Personalities | Cab Calloway | Thirties | Jazz & Blues
(Bandleader, vocals, entertainer, 1907–94)
Cabell Calloway’s orchestra was one of the most successful black bands of the 1930s and by the end of the decade it was home to some of the finest jazz soloists. He arrived in Chicago in the late 1920s and found his niche as a singer, then went to New York, where the band that he fronted replaced Duke Ellington’s at the Cotton Club.
He cultivated a jive-talking persona that appealed to a mixed racial audience; in the broad spectrum of American Negro iconography, Calloway represents a key transitional image between nineteenth-century minstrelsy and contemporary hip hop. After 1935 he reflected the trend towards jazz by bringing in a succession of important soloists (Ben Webster, Chu Berry and Dizzy Gillespie), but his vocals remained the focus of the band’s sound. From 1939–41 his band was one of the finest in the country, but after the war he gave it up to concentrate on club, theatre and movie work until the end of his life.
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