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Cab Calloway's Chicago

An American Masters episode on Cab Calloway debuted this week on PBS to generally good reviews. While Calloway is mostly a New York figure, Chicago played an important role in his career. Let's take a look, first with a bit of background and then some video.

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"Although Calloway came of age at the Cotton Club in Harlem (during a time when blacks were not allowed to sit in the audience), his Chicago connections are important," Dave Hoekstra wrote in the Sun-Times.

The links that follow are mine because the Sun-Times still doesn't know how to make them. See how they enrich the story - along with the videos. 3-D journalism, my friends.

"His older sister Blanche was the bandleader for Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys, a Chicago-based band that included Louis Armstrong and future Calloway drummer Cozy Cole. Cab Calloway debuted in Chicago in 1928 at the Dreamland Cafe.

"According to Dempsey Travis' An Autobiography of Black Jazz, the Dreamland was managed by Bill Bottoms, who later became the chef for boxer Joe Louis. Calloway's first full-time gig was as house singer with Armstrong and Earl Hines at the Sunset Cafe, 35th and Calumet. The mobbed-up Sunset was the South Side's version of the Cotton Club, with chorus girls, comedians and tap dancers."

In 1929, Calloway became the leader of the 11-piece Chicago band the Alabamians. They played the Savoy in New York; the band came home and Calloway stayed there.

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"And then there was The Blues Brothers, where Calloway was introduced to another generation," Hoekstra writes.

"The hourlong documentary closes out on a high note with the Blues Brothers segment. There is no mention of Calloway's death. Blues Brothers director John Landis offers engaging and vivid recollections of working with Calloway, especially trying to get Calloway hep to a vintage version of 'Minnie the Moocher.' Calloway was set on using a disco version he had just recorded."

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Hi De Ho, 1934.

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The Sunset Cafe.

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Minnie the Moocher, 1950s.

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Minnie the Moocher, The Blues Brothers.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on February 29, 2012


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