Explore the life of an exceptional figure in the history of jazz.
Minnie the Moocher,” with its popular refrain “Hi de hi de hi de ho,” was Cab Calloway’s signature song, and Harlem’s famous Cotton Club was his home stage. A singer, dancer, and band leader: a consummate musician, he charmed audiences around the world with boundless energy, bravado, and elegant showmanship. American Masters "Cab Calloway: Sketches" airs Monday, February 27 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11).
His back glide dance step is the precursor to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, and his scatting lyrics find their legacy in today’s hip-hop and rap. An ambassador for his race, Calloway was one of the first black musicians to tour the segregationist South, as early as 1932. At the top of his game in the jazz and swing eras of the 30s and 40s, he toured as Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess, forever putting his personal stamp on “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” His career flagged until he was rediscovered in 1980s by The Blues Brothers and even on Sesame Street, becoming a new cult hero of sorts.
Calloway was born in Rochester, New York on December 25, 1907 to Cabell Calloway II, a lawyer, and Martha Eulalia Reed, a teacher and church organist. The family moved to Baltimore in 1918. Calloway started taking music lessons when he was 15, and studies voice with Llewelyn Wilson. In 1927 he joins his sister Blanche, who is a singer on a summer tour of the popular black musical revue “Plantation Days,” as tenor in a quartet.