Cab Calloway is remembered as a singer, bandleader, actor, author, and composer. During the heyday of the Harlem Style in the 1920s and 30s, Calloway reigned supreme alongside performers such as Louie Armstrong and Duke Ellington. While growing up in Maryland he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and study law, he instead followed his passion for music. After moving to Chicago, Cab found work as a singer and enjoyed some fame for a few years. An unsuccessful gig in New York City led him to dissolve the existing band and form another. The change paved the way for success in New York and ultimately a long-standing engagement at the Cotton Club, where Calloway evolved his flamboyant style and established himself as a household name. He continued to perform at clubs and popularized jitterbug music, and the “scat” singing style. Several of his songs became hits, with the unforgettable “Minnie the Moocher” among his crowning accomplishments. He performed on the stage and films for many years. During his career, he enjoyed the adoration of a diverse audience which realized that his brand of energy, charisma, and talent comes along only once in a while
Childhood & Adolescence
He was born in Rochester, New York on December 25, 1907, to Martha Reed and Cabell Calloway, Jr. His family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where his mother taught and his father practiced law.
His parents arranged for him to receive private voice lessons in 1922. Despite his parents’ and voice teacher’s discouragement, he began frequenting speakeasies and jazz clubs in 1924.
He played drums and sang with a jazz combo in several Baltimore clubs in 1925. Additionally, he appeared in a number of revues and musicals at his high school and a local theater.
He excelled in sports during his high school years and played basketball for the “Baltimore Athenians” of the Negro Professional Basketball League in 1926.
Blanche Calloway, his elder sister, lived in Chicago and was a successful singer and bandleader. After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in 1927, she assisted her younger brother in securing his first job as a performer. He frequently credited her with motivating him to pursue a career in show business.
Career of Cab Calloway
In 1927, he graduated from high school and joined his sister on a summer tour of Chicago’s “Plantation Days.”
He landed his first nightclub gig in 1928 at the “Dreamland Café,” where he played the drums and sang. It catapulted him to his next consistent gig at the “Sunset Café,” where he performed alongside Louie Armstrong and Carroll Dickerson.
When Armstrong and Dickerson relocated to New York City in 1929, he became the bandleader of “The Alabamians.” He left Crane College’s law program to pursue a career in music. He toured with his band and concluded the tour at Harlem’s “Savoy Ballroom.” He was so popular with the crowds that he accepted an offer to join “The Missourians” as bandleader.
In 1930, while Duke Ellington was on tour, he agreed to be the house band at the “Cotton Club.” He remained and led a co-house band as a result of his success. NBC taped a twice-weekly radio show at the Cotton Club, catapulting him to new heights of celebrity. He and Ellington had effectively broken through broadcasting’s unspoken color barrier.
In 1931, he wrote and recorded “Minnie the Moocher,” his most famous song. This recording, more than any other, epitomized his fame, and he was later dubbed “The Hi De Ho Man.”
Between 1932 and 1933, he recorded songs for a series of Betty Boop animated shorts. He maintained a performing and recording career with his band Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.
In 1936, he co-starred with Al Jolson in his first feature film, “The Singing Kid.” The film represented a modest but significant step toward more equitable portrayals of African-Americans.
He continued to tour and record extensively for the next seven years with various labels.
In 1943, he starred in the film “Stormy Weather,” which made history as the first film to feature an all-black cast.
In 1944, he published “The New Cab Calloway’s Hepsters Dictionary: The Jive Language,” in which he translated jive for fans.
In the late 1940s, his poor financial decisions and long-standing gambling problems led to the dissolution of his band.
In 1952, he made his stage debut in a production of Porgy and Bess. His well-received performance as “Sportin’ Life” reintroduced him to the stage in a variety of productions.
In 1976, he published “Minnie the Moocher and Me,” his autobiography.
In 1980, he appeared in the film “The Blues Brothers” as “Minnie the Moocher.” This performance served as a reintroduction for him, and he spent the next decade working in films and on stage.
He lived in a retirement community in northern Delaware until his death in 1994.
Significant Works of Cab Calloway
Throughout his lengthy career, he amassed an enormous discography. “Minnie the Moocher” from 1931, “Moon Glow” from 1934, “The Jumpin’ Jive” from 1939, and “Blues in the Night” from 1941 are among the more notable works. These chart-topping singles established the scat and jazz styles in a way that reverberated throughout the era.
His more notable film credits include 1932’s “The Big Broadcast,” 1936’s “The Singing Kid,” and 1943’s “Stormy Weather.” His appearances aided in the further eradication of discrimination against black actors.
His “The New Cab Calloway Hepsters Dictionary: The Jive Language” legitimized the language that surrounded the era’s jazz culture.
Awards and Accomplishments
He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1993 in recognition of his contribution to American music. The following year, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Rochester.
The Cab Calloway Orchestra was founded in 1998 to pay tribute to his legacy.
Personal History and Legacies
In 1927, he fathered a child with Zelma Proctor. In 1928, he married Betty Conacher, but the couple remained childless.
In 1945, 1949, and 1952, he married Zulme MacNeal and fathered three children with her. Chris, Lael, and Cabella were the children.
He died on November 18, 1994, in Hockessin, Delaware, of a severe stroke.
He was a larger-than-life figure who led one of the swing era’s greatest bands. In a career that has been immortalized in popular culture, he entertained audiences and broke down barriers.
Estimated Net Worth
Cab is one of the wealthiest jazz musicians and is ranked among the most popular jazz musicians. Cab Calloway’s net worth is estimated to be around $1.5 million, according to our analysis, Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
Cab Calloway and his band had their own radio show, Cab Calloway’s Quizzicale, in 1941. The show lasted only as long as he could secure a sponsor.
“The only difference between a black entertainer and a white entertainer,” this legendary jazz singer once stated, “is that my ass has been kicked a lot more and a lot harder because it’s black.”