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Cab Calloway
Cab Calloway Gottlieb.jpg
Photographed by William Gottlieb, 1947
Background information
Birth nameCabell Calloway III
Born(1907-12-25)December 25, 1907
Rochester, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 18, 1994(1994-11-18) (aged 86)
Hockessin, Delaware
GenresJazz, blues, swing, Big band
Occupation(s)Bandleader, singer-songwriter
Years active1930–1994

Cabell Calloway III (December 25, 1907 – November 18, 1994) was an American jazz singer, dancer, and bandleader. He was strongly associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City, where he was a regular performer.

Calloway was a master of energetic scat singing and led one of the United States' most popular big bands from the start of the 1930s to the late 1940s. Calloway's band featured performers including trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus "Doc" Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon "Chu" Berry, New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton. Calloway continued to perform until his death in 1994 at the age of 86.

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  • ✪ Day at Night: Cab Calloway, singer and bandleader
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  • ✪ The truth about Cab Calloway
  • ✪ Cab Calloway - Minnie The Moocher 1930
  • ✪ Cab Calloway - Black Rhythm


JAMES DAY: Cab Calloway is a singer, bandleader, and entertainer whose joyous sprit has worked its magic on at least two generations of the young. During the 30's and 40's the era of the big band and pop music, he was billed as his royal hi-de highness of hi-de-ho. Internationally famous for a style of scat signing that was both his invention and his trademark. The Cab Calloway band toured the world playing night clubs and theaters, performing on radio, television and in films. And then in the early 50's a new career opened for him with a huge success he enjoyed in the role of "Sportin Life", in Gershwin's Opera "Porgy and Bess". To another generation of the young, he became best known as the star of such musicals as "Pajama Game" and "Hello Dolly". Now in his late 60's Cabell Calloway the third shows no signs of turning down the festive flame that's made him an international favorite for 35 years. ♪ [Theme Music] ♪ JAMES DAY: Mr. Calloway you've not stood in front of a band or led a band for about 15 years. And you're of course very famous for that, but you still continue to entertain even though you're not playing in a Broadway show. You're playing a nightclub with an act. And I would just guess that you probably don't have to do this sort of thing. Why do you continue to get up in front of an audience? CAB CALLOWAY: Well it's something I love. JAMES DAY: Do you? CAB CALLOWAY: It's something I've always loved. Its something that I've done back in, I would say all of my life and I don't think that I could ever stop at any time. JAMES DAY: Would you ever want to stop? CAB CALLOWAY: No, it's my feeling at all times to entertain people. Make them happy. That's all I want to do in life. And when I can do that I'm happy. And if I can't do it, let's forget it. JAMES DAY: Do you have nights where you think it hasn't quite happened? Or does it always seem to happen, with the audience? CAB CALLOWAY: It always seems to happen when I'm in front of an audience. Always. Never fails. I give it to them, they accept it and it makes me feel so great. JAMES DAY: What about your own mood? Do they ever change? CAB CALLOWAY: It's a natural thing for a person to have different moods. Sure. I have ordinary changes like everyone else. JAMES DAY: What happens when you get on the stage then? CAB CALLOWAY: Never, never carried on the stage, never have carried any a mood. I've had a lot of things, troubles and things that have bothered me. But when I'm in front of that audience, it all goes away. JAMES DAY: Do you do it out of any sense of obligation to the audience? The old show business thought that you owe it to the audience, or do you do it for yourself? CAB CALLOWAY: I do it for myself. That's what I want to do. That's what I do. JAMES DAY: So the audience is almost therapy when your not- CAB CALLOWAY: Exactly. That is exactly what it is. Of course my wife said to me, "You can go on and on and on and on, and I she says look at me. I'm worn out I'm an old woman. I feel bad at times and you- She says that, there's a reason because when you get on that stage, when you get in front of the people everything disappears. JAMES DAY: Keeps you young. CAB CALLOWAY: That's right. JAMES DAY: You're performing now with your young daughter. CAB CALLOWAY: Yes. Well not my youngest daughter. JAMES DAY: A young daughter. CAB CALLOWAY: A young daughter, yes. Chris and I, we're doing an act together. And it's very, very interesting, very lovely. And I think that she has inherited a lot of things that I have, as far as the- JAMES DAY: Have you trained her? Or is just inherited? