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Blanche Calloway, singer and bandleader, remembered
December 29, 2009 3:53 AM   Subscribe

Though she didn't enjoy the same level of fame and fortune as her younger brother Cab, singer and bandleader (said to be the first African-American woman to lead an all-male orchestra) Blanche Calloway is a musician worth remembering and checking out if you're a fan of 1920s/30s jazz stylings. It's Right Here For You, It Looks Like Susie, I Gotta Swing, Last Dollar and I Got What It Takes.
posted by flapjax at midnite (26 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Blanche's renowned brother Cab, previously.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:58 AM on December 29, 2009


I really like Cab's music, but I had no idea he had a sister. And this is good stuff. Thanks!
posted by bjrn at 4:00 AM on December 29, 2009


Ditto. Thanks!
posted by Wolof at 4:37 AM on December 29, 2009


Blanche does well enough, but her name may as well be Jermaine or Tito if you're going to compare her talent to that of her spectacular sibling. Who can forget the first time they encountered Cab Calloway? Maybe it was in a Betty Boop cartoon. Or in W.C. Fields' "International House". However it occured, the impact, I know, can be like stepping into an electrified puddle while someone points a leaf blower in your face: you are startled and thrilled. How (you wonder) did this wild, sinuous, joyously unbridled phenomenon insert itself into these scratchy, stodgy old entertainments? How is it that an entertainer of your great grandpa's day is wilder, more creative and outrageous than any singer of the past 30 years? And this man is dangerous! He doesn't hide his racial, drug and sexual subject matter beneath euphemism, or disguise it in poetry. He's a one-man transgression squad. He was insanely politically incorrect in his own day as in ours. Yet he was not condemned, not lynched. People loved him! And he had great, great bands, with great musicians. At the same time, you see people like James Brown, and Prince, and Jimi Hendrix in a whole different context -- you see that this is where they came from -- and they do seem tame by comparison. And you are also aware of something that seems to be missing from much modern jazz, R&B and hip hop: a certain mischievous joy. Living and performing under that shadow, it's no wonder Blanche is relatively obscure.
posted by Faze at 5:04 AM on December 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Great post -- never had heard of her prior, quite an entertainer, quite a woman. Here is an interesting (angelfire yes, and ugly as any angelfire page can be, but the information is good) and informative page about her, containing a few photos also.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:06 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Faze, I think for most people under a certain age their first (and likely ONLY) exposure to Cab Calloway was in the Blues Brothers movie. I'm not sure if that is terrible or terrific - it's terrible that his contemporary fame for many is limited to that of an elderly sidekick, and it's terrific because, hey, without the Blues Brothers most people wouldn't know him at all, and, problematic though the film is in some ways, it certainly treated him and the other musicians in it with reverence and love.

But yeah! I'm a Cab fan to some degree, and I'd never even heard OF Blanche. Killer post, again, Flapjax.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:29 AM on December 29, 2009


Wow, dancestoblue, thanks for that link, it's great. Had I come across it earlier, it would've been a centerpiece of this post. Anyone interested in Blanche should check it out, for sure.

I'll link to it again right now... y'all check this out!

dirtdirt (and most others in this thread, basically) write: I'd never even heard OF Blanche.

I think she's pretty tragically overlooked, tell the truth, and I don't doubt some of that has to do with her more famous brother whose shadow (according to Faze) she lived and performed under, but I think there's more to it than that. Sometimes really talented people slip through the cracks of history, and become largely forgotten. But I don't think her relative obscurity, as Faze suggests, is necessarily deserved.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:48 AM on December 29, 2009


And you are also aware of something that seems to be missing from much modern jazz, R&B and hip hop: a certain mischievous joy.

I'm all for more mugging. Also, Louis Jordan.
posted by Wolof at 5:51 AM on December 29, 2009


Please note that my last comment contained trace elements of hyperbolatisizism.
posted by Wolof at 6:08 AM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, fame is weakly correlated to talent; for example, Richard Thompson. (And, hey, look who posted that.) That's something that Belushi and Aykroyd deserve a little bit of credit for trying to fix, by the way, and not just for Cab Calloway; it may be difficult to imagine now, but by 1980 James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles had fallen off the charts, and that movie was the first time that I had seen each of them perform, as well as Calloway and (sadly, way too briefly) John Lee Hooker. It's just too bad that we had to sit through some painfully clumsy chase scenes to see them do their thing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:13 AM on December 29, 2009


most people under a certain age their first (and likely ONLY) exposure to Cab Calloway was in the Blues Brothers movie

For what it's worth, this was my first exposure to Cab Calloway. It was AWESOME.

I'm looking forward to getting into these links about Blanche. Thanks, flapjax.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:15 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


His daughter Chris Calloway was a compelling performer, too, she passed just last summer. And her voice mail started with, "Hi de ho."

She spent a number of years in her father's band and was really coming into her own voice as a performer.
posted by mullicious at 7:19 AM on December 29, 2009


Fantastic stuff, thanks!

