ninth Ward when I was small. My dad was an Indian, my uncle was an Indian, and I used to mask with them as a kid. They had an Indian house that they would go there and make all the costumes. I had to thread the needles for them, pick all the beads off the floor when they dropped them. That’s how I learned to sew. I never did play with children; I was always fascinated by what the grownups were doing.


It did, it kind of stopped. I moved away from New Orleans. Moved to Plaquemines Parish. I was married and raised 27 foster children. Then I divorced and moved back to New Orleans. After Betsy when I moved. Always wanted to come back home. Had children, figured being in country best place to raise them. Moved here in ’92. Ready in ’94. Always Uptown or in the Ninth Ward. I moved in this area when K-Doe and I embraced together. When I did my first Mardi Gras here, I started remembering the things I didn’t see anymore: the Baby Dolls, the Skeletons. They wouldn’t come here. But I knew they was at Backstreet Museum; they was up on Orleans. But I remember them in this area. All the bars and businesses wasn’t there no more.


I remember it being a good time. That was Miss Miriam. When I contacted her, I was looking for a Baby Doll that was still living. I said, “Miss Miriam, what you think about me bringing the Baby Dolls back?” And she said to me, “I think it’s a very good idea.” She said she didn’t want to be into the Gold Digger Baby Dolls. I said, “What if I give the Baby Dolls K-Doe’s name?” That means the Gold Diggers cannot come in, because they don’t have the right to use K-Doe’s name. We got real tight and set rules for our Baby Dolls. She said, “We never did pay no dues.” I said, “We’re going to keep it like that.” Because if they have to pay dues, then they going to have a say so. But if it’s just a fun thing, then you don’t have a say so. And I have the last say so on who use K-Doe’s name.


She brought all her dresses, her bonnets. She remembered how to cut out a newspaper pattern for the bonnets. She taught us how to do the dresses. I cut on real quickly because I’m a seamstress. When that year was over, she showed me how to make the Baby Doll dresses out of crepe paper. I keep saying I’m going to do one out of crepe paper and put it in a glass cabinet and put in somewhere in here. Don’t ask me where.


The walk, the dance. It’s more like a strut. Miss Miriam came out of music, the Batistes. She said when the Baby Dolls would go out, they would make their little tambourines. She gave me the pattern, and I had some guys make some tambourines. So we all had our little tambourines. When we get out there, wherever Sunpie takes us, is where that old music happens for the Baby Dolls. And we all be together having fun. When Zulu gets on this end, we get with Zulu, we just get out there. Just have fun.


Gaynell, Charmaine Neville. I made Charmaine’s Baby Doll dress. She was busy. Miss Miriam used to always be in the front. Half of us was from New Orleans, so whatever steps she was making, it was easy for us to catch on that day, because we had that music in us, you know what I’m saying? Older, younger, black, white. The reason we did black and white — we stressed we wanted white girls in there — because we’re in a time now where black and white get together now. We didn’t want that separation. Only thing we didn’t want was those Gold Diggers in there. Man, they were awful.


Yeah, still out there. I do, but I don’t want to give you their names. I don’t want to trash talk. We all women, we all into music, we all live here in New Orleans. We see each other. Most of the time out there on Orleans. We don’t do like the Indians do. We still women, you know. We see them, and we just go another way. We don’t get into a fight — we just go another way.


I just learned about that maybe three years ago. The Million Dollar Baby Dolls is from Uptown. I know more about this area. There are still some Gold Diggers. I know their name, but I’m not going to give it to you.


We come out of here, but we wind up at Backstreet. We got to go get on the radio that day. That’s the heart of it. Now Zulu is 100 years old this year. We’re hoping that Zulu — at least some of them — will bring their route down here. That would be great. We know the whole parade can’t come, but some of them. And walk it, you know? Like we did a long time ago. 

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