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, I've trained her to a certain extent. Yes I have done quite a bit, worked very hard with her. JAMES DAY: At what point did you decide to do that? You certainly haven't trained all of your youngsters to go into show business. Did she express to you a desire to follow daddy? And you said I'll give you what help I can. CAB CALLOWAY: Well not so much that fact that she wanted to follow me. You see what happened to her, was that she went to college, she was going to be a home economist and during her high school days she had participated in these high school plays, the same as I did. And when she graduated from high school she decided to change, she changed, that she was going to go for the theater. She went to Boston University and we, she was studying the theater. And then she came out of Boston and she didn't follow the theater. JAMES DAY: She didn't? CAB CALLOWAY: She didn't. She, you know, she went along. I shouldn't say she that didn't follow the theater because she was in "Hello Dolly" with me, and also in "Pajama Game". But it was during "Pajama Game", I mean "Hello Dolly" that she sort of- JAMES DAY: How do you bridge that generation gap in your act? Because your thought of as belonging, I think of you as belonging to an earlier generation. During the big band era and jive all of the things. CAB CALLOWAY: When I do all of the jive things. JAMES DAY: You still do those things, and she does them. CAB CALLOWAY: She does the modern things. She does the mom and pop things. So it's- JAMES DAY: Are your audiences mixed? Or is it nostalgia? CAB CALLOWAY: No we have both. We have both young and old. JAMES DAY: How do the young react to your- CAB CALLOWAY: The young take, it's beautiful. That's no effort. They've always accepted me as well as I've ever been received. JAMES DAY: The same kinds of thing. That were such a hit years ago? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, matter of fact. They join in and sing the hi-de-hi's and the ho-de-ho's with everybody else in there. Its something they like, they like it. JAMES DAY: Your father wanted you to become a lawyer didn't he? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes he did. JAMES DAY: He was a lawyer himself. CAB CALLOWAY : Yes. JAMES DAY: What happened? CAB CALLOWAY: I tried very hard. JAMES DAY: You went to law school? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, I went to law school in Chicago, Crane College. JAMES DAY: You grew up in Rochester. CAB CALLOWAY: I was born in Rochester, but I was raised in Baltimore yes. I went from Baltimore to Chicago. I went to school. I really did, I wanted to go through because, I mean, it was something that I, that my mother and father both wanted me to do. And while I was in school in Chicago I had to go to work, and my sister got me a job in a nightclub there. Sunset, a place called Sunset Café. JAMES DAY: She was playing there herself wasn't she? CAB CALLOWAY: No, no. She wasn't at the present time there, no. At that time, she just bought me; she was in a show when she bought me to Chicago. But I had the desire and ambition to sing and to work in this club and she got me a job in a club. JAMES DAY: Did you sing as a youngster? You sang at- CAB CALLOWAY: Yes I would sing, I've been singing all my life. JAMES DAY: Really, was it a musical family? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes my mother was a very, very fine musician. JAMES DAY: Your father died when you were young. CAB CALLOWAY: Very, I was about 9 years old. JAMES DAY: Did you have to work? You did have odd jobs, was it because you had to have them? Or was it like the rest of. CAB CALLOWAY: I had to. JAMES DAY: You had to help support the family. CAB CALLOWAY: That's right. JAMES DAY: What kind of things did you do? You didn't sing for a living then did you? CAB CALLOWAY: I sold newspapers, I galloped racehorses, I walked hots, and I waited on tables, I shined shoes, and I picked tomatoes. There's hardly anything that I haven't done. JAMES DAY: But you went through school and to college. CAB CALLOWAY: That's pretty hard. JAMES DAY: You say you've always sung, did you sing professionally as a youngster at all? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, when I was in high school. I, matter of fact I hated it. Worked in a stock company there, at the Regents Theater in Baltimore, and I used to sing and do the, participate in the show doing lines with the- I was quite an actor. JAMES DAY: Its nothing like you did in later years I suppose. CAB CALLOWAY: No. no, nothing like that. JAMES DAY: Did you have I suppose a good many kids have grown up with Cab Calloway as their hero and model, did you have your own heroes and models in music in those days. People that are your particular favorites? You wanted to be like? CAB CALLOWAY: Well I was lucky to have to have to find someone and to be with someone who I admired. And that was Louie Armstrong, he was working in this club in Chicago. And I just thought he was the greatest thing in the world. He, I loved his what he sang and blew that horn. JAMES DAY: Were you acquainted with him at this point? CAB CALLOWAY: Oh yes, sure, yes. He had the band there in the Sunset, he was blowing. Of course every time he'd turn around I was up on the bandstand. JAMES DAY: What were you doing up on the bandstand? CAB CALLOWAY: Singing. I later tried, I was master of ceremonies in the show and then I, while there, I mean, I got my first taste of getting in the band business. It was there that they had an orchestra follow Louie in, and Earl Hines and then they were there. Called the Alabamians. JAMES DAY: Why? You were from Baltimore and Chicago why'd you call it the Alabamians? CAB CALLOWAY: No I didn't call it the Alabamians, the band was already, the band came in, it followed Louie Armstrong, you know to play the shows, a different band. But the name of the band was the Alabamians. And it was an incorporate band. But they had a, they had the leader of this band was a violinist. Very stiff sort of guy, couldn't make this band really cook the way it should to see so- I'd always, I'd jumped up front of the band and gave it the business I would be carryon on. So while they were there, I stayed with this band and worked in there for quite a few months and they finally decided to let the band go and I told them that, you know, guys I'd go with them if they'd take me as a leader and conductor and they said, so