Cab Calloway's Legacy - JazzWax

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February 04, 2011


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Michael Steinman

Fascinating post, Marc, and I'm glad to see someone has tried to consider Cab seriously on film. (I've read Shipton's book and it covers the subject well.) But -- without taking anything away from Cab, your work, or Ms. Levin's -- Cab was a masterful synthesizer of Black and White traditions. To consider him without his indebtedness to (let's just say) Bing Crosby, the Rhythm Boys, Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon and the whole Black vaudeville tradition, that Armstrong fellow, Bert Williams . . . would be to see him as springing full-blown from his own scat-singing head. The question I always have about Cab is a cultural one: consider the US in 1932, more than somewhat racially prejudiced. Here comes this handsome, tall, somewhat uninhibited African-American fellow in a stunning white suit, singing either 1) nonsense syllables or 2) songs about going uptown to get high on opium. WHAT did they make of him and WHAT did they think he was? That, to me, is the most fascinating cultural question.

Steve Provizer

I haven't read bios of Calloway, but watching and listening to him, I think he actually represents a synthesis of the jazz path with the minstrel/vaudeville entertainment path. That's to say, starting in the teens, with James Europe as the prime mover, black jazz or near-jazz musicians cultivated an image of tuxedo-ed sophistication-and copped good gigs because of it. Calloway crossed that sense of style with over-the-top, theatrical staging.


Great piece on Calloway, Marc. I have those Fleischer cartoons on my ipod. All of Cab's recordings with Chu Berry are on the Mosaic boxset also.

Han Schulte

Let's not forget Cab Calloway's first class performance in the 1980 movie "Blues Brothers".
Han Schulte

Win Hinkle

"Jowza," Marc. Great post. Amazing that you didn't mention the movie "Blues Brothers" once. But I'm happy that Han did in the third comment. To my generation that was a good tribute to Cab and that era of show business jazz.
When I lived in FL I got to be good friends with Milt Hinton. We had him and Mona over for dinner and the next year when I visited NYC he returned the favor with the added benny of giving me the key to his studio on 7th Ave. at around 59th ST, complete with the use of one of his best basses that he kept there for record dates in Manhattan. The "Judge" was a beautiful person and fantastic walking resource for the history of jazz. He did not like to talk about his years with Cab, "that silly stuff" but it would be hard to imagine his career without Cab. Milt was one of the few people who maxed out recording residuals for all the record dates he participated in. I have marked my calendar for the special on Cab. Thank you.

Kent England

There is a tendency in some circles to prettify and dignify jazz, leading those to denigrate Louis Armstrong singing "King of the Zulus" in a tiger-skin leotard and Cab Calloway cake-walking "Minnie the Moocher". I've always taken Cab Calloway seriously for the reasons you describe - his music is good, his musicians talented and he's always ahead of the curve.

Where do you think Michael Jackson got his moonwalk? He was watching the Betty Boop cartoon with Calloway's Minnie the Moocher.
Lookup "Minnie the Moocher" covers by modern swing bands. It's still popular because it stands on its own even without Cab's cake-walking and swirling.


Austin's Jitterbug Vipers do Cab's "Man From Harlem":
Skip to 2:12
(recorded December 2010)

bonar harris

Fabulous piece and I entirely concur that Cab was a pivotal figure in the evolution of Hip.

His approach - mapping a character (or caricature) from the street (or porch stoop or village square) onto the mainstream stage - is a model that we see repeated particularly among black artists - from front porch blues players of the 20's and 30's to the street corner doo wop quartets of the 40's and 50's right through to Prince. And along the way, many jazz players emulated the same "creation of character" - Dizzy, Louis Armstrong, Duke, Monk, Mingus and Miles all spring to mind. Among these "stars" there appeared to be the belief that simply being musically talented was not enough - that there was a need to thoroughly entertain - to bring music, dance, drama all into play (depending on the artist). Perhaps they were right, perhaps for a black performer - especially in the 1930's and 1940's - to gain notice and some degree of acceptance in the broad and largely economically white marketplace, they needed to be more than just brilliant artists - they needed to be stars. And they were.

By way of a personal plug, I have felt such a personal debt to Cab in particular that I wrote a piece inspired by him, entitled "The Moonlight Jamboree" - please feel welcome to check it out at

sewa mobil

Very nice, thanks.

Teo ortiz

hey good work having seen the cab calloway, work on t.v was refreashing, cab did his thing in an era when doing your thing meant trouble on your table,, and to over come aii the prejudices of the time man , I got to give it to him and all the other black musicians of that time..


Many have compared Ellington of the jazz band age to the BeaTles - I take it a step further, feeling that Cab Calloway, with his showmanship and sexuality, was the Mick Jagger of his era!

John P. Cooper

No mentioning of Calloway's films is complete without SENSATIONS OF 1945.


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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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