Today is the birthday of jazz singer, dancer and trumpet player Valaida Snow (1904-1956).
Raised in a musical family by a college-educated mother in Chatanooga, TN, she was mistress of ten different musical instruments. She first went onstage at age four in an act called Snow’s Gold Dust Twins, and toured the black vaudeville circuits and nightclubs until the end of the 1920s. One of the acts she performed with during those years was “Holiday in Dixieland”, organized by Will Mastin, who also gave Sammy Davis, Jr. his start. Her career seemed to intertwine with those of all the great black vaudevillians. She was in a revival of Miller and Lyles’ The Man from ‘Bam, the Clarence Muse-produced Ramblin’ Around, Follow Me starring Mamie Smith, Sissle and Blake’s Chocolate Dandies, and understudied Florence Mills in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1926. she was to perform in several Lew Leslie shows over the years, including Rhapsody in Black (1931-1932), with Ethel Waters, the Berry Brothers, Eddie Rector, Edith Wilson and Earl “Snakehips” Tucker. (She was to marry Ananias Berry, one of the Berry brothers during the run of this show, and suffer bigamy charges as a result. (It was claimed she hadn’t divorced her first husband, dancer Nappy Brown.)
Starting in the 1920 and throughout the 1930s, she was to tour Europe with several different shows and big bands. World events caught up with her in 1941 when she was caught and imprisoned by the Nazis while performing in Denmark. After a year and a half in a concentration camp she was released in a prisoner exchange. She took a long time to recover from the physical and psychological trauma. She did finally return to performing, never regaining the success of her jazz age years. She was to die of a brain hemorrhage backstage at the Palace Theatre in 1956 while performing in one of their many vaudeville revivals.
Here she is performing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (1939):
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc