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Cabell "Cab" Calloway III (December 25, 1907 – November 18, 1994) was an American jazz singer and bandleader.
Calloway was a master of energetic scat singing and led one of the United States' most popular African American big bands from the start of the 1930s through the late 1940s. Calloway's band featured performers including trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus "Doc" Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon "Chu" Berry, New Orleans guitar ace Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton. Calloway continued to perform until his death in 1994 at the age of 86.
Biography Early years
After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School Calloway joined his older sister, Blanche, in a touring production of the popular black musical revue Plantation Days. (Blanche Calloway herself would become an accomplished bandleader before her brother, and he would often credit her as his inspiration for entering show business.) Calloway attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, but left in 1930 without graduating.
When the tour ended in Chicago in the fall, Calloway decided to remain in Chicago with his sister, who had an established career as a jazz singer in that city. His parents had hopes of their son becoming a lawyer like his father, so Calloway enrolled in Crane College. His main interest, however, was in singing and entertaining, and he spent most of his nights at the Dreamland Ballroom, the Sunset Cafe, and the Club Berlin, performing as a drummer, singer and emcee.
At the Sunset Cafe he met and performed with Louis Armstrong who taught him to sing in the "scat" style.
Cab Calloway, Radio Pictorial, 1934 cover of the English radio fan and listings magazine
Cab Calloway and The Cotton Club Orchestra, 1934 photo of His
High-de-Highness of Ho-de-Ho and the band
Like other bands fronted by a singing bandleader, Calloway initially gave ample soloist space to its lead members and, through the varied arrangements of Walter 'Foots' Thomas, provided much more in the way of musical interest. Many of his records were "vocal specialties" with Calloway's vocal taking up the majority of the record.
In 1931 he recorded his most famous song, "Minnie the Moocher". That song, along with "St. James Infirmary Blues" and "The Old Man Of The Mountain," were performed for the Betty Boop animated shorts Minnie the Moocher, Snow White and The Old Man of the Mountain, respectively. Through rotoscoping, Calloway not only gave his voice to these cartoons, but his dance steps as well. He took advantage of this and timed his concerts in some communities with the release of the films in order to make the most of the attention. As a result of the success of "Minnie the Moocher," he became identified with its chorus, gaining the nickname "The Hi De Ho Man". He also performed in a series of short films for Paramount in the 1930s. (Calloway and Ellington were featured on film more than any other jazz orchestras of the era.) In these films, Calloway can be seen performing a gliding backstep dance move, the precursor to Michael Jackson's "moonwalk"—Calloway said fifty years later, "it was called The Buzz back then." The 1933 film, International House featured Calloway performing his classic song, "Reefer Man," a tune about a man who favors marijuana cigarettes.
Calloway's was one of the most popular American jazz bands of the 1930s, recording prolifically for Brunswick and the ARC dime store labels (Banner, Cameo, Conqueror, Perfect, Melotone, Banner, Oriole, etc.) from 1930–1932, when he signed with Victor for a year. He was back on Brunswick in late 1934 through 1936, when he signed with manager Irving Mills's short-lived Variety in 1937, and stayed with Mills when the label collapsed and the sessions were continued on Vocalion through 1939, and then OKeh through 1942. After the recording ban due to the 1942-44 musicians' strike ended, he continued to record prolifically.
Calloway's vocal style is a blend of hot scat singing and improvisation coupled with a very traditional vaudeville-like singing style. Many of his ballads are devoid of tone bending jazz styling.
In 1941 Calloway fired Dizzy Gillespie from his orchestra after an onstage fracas erupted when Calloway was hit with spitballs. He wrongly accused Gillespie, who stabbed Calloway in the leg with a small knife.
In 1943 Calloway appeared in the high-profile 20th Century Fox musical film, Stormy Weather.
In 1944 The New Cab Calloway's Hepsters Dictionary: Language of Jive was published, an update of an earlier book in which Calloway set about translating jive for fans who might not know, for example, that "kicking the gong around" was a reference to smoking opium.
In his later career Calloway became a popular personality, appearing
in a number of films and stage productions that utilized both his acting
and singing talents. In 1952 he played the prominent role of "Sportin'
Life" in a production of the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess with William
Warfield and Leontyne Price as the title characters. Another notable
role was "Yeller" in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), with Steve McQueen,
Ann-Margret and Edward G. Robinson.
1976 saw the release of his autobiography, Of Minnie The Moocher And Me (Crowell). It included his complete Hepsters Dictionary as an appendix.
Calloway attracted renewed interest in 1980 when he appeared as a supporting character in the film The Blues Brothers, performing "Minnie the Moocher", and again when he sang "The Jumpin' Jive" with the Two-Headed Monster on "Sesame Street". This was also the year the cult movie Forbidden Zone was released, which included rearrangements of, and homages to, Calloway songs written by Danny Elfman, a Calloway fan.
Calloway helped establish the Cab Calloway Museum at Coppin State College (Baltimore, Maryland) in the 1980s, and Bill Cosby helped establish a scholarship in Calloway's name at the New School for Social Research New York City. In 1994, a creative and performing arts school, the Cab Calloway School of the Arts, was dedicated in his name in Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1986 Calloway appeared at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)'s WrestleMania 2 as a guest judge for a boxing match between Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. T and Mistress Pain that took place at the Nassau Coliseum. Also in 1986 he headlined to great success a gala ball for 4,000 celebrating the grand opening of one of the top hotels in the US at the time, the Dallas-based Rosewood Hotel Co.'s Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas, Texas. In 1990, he was the focus of Janet Jackson's 1930s-themed music video "Alright", appearing as himself at the end. In the United Kingdom he also appeared in several commercials for the Hula Hoops snack, both as himself and as a voice for a cartoon (in one of these commercials he sang his hit "Minnie The Moocher"). He also made an appearance at the Apollo Theatre.
In May 1994, Calloway suffered a stroke. He died six months later on November 18, 1994. His body was cremated and his ashes were given to his family. Upon the death of his wife Zulme "Nuffie" Calloway on October.13, 2008 his ashes were interred next to her at Ferncliffe Cemetery in Hartsdale,New York.
In 1993, the University of Rochester presented Calloway with the honorary Doctor of Fine Arts.
In 1993, he was presented with the National Medal of Arts.
In 1998, The Cab Calloway Orchestra (directed by Calloway's grandson C. "CB" Calloway Brooks) was formed to honor his legacy on the national and international levels.