Cab, The Legacy


Cab Calloway — the legendary “Hi De Ho” man — was an energetic showman, gifted singer, talented actor and trendsetter.  A truly “larger than life” figure in American pop culture, immortalized in cartoons and caricatures, Calloway also led one of the greatest bands of the Swing Era.

The middle-class Calloway family hoped their son would become a lawyer like his father. But young Cabell, born in Rochester, New York, on Christmas Day in 1907, and raised primarily in Baltimore, Maryland, wanted to be an entertainer. Cab did attend law school in Chicago, but the hours past sunset found him performing in local nighclubs.

It was in such a club where he met trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who taught him to sing in the scat style. Calloway’s oldest sister Blanche was also a professional singer, and she helped him land a stage role on the road with the “Plantation Days” revue in 1925.


Eventually, Cab left law school to sing with a band called the Alabamians. While on the road, the group went head-to-head, (and state vs. state!) in a battle-of-the-bands with a mid-west ensemble, the Missourians. After the dust settled, The Missourians had won —  Cab would later join and then   lead the group.


In 1930, the Cotton Club emerged as a hip new club in Harlem known for its lavish stage shows and talented musicians like Duke Ellington (left). Cab’s singing and showmanship captured the attention of the owner and his band was hired to replace the Ellington’s band.

In 1931, Cab and his manager, Irvin Mills, put together a song that will forever be identified with Calloway — “Minnie The Moocher.” The tune sold over one million copies and the group soon broke every existing record for all-black band audiences.Listen to saxophonist and arranger Walter “Foots” Thomas talk about how the band got its big break at the Cotton Club

Listen to saxophonist and arranger Walter “Foots” Thomas talk about how the band got its big break at the Cotton Club



The success of “Minnie the Moocher” and its steady gig at the Cotton Club had Cab’s big band in constant demand. The group spent quite a bit of time on the road and when racism reared its ugly head Cab used proceeds from the Cotton Club and “Minnie” money to travel lavishly by chartered train.

By the late 1930s, Cab’s band was one of the top grossing acts in jazz and had become a proving ground for such young talents as Dizzy Gillespie, Ben Webster, Cozy Cole, Chu Berry and Doc Cheatham. However, by the late ’40s, Cab’s bad financial decisions — and gambling — caught up with him, and the band broke up.

Cab went back to playing in small clubs and eventually landed a part in the Broadway play Porgy and Bess as the character Sportin Life — a role Calloway would claim that George Gershwin based on him. The show was a huge success, breathing much-needed new life into Calloway’s career.


Gunther Schuller sums up Calloway’s brilliance as an entertainer: “People still remember Cab Calloway as a dancer and vaudevillian with his wonderful white tuxedos and all of that — and, as a great, great showman.”Cab’s scat singing, dancing, comedic personality and flashy elegance had made him a star and a million-selling recording artist. He continued to perform right up until his death in 1994 at the age of 88.

Listen to Murray explain Calloway’s importance in jazz history

Jazz Profiles from NPR



A guide to club hopping in Harlem, circa 1932

A Whimsical Map just acquired by the Beinecke Library


It was a time, wrote Langston Hughes, “when the Negro was in vogue.” In the 1920s and early ’30s, the arts flourished in Harlem, and African American artists in all genres flocked to uptown New York. What we now call the “Harlem Renaissance” became famous—and drew tourists. E. Simms Campbell’s 1932 Night-Club Map of Harlem serves as both guide and commentary on the time.

Featuring Harlem’s storied venues, including the Cotton Club, Connie’s Inn, Smalls Paradise, and the Savoy Ballroom, the map offers advice to the same audience that Irving Berlin encouraged to head uptown in “Putting on the Ritz.” At Club Hot-cha, “nothing happens before 2 a.m. Ask for Clarence.” Tillie’s “specializes in fried chicken—and it’s really good!” Street vendors include the Peanut Man, the Crab Man, and the Reefer Man, who sells “Marihuana cigarettes” at two for 25 cents.

The largest figure on the map is Cab Calloway, whose “HO-DE-HI-DE-HO” floats out into the night. A close friend of Campbell’s, Calloway had the map printed as the endpapers to his 1976 autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me.

See full article: http://millzone.com/club-hopping/