Cabell Calloway III was born in Rochester, New York on Christmas Day, 1907. Cab’s family was upper middle class: his mother, Martha Eulalia Reed was a teacher and church organist, his father Cabell Calloway, Jr. was a lawyer and worked in real estate. Shortly after Cab was born, the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where Cab received musical training from the age of 14. He also partook of Baltimore’s night life (though his parents and teachers tried to discourage him from any involvement with jazz).
After graduating from high school, Cab Calloway joined his sister Blanche (already a successful singer and bandleader) in a road company of the popular black musical Plantation Days. Cab’s family had hopes for him following his father into law, and he enrolled in Crane College in Chicago. The Chicago jazz scene proved more attractive to Cab than his legal studies, and he soon became a full-time entertainer.
After a stint vocalizing with Marion Hardy’s Alabamians in 1929, Cab took over as leader of the excellent Missourians, restyling the group as Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. Cab recorded “Minnie the Moocher” with the band in 1931. “Minnie” was a huge hit that became forever associated with him. It also was the first record that featured his trademark “call and response” style, reprised on many other selections.
Cab Calloway recorded prolifically through the 1930s and beyond, and appeared in numerous films from 1932 onward (beginning with Paramount’s The Big Broadcast). Cab worked in every medium thereafter, including a memorable appearance as Sportin’ Life in the 1952 revival of Porgy and Bess. Cab retained a strong popularity as a performer well into his 80s, and performed notable renditions of “Minnie the Moocher” in The Blues Brothers (1980) and with the Cincinnati Pops in 1988. Cab passed away on November 18, 1994.
Cab’s legacy continues on. In 1994, The Cab Calloway School for the Arts was dedicated in his name in Wilmington, Delaware. And Cab’s grandson Christopher Calloway Brooks today leads the stomping, swinging Cab Calloway Orchestra to delight all who have ears to hear it. –Andy Senior
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