About Cab Calloway

Since I’ve done the Nicholas Brothers and Busby Berkeley, it’s time for Cab Calloway, another old movie favorite of mine.

I think the first time I ever came across anything related to Calloway was in the late 1960s when I was watching That Girl on TV – Ann’s father (Lew Parker) sang Minnie the Moocher for a talent show.  The song stuck in my head.  I wish I could find a video of that performance.

“Minnie the Moocher” is a jazz song first recorded in 1931 by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, selling over a million copies. “Minnie the Moocher” is most famous for its nonsensical ad-libbed (“scat”) lyrics (for example, “Hi De Hi De Hi De Hi”).

In performances, Calloway would have the audience participate by repeating each scat phrase in a form of call and response. Eventually, Calloway’s phrases would become so long and complex that the audience would laugh at their own failed attempts to repeat them.

“Minnie the Moocher” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

 

Lots of others have sung this song, as well including Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in “Jeeves and Wooster”.

 

 

and the Three Mo’ Tenors performed it in 2001

 

 

Calloway appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers and sang a shortened version “Minnie The Moocher” in the film, in the original style of big band.

 

Cabell “Cab” Calloway III (December 25, 1907 – November 18, 1994) was an American jazz singer and bandleader. He was strongly associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City, where he was a regular performer.

Calloway was a master of energetic scat singing and led one of the United States’ most popular big bands from the start of the 1930s through to the late 1940s. Calloway’s band featured performers including trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon “Chu” Berry, New Orleans guitar ace Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton. Calloway continued to perform until his death in 1994 at the age of 86.

An old Paramount short film of Cab Calloway singing many of his hits.

 

 

“The Old Man of The Mountain” is non-stop Cab from beginning to end. He appears first as an owl, singing the title song. The words have been changed for the cartoon, in which the Old Man is a villain. In the original song, the Old Man is a benevolent character. Next we see Cab as the Old Man himself, rotoscoped and singing, “You Gotta Hi-De-Hi,” followed by “The Scat Song.”

The cartoon begins with live footage of Cab and his Orchestra playing around with the tune of Minnie the Moocher while Cab scats mildly and grins at the camera. Whereas Cab may have been caught by surprise when they used live footage of him in the earlier cartoon, “Minnie the Moocher”, this time he is ready. He and his band are in dress white uniforms, Cab’s hair is slicked back, and he pays attention to the camera. (The drummer, Leroy Maxey, is still playing with his drumsticks, though!)

Of the three cartoons starring Cab Calloway, this one has the least interesting and least surreal plot, and the animation is the crudest. Never-the-less, the very early live footage of Cab is a treasure, and this cartoon showcases his music from beginning to end, featuring three of his songs. He does some of his most remarkable ever scat singing in this version of The Scat Song.

In all of the Fleisher cartoons, Cab’s characters are set in caves with menacing and ominous background illustrations: skeletons, skulls, ghosts, leering faces, and gambling, alcohol and drug paraphernalia. People have claimed that the Fleischers were unaware of the drug references in Cab’s songs (for example, “kicking the gong around” meaning “smoking opium”), but the imagery in the animations suggests otherwise.

 

 

Cab’s scat singing, dancing, comedic personality and flashy elegance had made him a star and a million-selling recording artist. He continued to perform right up until his death in 1994 at the age of 88.

Gunther Schuller sums up Calloway’s brilliance as an entertainer: “People still remember Cab Calloway as a dancer and vaudevillian with his wonderful white tuxedos and all of that — and, as a great, great showman.”

 

On February 4 in Music History

today

. 1677 ~ Johann Ludwig Bach, German composer/violinist and second cousin of Johann Sebastian Bach. (d. 1731)

. 1893 ~ Bernard Rogers, American composer

. 1894 ~ Adolphe Sax, Belgian musician and inventor of the saxophone, died at the age of 79
More about Sax

. 1912 ~ Erich Leinsdorf, Austrian-born American conductor

. 1937 ~ Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra recorded A Study in Brown, on Decca Records.

. 1941 ~ John Steel, Singer, drummer with The Animals

. 1944 ~ Florence LaRue (Gordon), Singer with The Fifth Dimension

. 1962 ~ Clint Black, Singer, actor

. 1975 ~ Louis (Thomas) Jordan passed away

. 1983 ~ Karen Carpenter died at 32 of cardiac arrest at her parent’s house in Downey, California; the coroner’s report gave the cause of death of imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa. The Carpenters 1970 album Close to You, featured two hit singles: “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.”  They peaked at No.1 and No.2, on the US chart. In 1975 – In Playboy’s annual opinion poll; its readers voted Karen Carpenter the Best Rock Drummer of the year.

. 1987 ~ The show-biz world was saddened when Liberace died at his Palm Springs, CA estate. He was 67. Lee, as he was known, was the master of Las Vegas. Hundreds of thousands flock to his museum there (operated by his brother, George) to see Liberace’s garish suits, trademark candelabra, and learn of the myths behind this hugely successful star of television, stage and concerts the world over.
More information about Liberace

. 2001 ~ James Louis “J.J.” Johnson, an influential jazz trombonist who later forged a career arranging and recording scores for motion pictures and television, died at the age of 77. The Indianapolis native, who began playing piano at age 11, was a perennial winner of “Down Beat” magazine’s reader’s poll as best trombonist. While he was praised by jazz aficionados, Johnson also made his mark in popular culture, writing and arranging music for such television shows as “Starsky and Hutch”, “Mayberry, R.F.D.” and “That Girl”. His film music credits included “Cleopatra Jones” and “Shaft.” During his long career, he performed with such jazz greats as Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. While touring with jazz bands during the heyday of those ensembles, he played with the Clarence Love and Snookum Russell bands. He got his first big break with the Benny Carter band in 1942.

. 2016 ~ Leslie Bassett, American classical composer (Variations for Orchestra – Pulitzer Prize 1966), died at the age of 93