Today is the birthday of Cab Calloway (1907-1994). The son of a lawyer and a church organist, he started singing and playing drums in black vaudeville and nightclubs when still a teenager. From singing in big bands, he rapidly graduated to leading them. In 1930 Cab Calloway and his Orchestra became one of the house bands at the legendary Cotton Club. He was just in time to make the tail end of big time vaudeville, with dates at the Palace Theatre in 1931 and Loews State in 1932. Calloway’s distinctive style was indelible, with his greasy forelocks wildly flopping around as conducted, his pencil thin mustache, his white tie and tails and his trademark scat singing, which he’d learned from Louis Armstrong. The chorus to his 1931 hit single “Minnie the Moocher”, (hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho) was to become his nickname (the Hi-Dee-Ho Man). Constant radio exposure and frequent film appearances kept him on top through the end of the 1940s. Thereafter he took the occasional film role and television date. Younger people know him best from his great star turn in the 1978 film The Blues Brothers.
Here’s his nutty turn in International House, one of my favorite 30s comedies, which also features W.C. Fields, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Rudy Vallee, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bela Lugosi and many other notables of the day. This tune is pretty racy Hollywood fare for its day:
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chainof Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc