Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Cabell Calloway, 25 December 1907, Rochester NY; d 18 November 1994) Singer, bandleader, exuberant entertainer: the scat-singing, zootsuited Highness of Hi-De-Ho and an incalculable influence. Raised in Baltimore, he sang in the Baltimore Melody Boys, attended law school, quit to work the Chicago club circuit. He toured with his sister Blanche Calloway's band: she was a star late '20s, a popular singer who even looked like Cab, but was soon eclipsed by his fame, ignored by booking agencies in his favour: she employed good musicians '30s but went bankrupt. She made about 30 sides '25-35, some issued as 'Fred Armstrong and his Syncopators'. Ironically, others were used to trade on the name after Cab became famous: brother Elmer did not play or sing but fronted a band for a promoter; Jean and/or Ruth Calloway was not even related. Cab fronted a band called the Missourians; appeared in Connie's Hot Chocolates '29; that year fronted the Alabamians at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom; then Missourians again, changed name to Cab Calloway and Orchestra, followed Duke Ellington into the Cotton Club, became famous '31-2 as Duke had, through broadcasts from the club. Cab and Duke also shared a manager, Irving Mills, who looked after them well, among the few black bands that never had to worry about where to sleep on the road: they had Pullman cars.

Films included The Big Broadcast Of 1932, International House '33, Manhattan Merry-Go-Round '37, Stormy Weather '43, Sensations Of '45 '44, others. Records were on Brunswick from '30: 'Minnie The Moocher', 'Kicking The Gong Around', both '31; 'The Scat Song', 'Reefer Man', 'Eadie Was A Lady', all '32; many more. He signed to Victor late '33; long-term pianist (and vibist) was Benny Payne, later accompanist to Billy Daniels. He toured Europe '34 including the UK, only the third black American band to do so, after Louis Armstrong and Duke. Cab's band was always very good, with Doc Cheatham, Ben Webster, Shad Collins etc '30s, Milt Hinton on bass from '36, but in '39-40 suddenly included Mario Bauza (replaced '41 by Jonah Jones), Dizzy Gillespie (sacked in a famous spitball incident '41; Collins came back and ex-Fletcher Henderson lead trumpeter Russell Smith was added); Hilton Jefferson (a superb section leader) and Chu Berry in the reeds, Danny Barker on guitar, Cozy Cole on drums, others including singer June Richmond (1915-62): with Benny Carter, Andy Gibson and Buster Harding arranging, it was as good as almost any band on the road, the novelties and jive vocals interspersed with instrumentals like 'Jonah Joins The Cab' and 'A Sm-o-o-oth One', featuring Jones supported by Cole (they had come together from Stuff Smith's combo), and 'Lonesome Nights' and 'Ghost Of A Chance' featuring the wonderful Berry (see his entry), as well as Gillespie's first recorded tune 'Pickin' The Cabbage'.

Cab's act was full of physical energy, long black hair flying; he made 'hi-de-ho' a national catchphrase, and published pamphlets including several editions of Hepster's Dictionary (the '44 edition containing possibly the first reference to NYC as 'the Big Apple'). And his ballad style was underrated, cf. 'You Are The One In My Heart' '41; the band's biggest hit was 'Blues In The Night' on OKeh, a top ten '42. One of the highest-earning bands '30s-40s; then 'Movies were in, small combos were in, be-bop was in, and big bands were out. I went from a guy whose gross was $200,000 a year to someone who couldn't get a booking.' He disbanded '48, led a sextet, visited the UK that year; re-formed the big band for special engagements, tours of Canada and South America. George Gershwin allegedly wrote the part of Sportin' Life in Porgy And Bess '35 for Calloway; he finally played it in revival, the tour beginning Dallas June '52 (London Oct. that year) until August '54; sometimes played in later productions. Films St Louis Blues '58, The Cincinnati Kid '65; occasionally appeared as part of Harlem Globetrotters interval show mid-'60s; with Pearl Bailey in a hit all-black version of Hello, Dolly! NYC '67 as Horace Vandergelder; daughter Chris played Minnie Fay. Autobiography Of Minnie The Moocher And Me was published '76.

There was a new generation of fans from '80 film The Blues Brothers (he sang 'Moocher'); guest spot on Muppets TV show; in show Bubbling Brown Sugar; he was portrayed by Larry Marshall in film The Cotton Club '84, featured 'Moocher', 'Lady With The Fan', 'Jitterbug', all his own comps. Made TV film The Cotton Club Comes To The Ritz at the London hotel, broadcast UK May '85; he sang 'Blues In The Night'. He did a Cotton Club Revisited tour of North America '85 with daughter Chris, who had been married to Hugh Masekela, and was inspired to carry on by Tina Turner and Carly Simon, 'who have given a whole new dimension to this over-35 business'. To say nothing of her father, who influenced new jump/jive bands '80s, Joe Jackson, etc. Album The Hi-De-Ho Man '58 on RCA had a big band including Hinton, Joe Wilder, Urbie Green on trombone, J. C. Heard on drums (b 8 October 1917, Dayton OH; d 27 September 1988); other LPs on Coral and Glendale late '50s. Compilations of classic stuff on several labels including MCA, Columbia, Classics, French RCA Tribune series; Penguin Swing by Chu Berry and Cab Calloway and His Orchestra on Jazz Archive had 16 superb tracks by the '37-41 band.

Chris Calloway (b 21 March 1945, Los Angeles; d 7 August 2008, Santa Fe NM) had sung with her dad's band, had her own band, worked clubs and was one of several singer/actresses who portrayed Billie Holiday in the one-woman show Lady Day At Emerson's Bar And Grill (in Dallas). She died after fighting breast cancer for 20 years.