they agreed, finally agreed. Let the band leader go, and I took the band over. JAMES DAY: Became your band then? CAB CALLOWAY: Became, no it was still the Alabamians. JAMES DAY: Still the Alabamians, but you were their leader. CAB CALLOWAY: Cab Calloway, didn't mean a thing. But it was with this band. When we came out to Sunset we were playing around Chicago, there were different ballrooms; Cinderella Ballroom and the Marigold Merry Gardens Ballroom, the Savoy Ballroom, all those different places round there. We got a shot to come to New York, play in the Savoy. JAMES DAY: That's the big time. CAB CALLOWAY: Yeah. Yes, that was it, that's what we really wanted to do, I mean, because everybody was, had to get to New York. Anyway we got this gig, we came on into New York to the Savoy Ballroom and we got to the Savoy Ballroom of course that was known as the land of happy feet. That's where everybody really knocked themselves out dancing and so what not. We had this strictly jive music, this jazz that they danced to. And with that beat this band we didn't have it. JAMES DAY: What happened? CAB CALLOWAY: What happened, we only stayed there two weeks. Because when we opened we had our two weeks notice right then and there. We were finished. So that's, what exactly happened. JAMES DAY: So you weren't in the big time in that particular step were you? CAB CALLOWAY: No, but doing the chorus of our time there, I mean we were playing, trying to play this jazz that we should have been playing for these dances. We sort of got into a bit. But anyway it wound up with a battle of jazz. Between Cecil Scott I think it was, Cecil Scott, the Missourians and the Alabamians. But the main band was the Missourians. So the Missourians had a leader in front of their band called, his name was Lockwood Lewis. He was a, sort of the same type that was in before the Alabamians. But through this battle of music of course and it wound down that the Missourians outplayed the Alabamians and the leader out did their leader. The Alabamians leader out did the. JAMES DAY: I see, you came out ahead on that one. CAB CALLOWAY: That's right. JAMES DAY: You went. Oh excuse me. CAB CALLOWAY: And it was quite a feat because I mean this Missourian band was the top band around at the Savoy Ballroom. And to really out do them was something, it was really quite an accomplishment. JAMES DAY: You left the band and then went on the stage. CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, two weeks, after the two weeks was up, I mean the band, we broke up. I stayed in New York and they went on back to Chicago. And then it was at that time of course I had to have some work. You know, cause I had to make it. That's when I went down to see Louie Armstrong who was playing in Connie's Inn there in Harlem and I went down to see if I could get a job with his band, as vocalist. That was really putting my neck out, you know trying to really make it, to be a singer in Louie Armstrong's band, he's got his band he does all the singing himself. That's pretty tough, but I took a shot at it, and he told me since well your, he was doubling in a show he was doing a show also on Broadway, Connie's Hot Chocolates, he said no but they need a singer in the show. He says, I'll talk to Connie and see if he'll listen to you, and if you come up you can grab this signing job in the show. I did, I had an audition with Connie right there in Connie's Inn I sang for him. He liked me, he says okay, so he put me in the show. JAMES DAY: You had a lucky break in that show didn't you? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, because I was singing the hip number there, the "Ain't Misbehaving" and "Sweet Savannah Sue" and- JAMES DAY: How does "Ain't Misbehaving" go? CAB CALLOWAY: ♪No one to talk with, all by myself♪ ♪I'm happy on the shelf♪ JAMES DAY: That will bring lots of memories back. CAB CALLOWAY: Yeah, well that was a Fats Waller tune, he, Fats Waller and Andy Razaf they wrote that. Matter of fact, that wrote the whole show. And course the show, I stayed in the show on Broadway for oh a few months, and then they went out on the road. And then I went out on the road with the show. Meantime the Savoy people were trying to get me to come back to take the Missourians band. So I said no I can't make this, I mean I'm doing all right with this show, I got this job in the show and I wouldn't even consider it. But they kept after me, and kept after me. Until they finally convinced me to come back and take the Missourians. So I did, I left the show and came back to take the Missourians, and Missourians were supposed to open in a new club there in Harlem called the Plantation Days, the Plantation Club that's what it was, Plantation, on 126th street. And we rehearsed, rehearsed for about 2-3 weeks for the show and for the grand opening and everything. So it got to the grand opening, and we rehearsed that afternoon before the show that night and we went home, had a full dinner came back to the show that night, and we came back the club that night, the club was positively demolished. There was nothing there. They ripped the club to pieces, all the music, the costumes and everything and so. They never got open, that didn't happen. So there I was with a band, with a band here now and nothing to do. So the Savoy people they put us back in the Savoy for a while. Then we started to working around at little clubs around town. And it was doing the tour of these clubs, different clubs in and around New York that I wound up at a club on Broadway, a place called the Crazy Cat Club. JAMES DAY: This before you had your own band? