Cab Calloway, the famous singer and bandleader, polished his abilities in the technique of scat singing for a number of years before landing a regular gig at Harlem’s Cotton Club, which is considered to be the birthplace of the blues. The art of scat singing was Calloway’s particular forte. Calloway became one of the most renowned singers of the 1930s and 1940s as a direct consequence of the great success of his song “Minnie the Moocher,” which was published in 1931. This success led to Calloway’s rise to prominence as one of the most famous musicians of the era. He enjoyed a career in both the theater and the cinema up to the time of his death in 1994, when he was 86 years old.
In his early years, Cab Calloway’s liveliness and charm were two of the qualities that led to his meteoric ascent to stardom as a vocalist and conductor in the jazz and swing genres. Cabell Calloway III was given life on December 25th, 1907 in Rochester, New York, and was given the name Cabell Calloway III at the time of his birth. His formative years were spent in Baltimore, Maryland, and it was there that he began his career as a singer and developed a passion for visiting to racetracks that has remained with him throughout his life. Following his relocation to Chicago, Illinois, Calloway decided to pursue a legal education and enrolled at what was then known as Crane College but is now known as Malcolm X College. Despite this, music remained his primary focus throughout his life.
Calloway was first introduced to Louis Armstrong at Chicago’s Sunset Club, where he was performing at the time. Armstrong was the one who taught Calloway the scat singing method (using nonsensical sounds to improvise melodies). In 1928, Calloway became leadership of his own band, which he named the Alabamans and which he had founded. He uprooted his life and moved to New York the next year in an effort to take his professional life to the next level, and he was ready to do it.
In the year 1930, Calloway was able to get a concert at the exclusive Cotton Club located in Harlem. Soon after that, he established himself as a regular performer at the famous drinking hole, serving as the bandleader for Cab Calloway and his Orchestra at the venue. In 1931, Calloway had his big break when he released “Minnie the Moocher,” a song that immediately became number one on the charts and went on to sell more than a million copies. When Calloway couldn’t remember the song’s lyrics, he came up with the catchy call-and-response “hi-de-hi-de-ho” chorus, which went on to become his signature phrase for the rest of his career.
Creating Music While Also Appearing in Films As a Performer
His countless radio appearances and timeless hits like “Moon Glow” (1934), “The Jumpin’ Jive” (1939), and “Blues in the Night” attest to the fact that Calloway was one of the most popular artists of the era (1941). Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he appeared in a number of films, some of which include “The Big Broadcast” (1932), “The Singing Kid” (1936), and “Stormy Weather” (1940), among others (1943). Calloway’s writings, such as “The New Cabin,” which was published in 1944, were another channel through which he communicated with and influenced members of the general public. It was titled Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive, and inside its pages were meanings of terms such as “in the groove” and “zoot suit.”
When Cab Calloway and his orchestra went on tour throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, they were such a hit that they were offered private train cars to use when they traveled to the South in order to circumvent some of the challenges that were associated with segregation. This allowed them to perform more successfully in the region. Calloway’s enticing voice, animated onstage gestures, and spotless white tuxedos were the key reasons why people came to see him perform. On the other hand, the musical talent of the band was just as outstanding as its performance. This may have been owing in part to the fact that Calloway offered salaries that were second only to Duke Ellington’s in terms of competitiveness. Calloway shared the stage with other famous performers including as the saxophone Chu Berry, the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and the drummer Cozy Cole.
Blues music is included in a wide variety of works, ranging from “Porgy and Bess” to “The Blues Brothers.”
In 1948, as the public’s interest in huge bands started to wane, Cab Calloway reduced the size of his band to a six-piece ensemble to appeal to a more narrow audience. The musical Porgy and Bess had a revival in 1952, and he was a part of the cast for the whole of that production, which lasted for two years. It is thought that Calloway was the inspiration for the development of the character Sportin’ Life by George Gershwin, which he performed in that performance. Calloway also portrayed the role in that performance. Throughout the course of his career, Calloway featured onstage in a wide variety of roles, one of which was the male lead in a production of Hello, Dolly! in 1967 that also starred Pearl Bailey. Calloway was most known for his work in the musical Hello, Dolly!
Calloway’s appearances on Sesame Street and in the music video for Janet Jackson’s song “Alright” both took place in the year 1990 and helped the singer gain new fans. In addition, he wrote and published an autobiography titled “Of Minnie the Moocher and Me,” in which he discussed his life and the events that transpired during it (1976). In addition to this, he had roles in a number of movies during the course of his career, the most noteworthy of which being the comedy film The Blues Brothers, which was released in 1980. Calloway gave many renditions of his portrayal as “Minnie the Moocher”—the character for whom he is most known for wearing his trademark white tie and tails—during the course of the film.
In the middle of the 1950s, Calloway wed Zulme “Nuffie” Calloway, and the couple ultimately settled down in Greenburgh, New York. Calloway was a very successful musician. Later in life, the couple’s daughter Chris Calloway, who grew up to become a well-known jazz singer and dancer, performed on stage alongside her father. Chris Calloway went on to have a successful career in jazz. After a lengthy and unsuccessful struggle against breast cancer, Chris died away in August of 2008. A few months later, when she was 93 years old and residing in a nursing facility in Delaware, Nuffie died away.
Calloway was honored with the National Medal of Arts by the administration of Bill Clinton, who was as president at the time. In his latter years, Calloway made his home in White Plains, New York, and it was there that he stayed until the month of June in 1994, when he had a stroke. After that, he was transferred to a nursing home in Hockessin, Delaware, and on November 18, 1994, he passed away when he was a resident of that institution. At the time of his departure, he had already lived to the ripe old age of 86.