Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Cabell Calloway, 25 Dec. '07, Rochester NY; d 18 Nov. '94) 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 Chicago club circuit. Toured with 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 band the Missourians; appeared in Connie's Hot Chocolates '29; that year fronted band 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 incl. Big Broadcast Of 1932, International House '33, Manhattan Merry-Go-Round '37, Stormy Weather '43, Sensations Of '45 '44, others. Records 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. Signed to Victor late '33; long-term pianist (and vibist) was Benny Payne, later accompanist to Billy Daniels. Toured Europe '34 incl. 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 incl. 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 as well as Milt Hinton on bass (since '36), others incl. 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 incl. 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 sextet, visited UK that year; re-formed 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, tour beginning Dallas June '52 (London Oct. that year) until Aug. '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 hit all-black version of Hello, Dolly! NYC '67 as Horace Vandergelder; daughter Chris played Minnie Fay. Autobiography published Of Minnie The Moocher And Me '76. New generation of fans from '80 film The Blues Brothers (sang 'Moocher'); guest spot on Muppets TV show; in show Bubbling Brown Sugar; 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; sang 'Blues In The Night'; Cotton Club Revisited tour of North America '85 with Chris, who has done club work, was married to Hugh Masekela, 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 infl. new jump/jive bands '80s, Joe Jackson, etc. Album The Hi-De-Ho Man '58 on RCA with big band incl. Hinton, Joe Wilder, Urbie Green on trombone, J. C. Heard on drums (b 8 Oct. '17, Dayton OH); other LPs on Coral and Glendale late '50s. Compilations of classic stuff on several labels incl. MCA, Columbia, Classics, French RCA Tribune series; Penguin Swing by Chu Berry and Cab Calloway and His Orchestra on Jazz Archive has 16 superb tracks by the '37--41 band.