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, this was the Missourians yes. JAMES DAY: Oh, I see. Then there's a transition where you got your own band and into the Cotton Club? CAB CALLOWAY: That was after I got into the Cotton Club they become my band. JAMES DAY: And I think it was at the Cotton Club where you played for 10 years that your fame really began to- CAB CALLOWAY: Yes. JAMES DAY: To blossom. And you alternated with Duke Ellington in those days. CAB CALLOWAY: That's right. JAMES DAY: And that's, I guess you became famous for "St. James Infirmary" during those years. CAB CALLOWAY: "St. James Infirmary", "Minnie the Moocher". JAMES DAY: That was "Minnie the Moocher" that came along. CAB CALLOWAY: "Kicking the Gong Around". JAMES DAY: But you wrote "Minnie the Moocher" didn't you? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes. JAMES DAY: That's the thing that you became really identified with. How did that hi-de hi-de-ho begin to- CAB CALLOWAY: Well that was really an accident. I rehearsed this number, song that I was going to do with the band and when I did the song, that night in front of an audience, I forgot the lyrics. And I just threw in the skippy bit, the hi-de-ho, and gee they thought that was so great, I mean it was just a thing you know, so Jimmy and I said well this is something else, and I'll try this again. So I did, I tried it, so then I needed a theme song to come on the air, on the radio, so I said I'll write, I think I'll write a song for a theme song. We were using, I think, "St. James Infirmary" so I sort of patterned this thing around "St. James Infirmary", and came out with "Minnie the Moocher". ♪ [Music Playing] ♪ JAMES DAY: Do you recall the first night that you did that and the reaction of the audience? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes it was a thrill; well it was the greatest love I ever had. JAMES DAY: Was it? CAB CALLOWAY: The greatest I've ever had, and when I got the audience to join in with it. Oh gee, that was something. JAMES DAY: Was that a spontaneous idea to get the audience. CAB CALLOWAY: Well I had the band you see, the band used to sing the answers, and then I later- JAMES DAY: Got the audience mixed up. CAB CALLOWAY: That of course, Minnie's been good to me she's carried me a long, long way. JAMES DAY: Audiences still call for it? Don't they? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes. I still do "Minnie the Moocher", every night, every time I perform in front of an audience I still do "Minnie the Moocher". JAMES DAY: I wonder what it counts for the longevity of songs like that? They never seem to wear out. A lot of songs do wear out. CAB CALLOWAY: Well I don't know, I can't tell you exactly how that happens. Or why it happens. But it's the song being part of me. I mean, it just keeps going because I keep going. JAMES DAY: Mr. Calloway you played in the revival of "Porgy and Bess" not in the original, and yet I've understand that George Gershwin wrote that part of "Sportin Life" for you. Why didn't you play in the original? CAB CALLOWAY: The reason I couldn't play, because it was my first trip to Europe. First time I ever went to Europe and I had this contract to go there and I wouldn't give that up for nothing in the world. And Gershwin had approached me, I said no I just can't do it, I can't do it. JAMES DAY: How did you feel when you finally stepped into that part, did it feel pretty natural? CAB CALLOWAY: Felt as great as I ever felt in my life. I tell you, it seemed like it was just, I was just living myself like this. Everything I've ever done it was right there. JAMES DAY: Are there other things you wanted to play on the stage? You've been in "Pajama Game" and "Hello Dolly", other things that seem to suit Cab Calloway that you'd like to step in? CAB CALLOWAY: No, there's never been any part that I would have liked to have played, I've played a lot of part but I've never seen one that I said yeah I'd like to be doing that. No, I haven't. Never had anything like that. JAMES DAY: Do you still get the same thrill out of performing that you did in those days when you had those tremendous audience reactions? CAB CALLOWAY: Yes, I do, I get the same, same feeling. JAMES DAY: You don't look back? Nostalgic for those old days, say I wish we had the big bands and so on? CAB CALLOWAY: No, no. And they're after me too, to get a big band to come back. JAMES DAY: Why wouldn't you? CAB CALLOWAY: I don't, because I'm doing all right. Well I don't think I want to do it because its. I'm so wrapped up in what I'm doing now. And I've done it all now for so long. And it would be a nostalgic thing to bring a band back. I tried it a few years ago, but I don't think I can. JAMES DAY: It isn't part of this time. CAB CALLOWAY: No, it just isn't. It just isn't. JAMES DAY: Is it important to keep up with times? CAB CALLOWAY: Oh yes, very, very important to keep up with the times. I've kept up; I've kept up with the times. JAMES DAY: How do you feel about today's music? CAB CALLOWAY: I like the country music, I like the rock, the hard rock I can't go too much for the hard rock. But just good solid rock, I mean, there are some good songs, great songs; great music came out of rock and country. And I like them, I like them both and I do them both. JAMES DAY: Did you have any one single break in your career that made it? Or one single person that made that break for you? CAB CALLOWAY: Well I think the break that I got was when I went into the Cotton Club with the band. That was the greatest break I ever had. JAMES DAY: That was no accident. CAB CALLOWAY: No, they wanted me in there. I went in, and then I was a hit. And I kept going from there. So that, that was my big break. But I was fortunate that I had the talent to go along with it. JAMES DAY: Thank you very much. ♪ [Theme Music] ♪



