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Cab Calloway Was No Moocher


Cabell Calloway III was the son of two college graduates who recognized his musical talent; his mother - a teacher and church organist - and his lawyer father. Raised in Baltimore with formal musical training throughout his school years, he bypassed his parents' disapproval of Jazz to become the "heppest hep cat in the all the land."

Although Calloway's parents wanted him to become a lawyer he went on tour with the popular black musical revue, "Plantation Days" after high school. He did soon enter Crane College to please his parents but it was always music that moved him. After hours Calloway would play drums and sing in clubs until he finally left school to sing with a couple of different orchestras before buying out a failing band that he renamed Cab Calloway and His Orchestra.

The Cotton Club was America's premier Jazz club in the 1930s. The house band was Duke Ellington. That is until Ellington went out on tour and Calloway filled. The Cotton Club soon had co-house bands. Calloway and his band quickly gained widespread popularity, toured nationally and appeared regularly at The Cotton Club, including regular NBC radio broadcasts from the club. Calloway and Ellington became so popular that they hit mainstream radio on shows including Bing Crosby's - hence spearheading a breakdown of the color line in entertainment.


It was 1931 when the Calloway's signature song "Minnie the Moocher" was first recorded. Featuring the scat singing Calloway had learned from Louis Armstrong, the song has had a long life that included being a radio hit, a cartoon performance with Betty Boop, and a featured performance in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers.

It was far from his only hit, the second most famous probably being "St. James Infirmary."


The impressive range of Calloway's film career ran from the Al Jolson movie The Singing Kid' through the already mentioned Blues Brothers. He made film history in 1943 appearing in Stormy Weather which was the first major studio film with an all African-American cast.

The list of his accomplishments is WAY too long for this forum but I can't leave out the fact that he was awarded one of modern America's highest honors in 1980: He sang a duet with The Muppets.


When Cab Calloway passed away in 1994 he had sung, scatted and "jumpin' jived" his way into pretty much every hall of fame for which his substantial array of talents made him eligible. He won't be forgotten anytime I can imagine.

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