Like I said, Faze finds a way to complain about everything. Might as well go all the way and any time there's a jazz post that isn't about Louis Armstrong, leave a comment saying "Who cares? It's not as good as Armstrong."
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on December 29, 2009


Thanks for the post. Great stuff. In regard to Blanche being obscure, it's interesting to find this quote from Earl "Fatha" Hines:

"Blanche Calloway, Cab's sister, had a very good way of entertaining. She was wild and
wiry in certain things and very sensitive in others ......Although Cab may not say this to
himself, all of his style was from her. His sister taught him everything he knew about
performing."


It also looks like they played off one another, maybe a little competition? Cab's "Minnie the Moocher" was recorded in 1931. The same year, Blanche recorder her signature tune "Growin' Dan," which includes these lyrics:

Minnie the Moocher met my Growlin' Dan,
She shook her hootchie-cootcher, tryin' to steal my man,
She told him the dream she had of the King of Sweden,
And how he was givin' her all she was needin'.
My Dan is mean, but he's on the square,
So he told old Min to take the air,
He said, "Ho-de-ho-de-ho, ha! ha!
Min, I'll see you in the sweet by-and-by."

posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:09 AM on December 29, 2009


Nice post

But could the parentheses be moved to after "Blanche Calloway" instead of before it?
posted by kylej at 8:15 AM on December 29, 2009


There is a fuller bio of her on her myspace page. After her music career she went into politics and starting the first cosmetics company for African American women. Interesting woman indeed!
posted by cazoo at 8:50 AM on December 29, 2009


Ack. Growin' => Growlin'. As in the song lyrics.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:23 AM on December 29, 2009


"I like Cab Calloway"
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:41 AM on December 29, 2009


Great post, that's some hot stuff, I never heard of her. I was going to comment earlier, but I've been wandering around for the last 20 minutes in the previous Cab Calloway and Richard Thompson posts. The internet is a wonderful thing.
posted by marxchivist at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2009


languagehat -- I know you think I hate everything (even though I would have nothing but nice things to say about your excellent and very educational website, if ever asked), but I was just saying that if Blanche Calloway is little known, it's no wonder: her talents (as anybody's would be) seem small set next to her brother's. What I find interesting is kylej's suggestion that Cab may have adopted her style, or at least been heavily influenced by it. There's no question that Cab has a distinctly androgynous image, especially in the early days, when he wiggled his hips, flipped his hair, and wailed soprano. That was part of his appeal. Prince had nothing on this dude when it came to cross-racial, androgyny. That's why Cab is just going to be the more interesting of the two siblings, no matter what. The other thing (leaving Blanche behind) that I'm sure real jazzbos have looked into is the Jewish element in Cab Calloway's musi -- I mean, Minnie the Moocher's scat bits do more than flirt with Middle Eastern scales, and for a couple of choruses there, Cab sounds like nothing so much as a melisma-mouthed cantor at high holiday services.
posted by Faze at 11:13 AM on December 29, 2009


Thanks for the great post flapjazz!
posted by snsranch at 1:40 PM on December 29, 2009


> I was just saying that if Blanche Calloway is little known, it's no wonder

Yeah, I know, and it's a perfectly reasonable observation; it just seems like you never actually have a good word for the posts you comment in. But I'm sorry I got so snippy about it—you have a right to like the things you like, and who wouldn't like Cab? I'll try not to grumble at you next time.
posted by languagehat at 2:02 PM on December 29, 2009


Aw, what a great hug ya gave there, languagehat! (If only I could have had that kind of hug from Blanche in '31...) Yowza.
posted by snsranch at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2009


flapjax at midnite: "Wow, dancestoblue, thanks for that link, it's great.

You're surely welcome, I am glad to have found about this womans music, a bit about her life -- as I've listened I've sortof wondered, tried to put myself in those clubs, how it must have been, hearing these songs, seeing her running that show -- you just know she's got to have had panache bursting out all over her.

CheeseDigestsAll: "In regard to Blanche being obscure, it's interesting to find this quote from Earl "Fatha" Hines:
"Blanche Calloway, Cab's sister, had a very good way of entertaining. She was wild and
wiry in certain things and very sensitive in ......"
"
and
snsranch: "If only I could have had that kind of hug from Blanche in '31..."

Yah, those photos show a wild and wiry and very sensitive woman -- my god. What a beauty, just the darlingest woman, I'm sure every man saw her fell for her, here it is eighty years later and I've fallen for her...
posted by dancestoblue at 6:02 PM on December 29, 2009


It's just too bad that we had to sit through some painfully clumsy chase scenes to see them do their thing.

Halloween Jack, I don't think we watched the same movie. Albeit both movies had the same stars...
posted by IAmBroom at 7:43 PM on December 29, 2009


at I'm sure real jazzbos have looked into is the Jewish element in Cab Calloway's musi[c]

Cab Calloway actually covered several Yiddish songs, including "Utt-Da-Zay" (a.k.a. "Ot Azoy") and "Abi Gezunt" (a.k.a. "A Bee Gezindt" -- original lyrics by Molly Picon!), both circa 1939. You can get them on iTunes.

I have to wonder how much of his scatting, at least in those two songs, was actually an attempt at phonetic Yiddish...
posted by Asparagirl at 7:52 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


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