Early years

Calloway was born in Rochester, New York, on Christmas Day in 1907 to an African American[1] upper-middle-class family. His mother, Martha Eulalia Reed, was a Morgan State College graduate, teacher, and church organist. His father, Cabell Calloway, Jr., graduated from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania[2] in 1898,[3] and worked as a lawyer and in real estate. The family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, when Cab was 11.[4]

Cab Calloway grew up as an adolescent in a middle-class household in West Baltimore's Sugar Hill area, considered the political, cultural and business hub of black society. Early on, his parents recognized their son's musical talent, and he began private voice lessons in 1922. He continued to study music and voice throughout his formal schooling. Despite his parents' and teachers' disapproval of jazz, Calloway began frequenting and performing in many of Baltimore's nightclubs. As a result, he came into contact with many of the local jazz luminaries of the time. He counted among his early mentors drummer Chick Webb and pianist Johnny Jones.

Calloway attended Frederick Douglass High School. He played basketball, at the guard position, both for the high school and for the professional Baltimore Athenians team.[5] He graduated in 1925.[4][6]

After graduation Calloway joined his older sister, Blanche, in a touring production of the popular Black musical revue, Plantation Days. (Blanche Calloway became an accomplished bandleader before her brother did, and he would often credit her as his inspiration for entering show business). His parents had hopes of their son becoming an attorney following after his father, so Calloway enrolled at Crane College in Chicago. His main interest, however, was in singing and entertaining, and he spent most of his nights at Chicago's Dreamland Ballroom, the Sunset Cafe, and the Club Berlin, performing as a drummer, singer and MC. At the Sunset Café, Calloway cut his teeth as an understudy for singer Adelaide Hall.[7] Here he met and performed with Louis Armstrong, who taught him to sing in the "scat" style. He eventually left school to sing with a band called the Alabamians.[8]


In 1930 Calloway took over a band called "The Missourians"; later on, they renamed it "Cab Calloway and His Orchestra". The Cotton Club in New York's Harlem was the premier jazz venue in the country. In 1931 Calloway and his orchestra were hired as a replacement for the Duke Ellington Orchestra while it was touring. (Calloway's group had joined Duke Ellington and Mills Blue Rhythm Band as another of the jazz groups handled by Irving Mills.)

Calloway quickly proved so popular that his band became the "co-house" band with Ellington's, and his group began touring nationwide when not playing the Cotton Club. Their popularity was greatly enhanced by the twice-weekly live national radio broadcasts on NBC from the Cotton Club. Calloway also appeared on Walter Winchell's radio program and with Bing Crosby in his show at New York's Paramount Theatre. As a result of these appearances, Calloway, together with Ellington, broke the major broadcast network color barrier.[citation needed]

Like other bands fronted by a singing bandleader, Calloway initially gave ample soloist space to its lead members and, through the varied arrangements of Walter "Foots" Thomas, provided much more in the way of musical interest. Many of his records were "vocal specialties" with Calloway's vocals taking up the majority of the record.

In 1931 Calloway recorded his most famous song, "Minnie the Moocher". That song, along with "St. James Infirmary Blues" and "The Old Man of the Mountain", were performed for the Betty Boop animated shorts Minnie the Moocher (1932), Snow White (1933), and The Old Man of the Mountain (1933), respectively. Through rotoscoping, Calloway performed voiceover for these cartoons, but his dance steps were the basis of the characters' movements. He took advantage of this, timing concerts in some communities to coincide with the release of the films in order to make the most of the publicity.

