December 25, 1907 - November 18, 1994

Cab Calloway

Black and white photo of a young Cab Calloway holding his baton stick
Courtesy of
Black and white photo of Cab Calloway conducting
Courtesy of the Syncopated Times
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Born on a snowy Christmas Day in Rochester in 1907, Cab Calloway’s family hoped that their son would grow up to become a lawyer. Calloway’s path in life, however, would take a much different turn. During his time at law school, Calloway often played at Chicago’s Sunset Club, eventually meeting Louis Armstrong who taught him how to sing in the scat style. With his skilled dancing, scat singing, and comedic demeanor, Calloway swiftly rose to fame as an entertainer. His band, the Alabamians, was hired as the New York City’s Cotton Club’s new band, further increasing their popularity. In 1931, Calloway released his most successful song, “Minnie the Moocher,” selling more than a million records. The chorus of the song, “hi-de hi-de ho,” was originally an improvisation when Calloway couldn’t remember a lyric. It became his signature phrase. Calloway also made numerous appearances in film and television, including The Big Broadcast (1932), The Singing Kid, (1936), Stormy Weather, (1943), and The Blues Brothers, (1980), where he once again donned his famous white tie and tails to perform “Minnie the Moocher.” In 1993, Calloway was awarded a National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton. Calloway continued to perform at night clubs across the country until suffering a stroke in 1994. He moved to a nursing home in Delaware, where he died on November 18, 1994, at the age of 86.

Ron Carter

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