Cab Calloway

Active - 1932 - 1996  |   Born - Dec 25, 1907   |   Died - Nov 18, 1994   |   Genres - Music, Musical, Comedy, Film, TV & Radio

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Inaugurating his performing career in Baltimore, African-American musical entertainer Cab Calloway organized his first band in New York. Calloway already had a strong following thanks to his recordings, when, in 1931, he replaced Duke Ellington as orchestra leader at Harlem's fabled Cotton Club. His lively, athletic performing style, coupled with his trademarked "Hi De Ho" delivery, was given nationwide exposure via his guest appearances in such Paramount features as The Big Broadcast (1932) and International House (1933). He also appeared in animated form in a cluster of Betty Boop cartoons produced by Max and Dave Fleischer, and it is safe to assume that the youngest cartoon fans in the audiences enjoyed Calloway's renditions of "Minnie the Moocher" and "St. James Infirmary Blues" without fully comprehending those songs' allusions to drug use and sex. George and Ira Gershwin used Calloway as the model for the character of Sportin' Life in their 1935 folk opera Porgy and Bess; though he initially turned down an offer to play the character in the original stage production because of a scheduling conflict, he was able to accept the role for a 1952 revival starring Leontyne Price and William Warfield. He also substituted for Sammy Davis Jr. on the soundtrack recording of the 1959 film version. Newly imposed censorship strictures required the uninhibited Calloway to tone down his performances and the content of his songs in films like The Singing Kid (1936) and Manhattan Merry-Go-Round (1937). The best of his "tame" film performances was in the 1943 20th Century Fox musical Stormy Weather, in which he co-starred with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Lena Horne, and Dooley Wilson. Breaking up his orchestra in 1958, Calloway went solo for several years, notably as Horace Vandergelder in the all-black version of Broadway's Hello Dolly! As ebullient as ever, Calloway was seen fronting a band once more in 1980's The Blues Brothers. In 1976, Calloway wrote his autobiography, an engaging if not entirely candid work, titled Of Minnie the Moocher and Me. Cab Calloway is the father of actor Kirk Calloway.

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