As a result of the success of "Minnie the Moocher", Calloway became identified with its chorus, gaining the nickname "The Hi De Ho Man". He also performed in the 1930s in a series of short films for Paramount. (Calloway's and Ellington's groups were featured on film more than any other jazz orchestras of the era.) In these films, Calloway can be seen performing a gliding backstep dance move, which some observers have described as the precursor to Michael Jackson's "moonwalk". Calloway said 50 years later, "it was called The Buzz back then."[9] The 1933 film International House featured Calloway performing his classic song, "Reefer Man", a tune about a man who favors marijuana cigarettes.[10]

Calloway made his "first proper Hollywood movie appearance" opposite Al Jolson in The Singing Kid in 1936. He sang a number of duets with Jolson, and the film included Calloway's band and cast of 22 Cotton Club dancers from New York.[11] According to music historian Arthur Knight, the film aimed in part "to both erase and celebrate boundaries and differences, including most emphatically the color line." He also notes that "when Calloway begins singing in his characteristic style – in which the words are tools for exploring rhythm and stretching melody – it becomes clear that American culture is changing around Jolson and with (and through) Calloway".[12][13]:watch

Calloway's was one of the most popular American jazz bands of the 1930s, recording prolifically for Brunswick and the ARC dime store labels (Banner, Cameo, Conqueror, Perfect, Melotone, Banner, Oriole, etc.) from 1930 to 1932, when he signed with RCA Victor for a year. He was back on Brunswick in late 1934 through 1936, when he signed with manager Irving Mills's short-lived Variety in 1937. He stayed with Mills when the label collapsed during the Great Depression. Their sessions were continued on Vocalion through 1939, and then OKeh Records through 1942. After an AFM recording ban due to the 1942-44 musicians' strike ended, Calloway continued to record prolifically.

Calloway's vocal style is a blend of hot scat singing and improvisation, coupled with a very traditional vaudeville-like singing style. Many of his ballads are devoid of tone-bending jazz styling.[citation needed]

In 1941 Calloway fired Dizzy Gillespie from his orchestra after an onstage fracas erupted when Calloway was hit with spitballs. He wrongly accused Gillespie, who stabbed Calloway in the leg with a small knife.[14]

In 1943 Calloway appeared in the high-profile 20th Century Fox musical film Stormy Weather. Stormy Weather was one of the first films that featured an all-star black cast.[15]

In 1944 The New Cab Calloway's Hepsters Dictionary: Language of Jive was published, an update of an earlier book in which Calloway set about translating jive for fans who might not know, for example, that "kicking the gong around" was a reference to smoking opium.

Calloway and his band starred in Hi-De-Ho (1947), an all-black full-length film directed by Josh Binney. Caricatures of Calloway appeared in the Porky Pig cartoons Porky at the Crocadero and Swooner Crooner.

The band also formed its own barnstorming baseball and basketball teams during the 1930s, starring Calloway, Milt Hinton, Chu Berry, Benny Payne and Dizzy Gillespie.[16][17]

In the late 1940s, Calloway wrote a regular humorous pseudo-gossip column called "Coastin' With Cab" for Song Hits Magazine. It was a collection of celebrity snippets such as the following in the May 1946 issue: "Benny Goodman was dining at Ciro's steak house in New York when a very homely girl entered. 'If her face is her fortune,' Benny quipped, 'she'd be tax-free'." In the late 1940s, however, Cab Calloway's bad financial decisions as well as his gambling caused his band to break up.[8]

Later years

During the late 1940s, Calloway lived with his wife Zulme "Nuffie" and family in Long Beach on the South Shore of Long Island, New York on the border with neighboring Lido Beach. In the 1950s, Calloway moved his family to Westchester County, New York, where he and Nuffie raised their daughters Chris, Cecelia (Lael), and Cabella Calloway.

In his later career, Calloway appeared in a number of films and stage productions that used both his acting and singing talents. In 1952, he played the prominent role of "Sportin' Life" in a production of the Gershwin opera, Porgy and Bess, with William Warfield and Leontyne Price as the title characters. Another notable role was "Yeller" in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), with Steve McQueen, Ann-Margret, and Edward G. Robinson.

One of Cab Calloway's zoot suits on display in Baltimore's City Hall, October 2007
One of Cab Calloway's zoot suits on display in Baltimore's City Hall, October 2007

Calloway appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on March 19, 1967, with his daughter Chris Calloway.[18] In 1967, Calloway co-starred opposite Pearl Bailey as Horace Vandergelder in an all-black cast change of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway during its original run. Chris Calloway also joined the cast as Minnie Fay.[19] The new cast revived the flagging business for the show[20] and RCA Victor released a new cast recording, rare for the time. In 1973–74, Calloway was featured in an unsuccessful Broadway revival of The Pajama Game alongside Hal Linden and Barbara McNair.

His autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me (Crowell), was published in 1976. It included his complete Hepsters Dictionary as an appendix.

