Cabell "Cab" Calloway III (December 25, 1907 November 18, 1994) was an American Jazz singer and bandleader. His band, originally called The Missourians, was one of the most popular African-American big bands of the 1930s and 1940s. Calloway's band featured trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus "Doc" Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon "Chu" Berry, New Orleans guitar ace Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton. Calloway continued to perform until his death in 1994 at the age of 86.
His impact on today's popular music reaches deep. In his own words; "You see this rapping they're doing today, I did that 25, 35, 45, 55 years ago!" Indeed, even the rotoscoped animations of his dance moves done for Betty Boop cartoons in the 1930's show him doing the moonwalk some 50 years before Michael Jackson would make it popular.
In a word, he was cool before the 'old school' was even built.
Modern audiences probably know him best for his performance of Minnie the Moocher, his most popular song, in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. In his prime he was best known for performing at The Cotton Club in Harlem during the 1930's. He was among the first African-American celebrities in an age when performers in blackface were still the norm, breaking new barriers and paving the way for nearly every black performer to come.
Tropes pertaining to him and his music include:
- Alliterative Name
- Anti-Love Song: "That's What I Hate About Love"
- As Himself: Appears in the all-black musical Stormy Weather as the friend of the fictional character played by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
- Audience Participation Song: Many of Cab Calloway's songs invoked this. His songs were often written so that his orchestra and/or the audience could repeat his scat talk. Every once in a while he'd surprise and confuse everyone by breaking out in very rapid, hard-to-repeat gibberish in place of his typical "hi-de-hi-de-hi-di-ho", just for laughs.
- Big Band: His was one of the first and one of the first to swing.
- But Not Too Black: His lighter skin made it easier for white audiences to accept him in an era when blackface was still acceptable. Cab Calloway may have been one of the first people this trope was applied to.
- Call-and-Response Song
- Creepy Jazz Music: Possibly the trope codifier. Especially notable in the fairly creepy Betty Boop cartoons he appeared in. Many of his songs feature criminals and shady characters of the jazz subculture.
- Dance Sensation: "The Calloway Boogie". Yes, he had his own boogie.
- Friendly Local Chinatown: See Opium Den below, if that gives you any indication.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The undisputed world champion of his time. "Minnie the Moocher" is a prostitute high on opium; "Smokey Joe" is a pimp; "The Hi-de-Ho Miracle Man" is a lying con artist; "The Reefer Man" was a street pot dealer. Few of the white patrons of the Cotton Club caught on.
- Have a Gay Old Time: In "Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day""When the folks in Chinatown start acting gay/ There's something in the air that makes them feel that way."
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Minnie the Moocher"She was the roughest, toughest frail/ But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale."
- "I Am" Song: "The Hi-Di-Ho Man"
- Incredibly Long Note: You'd be amazed at his lung capacity. Just listen to "The St. Louis Blues".Cab Calloway: "The St. Louis bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu...."
- Jive Turkey: Ain't nobody these days hep to the jive enough to dig what this hep cat's saying. Y'all a bunch of squares.
- Large Ham
- Man in White: A lot of the time, at least in his film appearances.
- Motor Mouth: He enjoyed occasionally pranking the audience by doing a Call-and-Response Song, then breaking out into rapid fire gibberish. His appearance in The Blues Brothers includes this.
- The Movie: Cab Calloway's Hi De Ho. The plot is somewhat secondary to his musical performances though.
- Ode to Intoxication: "Reefer Man" and "Smokin' Reefer" were directly this, though a lot of his other songs are also riddled with drug and alcohol references.
- Opium Den: Many of his songs take place here. Smokey Joe often takes Minnie the Moocher to an opium den in Chinatown to kick the gong around note
- Perpetual Smiler: During his performances.
- Pimp Duds: Even by the standards of an era when zoot suits were the edgy streetwear uniform, he was pimpin'.
- Rearrange the Song: He recorded a disco version of his signature song in the mid-70s, which he wanted to perform (but was told just to sing the original version of the song instead) in The Blues Brothers in order to promote it.
- Recurring Character: Minnie the Moocher and Smokey Joe appear in a lot of his songs.
- Rotoscoping: His dance moves were used in a few of Max Fleischer's Betty Boop cartoons...including on a dancing walrus in Minnie the Moocher.
- Scatting: Cab Calloway was famous for this. He later admitted that when he first began singing 'scat' it was because he'd forgotten the words to a song, but after it went over well with his audience he began to purposely write it into his songs.
- Sequel Song: After "Minnie the Moocher" became his Signature Song, Cab Calloway wrote a series of songs about Minnie and her boyfriend Smokey Joe.
- "Sesame Street" Cred: One of the earliest celebrities to do it too.
- Shout-Out: Minnie the Moocher was originally a shout-out to his own sister, a bandleader in her own right, who had created the character.
- Still Got It: He continued to perform right up until the last years of his life. His appearance in The Blues Brothers proved he still had it.
- Stoners Are Funny: "Have you ever met the funny Reefer Man?" indeed...
- Taking the Bullet: The song "San Francisco Fan" is about a female performer who takes "a dozen slugs" for her no-good gambling boyfriend after he's caught cheating at a game and someone tries to shoot him for it.
- Minnie the Moocher takes the bullet for Cab Calloway in the movie Hi De Ho.
- Walking in Rhythm: Cab during his performances.