Cabel Calloway III was born in
Rochester, New York, on December 25, 1907. When
he was six his family moved to Baltimore,
Maryland, where his father practiced law and sold
As a youngster, Cab enjoyed
singing in church, and he began taking private
voice lessons as a teenager. After
graduating from Frederick Douglass
High School, his older sister Blanche, an
established jazz singer, got him a part in the
touring production of Plantation Days.
When the tour ended its run in Chicago, Cab
decided to stay there with his sister. Because he
was expected to follow in his father's footsteps
and become a lawyer, Cab took law classes at
Crane College during the day but spent most of
his nights performing in local nightclubs. One of
those nightclubs was the Sunset Cafe, and it was
there that he met trumpeter Louis
Armstrong, who taught him to sing in the scat
By his twentieth birthday Calloway had
organized his own orchestra and was singing lead
vocals. The group, Cab Calloway and his
Alabamians, became popular in Chicago, and
eventually was hired to play at the Savoy
Ballroom in New York City. That engagement did
not go well, and Calloway dissolved the band. He
was about to return to Chicago when he landed a
part in a Broadway comedy, Connie's Hot
Chocolates, in which Calloway was praised for
his rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'."
By 1930 he had joined and then become leader of
The Missourians, which, as Cab
Calloway and His Orchestra, was hired by Harlem's
famed Cotton Club as a replacement for the Duke
Ellington Orchestra while it was touring. Calloway
quickly proved so popular that his band became
the "co-house" band with Ellington's,
and his group began touring nationwide when not
playing the Cotton Club.
In 1931, Calloway recorded "Minnie the
Moocher," which became the first jazz record
ever to sell a million copies; the song's chorus
earned him the nickname "Hi-De-Ho Man."
That song, along with "St. James Infirmary
Blues" and " The Mountain," were
performed for the Betty Boop animated shorts Minnie
the Moocher, Snow White, and The
Old Man of the Mountain, respectively.
Calloway not only gave his voice to these
cartoons, but his dance steps as well. He also
performed in a series of short films for
Paramount in the 1930's. Calloway made his first
feature film appearance opposite Al Jolson in The
Singing Kid (1936), in which he sang a number
of duets with Jolson; the film included
Calloway's band and a cast of 22 Cotton Club
dancers from New York. The success of
"Minnie the Moocher" and its steady gig
at the Cotton Club kept Calloway's band in
constant demand, and by the late 1930's it was
one of the top grossing acts in jazz. The band
also jump-started the careers of a number of
young talents, including Dizzy Gillespie, Ben
Webster, Cozy Cole, Chu Berry and Doc Cheatham.
However, by the late '40s, Calloway's bad
financial decisions -- and gambling -- caught up
with him, and the band broke up.
After his band broke up, Calloway went back to
performing at small clubs. In his later career,
he appeared in a number of films and stage
productions that used both his acting and singing
talents, including the touring production of Porgy
and Bess (1952-1954, opposite
Leontyne Price and William Warfield), the
all-black production of Hello, Dolly!
(1967, opposite Pearl Bailey
and daughter Chris Calloway), and the feature
film The Cincinnati Kid (1965, with
Steve McQueen, Ann-Margret, and Edward G.
Robinson). In 1980, he performed
"Minnie the Moocher" (and other songs)
in the John Belushi-Dan Ackroyd movie The
Blues Brothers, in which he was the oldest
featured actor. He was inducted into the Big Band
and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Cab
Calloway School of the Arts was opened in his
honor in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1992.
Calloway maintained a fairly
busy performing schedule well into his 80's. He
suffered a stroke on June 12, 1994, and died in
Hockessin, Delaware, on November 18, 1994.
Zelma Proctor -- 1924-? (may
not have ever married) -- 1 daughter, Camay
Wenonah "Betty" Conacher -- 1928-1949
(divorce) -- 1 daughter, Constance (adopted)
Zulme "Nuffie" MacNeal -- 1953-his
death -- 3 daughters, Chris, Lael, Cabella
Most Notable Songs
"Minnie the Moocher"
"Are You Hep to That Jive"
"Lady With the Fan"
"Zaz Zuh Zaz"
"Are You In Love With Me Again?"
"That Man's Here Again"
"I Like Music"
"Rustle of Swing"
"Three Swings and Out"
"The Jumpin' Jive"
"Come on with the Come-On"
"Silly Old Moon"
"Rhapsody in Rumba"
"Are You All Reet?"
"Let's Go, Joe"
The Big Broadcast
International House (1933)
The Singing Kid (1936)
Stormy Weather (1943)
St. Louis Blues (1958)
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
The Littlest Angel (1969)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Biography Channel Website http://www.biography.com/people/cab-calloway-9235609
Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0130572/
NPR's Jazz Profiles http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/calloway.html
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