Renewed interest in Calloway occurred in 1980 when he appeared in the hit film The Blues Brothers, performing "Minnie the Moocher." He also sang "The Jumpin' Jive" and "Hi De Ho Man" with the Two-Headed Monster on the children's TV series Sesame Street. This also was the year the cult movie Forbidden Zone was released, which included rearrangements of, and homages to, Calloway songs written by Calloway fan Danny Elfman, performed by Elfman and his band, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.

Calloway helped establish the Cab Calloway Museum at Coppin State College (Baltimore, Maryland) in the 1980s. Comedian and actor Bill Cosby helped establish a scholarship in Calloway's name at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan.

In 1985, Cab and his Orchestra appeared at The Ritz London Hotel where he was filmed for a 60-minute BBC TV show called The Cotton Club comes to the Ritz; Adelaide Hall, Doc Cheatham, Max Roach, and the Nicholas Brothers also appeared on the bill.[21][22]

In 1986, Calloway appeared at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)'s WrestleMania 2 as a guest judge for a boxing match between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. T; it took place at the Nassau Coliseum. Also in 1986, Calloway headlined to great success a gala ball for 4,000 celebrating the grand opening of the Rosewood Hotel Co.'s Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas, Texas. A performance with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra directed by Erich Kunzel in August 1988 was recorded on video and features a classic presentation of "Minnie the Moocher," 57 years after he first recorded it.[23]

In 1990, he was the focus of Janet Jackson's 1930s-themed music video "Alright", and he made a cameo appearance playing himself. In the United Kingdom, Calloway appeared in several commercials for the Hula Hoops snack, both as himself and as a voice for a cartoon (in one of these commercials he sang his hit "Minnie The Moocher"). He also made an appearance at the Apollo Theatre.

Cab enjoyed his final years as a celebrated and well-loved member of a retirement community in northern Delaware (between, and short train rides from, his beloved Baltimore and New York City). In 1994, a creative and performing arts school, the Cab Calloway School of the Arts, was dedicated in his name in Wilmington, Delaware.

On June 12, 1994, Calloway suffered a severe stroke. He died five months later on November 18, 1994, at age 86. His body was cremated and his ashes were given to his family. Upon the death of his wife Zulme "Nuffie" Calloway on October 13, 2008, his ashes were interred next to her in the Rosewood mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

A profile of Calloway, Cab Calloway: Sketches, aired on the PBS program American Masters in February 2012.


  • In 1993, the University of Rochester presented Calloway with the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts
  • In 1993, he was presented with the National Medal of Arts[24]
  • In 1998, The Cab Calloway Orchestra (directed by Calloway's grandson C. "CB" Calloway Brooks)[25] was formed to honor his legacy on the national and international levels.

Selected awards and recognitions

Grammy history

Year Category Title Label Result Notes
2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree
1999 Grammy Hall of Fame Award "Minnie the Moocher" Brunswick (1931) Inducted Jazz (Single)

Other honors

Year Category Title Result Notes
1987 Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame[26] Inducted
1967 Best Performances Outer Critics Circle Awards Winner Hello, Dolly Musical


Charting singles

Title Chart positions[27][28]
1930 "Saint Louis Blues (song)" 16
1931 "Minnie the Moocher" 1
"Saint James Infirmary" 3
"Nobody's Sweetheart" 13
"Six or Seven Times" 14
"You Rascal, You" 17
"Kicking the Gong Around" 4
"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" 15
"Tickeration" 8
1932 "Cabin in the Cotton" 17
"Strictly Cullud Affair" 11
"Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day" 8
"Reefer Man" 11
"Hot Toddy" 14
"I've Got the World on a String" 18
1933 "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" 17
1934 "Jitter Bug" 20
"Moon Glow" 7
"Chinese Rhythm" 7
1935 "Keep That Hi-De-Hi in Your Soul" 20
1936 "You're the Cure for What Ails Me" 20
"Copper Colored Gal" 13
1937 "Wake up and Live" 17
"Congo" 17
"Peckin'" 18
"She's Tall, She's Tan, She's Terrific" 17
"Moon at Sea" 19
"Mama, I want to Make Rhythm" 20
1938 "Every Day's a Holiday" 18
"Mister Toscanini, Swing for Minnie" 19
"F.D.R. Jones" 14
"Angels With Dirty Faces" 3
1939 "The Ghost of Smokey Joe" 13
"(Hep Hep!) The Jumping Jive" 2
1940 "Fifteen Minute Intermission" 23
1941 "Bye Bye Blues" 24
"Geechee Joe" 23
"I See a Million People" 23
1942 "Blues in the Night" 8
1943 "Ogeechee River Lullaby" 18
1944 "The Moment I Laid My Eyes on You" 28
1945 "Let's Take the Long Way Home" 28
1946 "The Honeydripper" 3
1948 "The Calloway Boogie" 13
1966 "History Repeats Itself" 89


