Cab Calloway

Callway, Cab

Cabell “Cab” Calloway III (December 25, 1907 – November 18, 1994) was an American jazz singer, dancer, bandleader and actor. He was associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, where he was a regular performer and became a popular vocalist of the swing era. His niche of mixing jazz and vaudeville won him acclaim during a career that spanned over 65 years.

Calloway was a master of energetic scat singing and led one of the most popular big bands in the United States from the early 1930s to the late 1940s. His band included trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Jonah Jones, and Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon “Chu” Berry, guitarist Danny Barker, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Cozy Cole.

Calloway had several hit records in the 1930s and 1940s, becoming known as the “Hi-de-ho” man of jazz for his most famous song, “Minnie the Moocher”, originally recorded in 1931. He reached the Billboard charts in five consecutive decades (1930s–1970s).[3] Calloway also made several stage, film, and television appearances until his death in 1994 at the age of 86. He had roles in Stormy Weather (1943), Porgy and Bess (1953), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), and Hello Dolly! (1967). His career saw renewed interest when he appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

Calloway was the first African American musician to sell a million records from a single and to have a nationally syndicated radio show. In 1993, Calloway received the National Medal of Arts from the United States Congress. He posthumously received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. His song “Minnie the Moocher” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2019. He is also inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame and the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

Music critics have written of his influence on later generations of entertainers such as James Brown, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, as well as modern-day hip-hop performers. John Landis, who directed Calloway in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, stated, “Cab Calloway is hip-hop.”  Journalist Timothy White noted in Billboard (August 14, 1993): “No living pathfinder in American popular music or its jazz and rock ‘n’ roll capillaries is so frequently emulated yet so seldom acknowledged as Cabell “Cab” Calloway. He arguably did more things first and better than any other band leader of his generation.”

In 1998, the Cab Calloway Orchestra directed by Calloway’s grandson Chris “CB” Calloway Brooks was formed. In 2009, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy released an album covering Calloway’s music titled How Big Can You Get?: The Music of Cab Calloway. In 2012, Calloway’s legacy was celebrated in an episode of PBS‘s American Masters titled “Cab Calloway: Sketches”.[