Calloway, Cab

Calloway, Cab
orig. Cabell Calloway III

born Dec. 25, 1907, Rochester, N.Y., U.S.
died Nov. 18, 1994, Hockessin, Del.

U.S. singer and big-band leader.

He fronted his first group in 1928; it became the house band at Harlem's Cotton Club in 1931. An accomplished scat singer who combined audacious showmanship with prodigious vocal range and imagination, he became most identified with his hit "Minnie the Moocher" (1931). Exposure with his band launched the careers of many important jazz soloists. The composer George Gershwin modeled the character Sportin' Life in his musical Porgy and Bess (1935) on Calloway, who later performed the role himself.

Cab Calloway.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; The New York Public Library; Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

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▪ 1995

      (CABELL CALLOWAY III), U.S. entertainer (b. Dec. 25, 1907, Rochester, N.Y.—d. Nov. 18, 1994, Hockessin, Del.), plied his uniquely full and rich singing voice, swinging rhythms, and flamboyant stage manner to become one of the swing era's top bandleaders, then won further fame on the musical stage in notable revivals of Porgy and Bess and Hello, Dolly! His first hit record, "Minnie the Moocher" (1931), with Calloway and his band exchanging nonsense "hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho" lyrics, led to a series of successes with barely disguised drug ditties ("Reefer Man," "Kickin' the Gong Around") and Calloway-composed scat-singing tunes ("Zaz Zu Zaz," "Get That Hi-De-Ho in Your Soul"). Tall, clad in a tuxedo (usually white), his long black hair flying and wide mouth in a teeth-baring grin, he cavorted in front of his band in high-energy shows; he portrayed himself as the heppest of hep cats, talking "jive" language and instructing squares with his "Hepsters Dictionary" and "Swingformation Bureau" booklets. In an era of pallid, high-pitched male singers, Calloway stood out for his wide range and robust style, yet he was also a moving ballad singer on occasion. Raised in Baltimore, Md., he followed his sister, singer Blanche Calloway, to Chicago, where he briefly attended Crane College and sang in clubs. By 1929 he was in New York, performing on Broadway in Connie's Hot Chocolates. The next year his band began starring at The Cotton Club. He hired excellent musicians (including tenor saxophonists Ben Webster and Chu Berry and bassist Milt Hinton) and molded his band into a powerful, tightly disciplined unit. Abetted by radio, films (beginning with The Big Broadcast in 1932), and much touring, they remained one of the most popular jazz bands until the post-World War II decline of ballrooms and big bands. Calloway returned to the musical stage to play the charismatic hedonist Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess, touring the world in the opera's revival in the mid-1950s. He then portrayed Cornelius Vandergelder in the 1967 all-black revival of Hello, Dolly! Though semi-retired in the 1970s and '80s, he continued to play concerts and appeared in the film The Blues Brothers (1980). Calloway's autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, appeared in 1976.

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▪ American composer and singer
byname of  Cabell Calloway III  
born December 25, 1907, Rochester, New York, U.S.
died November 18, 1994, Hockessin, Delaware
 American bandleader, singer, and all-around entertainer known for his exuberant performing style and for leading one of the most highly regarded big bands of the swing era.

      After graduating from high school, Calloway briefly attended a law school in Chicago but quickly turned to performing in nightclubs as a singer. He began directing his own bands in 1928 and in the following year went to New York City. There he appeared in an all-black musical, Fats Waller (Waller, Fats)'s Connie's Hot Chocolates, in which he sang the Waller classic "Ain't Misbehavin'." In 1931 he was engaged as a bandleader at the Cotton Club; his orchestra, along with that of Duke Ellington (Ellington, Duke)'s, became one of the two house bands most associated with the legendary Harlem nightspot. In the same year, Calloway first recorded his most famous composition, "Minnie the Moocher," a song that showcased his ability at scat singing. Other Calloway hits from the 1930s include "Kickin' the Gong Around," "Reefer Man," "The Lady with the Fan," "Long About Midnight," "The Man from Harlem," and "Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day."

      Calloway was an energetic and humorous entertainer whose performance trademarks included eccentric dancing and wildly flinging his mop of hair; his standard accoutrements included a white tuxedo and an oversized baton. He was a talented vocalist with an enormous range and was regarded as “the most unusually and broadly gifted male singer of the '30s” by jazz scholar Gunther Schuller (Schuller, Gunther). Although his band rose to fame largely on the strength of his personal appeal, some critics felt that Calloway's antics drew focus away from one of the best assemblages of musicians in jazz. Calloway led a tight, professional unit during the early 1930s, but many regard his band of 1937–42 to be his best. Featured sidemen during those years included legendary jazz players such as pianist Bennie Payne, saxophonists Chu Berry and Ike Quebec, trombonist-vibraphonist Tyree Glenn, drummer Cozy Cole, and trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie (Gillespie, Dizzy), Doc Cheatham, Jonah Jones, and Shad Collins. The decline in popularity of big bands forced Calloway to disband his orchestra in 1948, and he continued for several years with a sextet.

      Calloway also had a successful side career as an actor. He appeared in several motion pictures, including The Big Broadcast (1932), Stormy Weather (1943), Sensations of 1945 (1944), and The Cincinnati Kid (1965). George Gershwin (Gershwin, George) had conceived the role of “Sportin' Life” in his 1935 jazz opera Porgy and Bess for Calloway; the entertainer finally got his chance at the part during a heralded world tour of the show in 1952–54. In the 1960s, Calloway appeared on Broadway and on tour in Hello, Dolly!, portraying the role of Horace Vandergelder opposite Pearl Bailey (Bailey, Pearl) as Dolly Levi, and he again starred on Broadway in the 1970s in the hit musical Bubbling Brown Sugar. His best-known acting performance was also his last, as a jive-talking music promoter in director John Landis's comedy The Blues Brothers (1980). The film featured Calloway singing "Minnie the Moocher" every bit as energetically and eccentrically as he had performed it in 1931.

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Universalium. 2010.

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