Stage performances
Year Show title Location Role Notes
1953 Porgy and Bess Ziegfeld Theatre, New York City drug dealing Sportin’ Life.[29][30]
1967 Hello, Dolly! St. James Theatre, New York City Horace Vandergelder Cast replacement in Nov 12, 1967[31]
1973–1974 The Pajama Game Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York City Hines
1976–1977 Bubbling Brown Sugar ANTA Playhouse, New York City Calloway provided music [31]
1986 Uptown...It's Hot! Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York City Calloway provided music [31]



Calloway, Cab and Rollins, Bryant - Of Minnie the Moocher and Me—Autobiography of Cab Calloway, with family recollections, family photos, photos of band members, and Cab's Hipster's Dictionary. Published by TY Crowell, New York City, 1976.

External video
Cab Calloway as Bandleader (Van Vechten portrait -2).jpg
Cab Calloway, American Masters, PBS (one hour)[32]
  1. ^ "Cab Calloway, timeless top-flight musician and singer - African American Registry". African American Registry. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  2. ^ Shipton, Alyn. Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  3. ^ Lincoln University of Pennsylvania Alumni Directory 1995. Harris Publishing Co. 1995, p. 142.
  4. ^ a b Zurawik, David (February 27, 2012). "PBS treats Baltimore's Cab Calloway as an American Master". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore Sun Media Group. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  5. ^ Smith, Linell; Rasmussen, Fred (November 20, 1994). "Cab Calloway's memoirs tell story of growing up in a segregated Baltimore". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  6. ^ "Alumni". The Historic Frederick Douglass High School. Baltimore County Public School. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  7. ^ "Cab Calloway". Songfacts. Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Jazz Profiles from NPR: Cab Calloway". NPR. Produced by Dan Gediman, Written by David Ossman. National Public Radio. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  9. ^ DiLorenzo, Kris (April 1985). "The Arts. Dance: Michael Jackson did not invent the Moonwalk". The Crisis. 92 (4): 143. ISSN 0011-1422. Shoot ... We did that back in the 1930s! Only it was called The Buzz back then.
  10. ^ "Works of Cab Calloway, Jazz Artist". Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  11. ^ Shipton, Alyn. Hi-de-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway, Oxford University Press (2010), p. 97.
  12. ^ Knight, Arthur. Disintegrating the Musical: Black Performance and American Musical Film, Duke University Press (2002), pp. 72–76.
  13. ^ "Jolson and Cab Calloway in 'The Singing Kid'" Archived August 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., A Tribute to Al Jolson.
  14. ^ Alyn Shipton. Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie. p. 74. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  15. ^ "Cab Calloway: Sketches — Timeline: Major Events in Cab's Life | American Masters". PBS. February 21, 2012. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  16. ^ Photograph of Cab Calloway's band's team, NLBE Museum, Kansas State University
  17. ^ "Cab Calloway" Archived September 28, 2013, at the Wayback Machine., Jazz Biographies.
  18. ^ Weideman, Paul (August 8, 2008). "Chris Calloway, 1945–2008: Jazz diva gracious in battle with cancer: Singer, bandleader knew 'show must go on'". The New Mexican. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  19. ^ Lipton, Brian Scott (12 August 2008). "Chris Calloway Dies at 62". TheaterMania. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  20. ^ Diller, Phyllis; Buskin, Richard (2005). Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy. New York: Penguin Group. pp. 210–11. ISBN 1-58542-396-3. Phyllis Diller was later cast in the lead of Hello, Dolly! In her memoir she commented on other cast changes by David Merrick to revive business for the show.
  21. ^ "The Cotton Club remembered (Videotape)" (retrieved 6 September 2014).
  22. ^ "Jazz on the Screen — A jazz and blues filmography by David Meeker: OMNIBUS series Episode The Cotton Club comes to the Ritz", Library of Congress (retrieved 6 September 2014).
  23. ^ Cab Calloway Singing Minnie The Moocher (Live 1988) on YouTube
  24. ^ Lifetime Honors — National Medal of Arts Archived August 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ "Calloway Orchestra". Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  26. ^ "Four Simple Steps to Enjoying Jazz Online". Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  27. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories. Record Research Inc. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  28. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2006). Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits. Billboard Books. p. 82. ISBN 0-8230-8283-0.
  29. ^ "Porgy and Bess: A New Theatrical Take on a Controversial Tale". EBONY. 2016-07-22. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  30. ^ "Porgy and Bess – Broadway Musical – 1953 Revival". Internet Broadway Database, The Broadway League. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  31. ^ a b c "Cab Calloway – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  32. ^ "Cab Calloway". American Masters. PBS. 1999. Retrieved February 1, 2013.

External links

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