Cab Calloway Biography – Career, Facts & Life Style Before Death

Cab Calloway was an American singer, vocalist, bandleader, and dancer. He was allied with the Cotton Club in Harlem as a regular artist and became a popular vocalist of the swing era.

His niche of combining jazz and vaudeville won him praise during a career of over 65 years. He got numerous accolades and honors for his remarkable contributed talent in the industry. At the time of his death, his net worth was $70 million. So, meet him here and praise it.

Personal Bio

NameCabell Calloway III
Nick NameThe “King of Hi-De-Ho”
D.O.BDecember 25, 1907
Place of birthRochester, New York
DeathNovember 18, 1994
Place of DeathHockessin, Delaware
Zodiac SignCapricon
ProfessionSinger, bandleader, vocalist, actor
Marital StatusZulme Nuffie MacNeal (1949-1994)  (his death)Wenonah Betty Conacher (1928-1948)  (divorced)  
ChildrenCamay (From Mother Zelma Proctor)Constance (Adopted with Betty)Chris CallowayCeciliaCabella

Who is Cab Calloway III?

Cab Calloway III
Cab Calloway III

Calloway was the first African-American musician to sell a million records from a single and to have a nationwide collective radio show. Calloway was a master of energetic scat singing ability.

He is considered one of the most popular entertainers of the 1930s and ’40s in the United States and known as the “Hi-de-ho” man.

His band included trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Jonah Jones, Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon “Chu” Berry, guitarist Danny Barker, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Cozy Cole.

His most prominent song, “Minnie the Moocher,” was originally recorded in 1931. He reached the Billboard charts for five consecutive decades from the 30s to the 70s. 

Calloway made numerous stage, film, and T.V. appearances until his death in 1994 at 86. However, he is portrayed in the roles in Stormy Weather, Porgy and BessThe Cincinnati Kid, and Hello Dolly! His career saw a transformed interest when he appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

In 1993, Cab Calloway received the National Medal of Arts from the United States Congress. Moreover, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

In 1999, his song Minnie the Moocher was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Additionally, the award was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2019. He is also inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame and the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

Cab Calloway-Early Life & Education

Calloway belonged to an African American family. His mother, Martha Eulalia Reed, was a Morgan State College graduate, teacher, and church organist. While his father, Cabell Calloway Jr., was a lawyer in real estate who graduated from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania in 1898.

When Calloway was 11, his family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Later, his father died, and his mother remarried John Nelson Fortune.

Calloway blossomed in the West Baltimore region of Druid Hill. Over and over again, he missed school to earn money by selling newspapers, shining shoes, and cooling down horses at the Pimlico racetrack, where he developed an interest in racing and betting on horse races. 

Later, his mother sent him to Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School in 1921, a reform school run by his mother’s uncle in Chester County, Pennsylvania, when he was caught playing dice on the church steps.

Cab Calloway continued to shove when he returned to Baltimore and worked as a caterer while improving his school studies. He started private vocal lessons in 1922 and studied music during his formal schooling.

In spite of his parent’s and teacher’s condemnation of jazz, he began performing in nightclubs in Baltimore. His guide included drummer Chick Webb and pianist Johnny Jones.

Calloway joined his high school basketball team, and in his senior year, he started playing professional basketball with the Baltimore Athenians, a Negro Professional Basketball League team. In 1925, he graduated from Frederick Douglass High School.

Career (Singing & Movies)

Cab Calloway Career
Cab Calloway Career

Calloway picked up tips from his sister, appeared in the Plantation Days extravaganza with her, and worked at the Sunset Café as an emcee and alternate drummer. Calloway by no means sincerely played an instrument, and the drumming was soon surplus.

In 1929, he moved to New York, where he emerged in the show Hot Chocolates, a brief spectacular that featured the music of Fats Waller and Andy Razaf and performances from Louis Armstrong.

In 1929 Calloway secured a commitment at the Savoy Ballroom, taking over the headship of a group called the Alabamians. Still, the band was not strong enough to make it in the Big Apple and soon broke up. Then he tried better luck with his next group.

During 1929-30, the Missourians, an exciting jazz combo that recorded three hot records, was on the edge of breaking up due to the misery. Also, he took over the ten-piece band, renamed it the Cab Calloway Orchestra, and added a third trumpeter.

Calloway and his new band made their first recordings on July 24, 1930, resulting in a spectacular version of St. Louis Blues.

In 1930 four additional record sessions included Sweet Jennie Lee, Some of These Days, Nobody’s Sweetheart, and St. James Infirmary. During these performances, Calloway, who was already very identifiable, took wild chances in his singing, engaged in demonstrative and slightly crazy scat-singing, and put on a pretty show.

In February, at the Cotton Club, his orchestra became the house band succeeding Duke Ellington. The regular radio broadcasts led to Calloway becoming nationwide famous quickly.

While radio audiences could not see his agitated and sometimes crazy conducting or his dancing, they could experience the enjoyment and natural discard in his singing.

A Major Breakthrough- Minnie the Moocher

Calloway led an unyielding, professional unit near the beginning 30s; many consider his band of 1937–1942 to be his best. 1931 might be considered the altitude of the Depression, but it was also the year that Cab Calloway became eminent.

 The following year, Calloway first recorded his most well-known music, Minnie the Moocher, a song showcasing his scat singing skill. Additional Calloway hit albums from the 1930s include Kickin’ the Gong Around, Reefer Man, The Lady with the Fan, Long About Midnight, The Man from Harlem, and Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day.

Calloway was an active and hilarious entertainer whose performance trademarks included unusual dancing and wildly pitching his mop of hair; his standard accessories included a white tuxedo and an oversized baton. He was an artistic vocalist with a huge range and was regarded as “the most unusual and broadly gifted male singer of the ’30s” by jazz scholar Gunther Schuller.

Although his band rose to fame largely on the strength of his appeal, some critics felt that Calloway’s antics drew focus away from one of the best assemblages of musicians in jazz.

Featured sidemen during those years included legendary jazz players like pianist Bennie Payne, saxophonists Chu Berry; moreover  Ike Quebec, trombonist-vibraphonist Tyree Glenn, drummer Cozy Cole, and trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Doc Cheatham, Jonah Jones, Shad Collins. The turn down in fame of big bands forced Calloway to break up his orchestra in 1948, and he continued with a band for over a few years.

Cab Calloway-Filmography

Cab Calloway Movies
Cab Calloway Movies

Calloway also had a victorious side career as an actor. He was portrayed in more than a few motion pictures, including The Big Broadcast (1932), Stormy Weather (1943), Sensations of 1945 (1944), and The Cincinnati Kid (1965). 

Moreover, for Calloway, George Gershwin had visualized the role of Sportin Life in his 1935 jazz opera Porgy and Bess; the entertainer finally got his opportunity at the part during a portent world tour of the show in 1952–1954.

In the 1960s, Calloway also appeared on Broadway and on tour in Hello, Dolly!, portraying the role of Horace Vandergelder with Pearl Bailey as Dolly Levi. In the 1970s, Cab Calloway again starred on Broadway in the hit musical Bubbling Brown Sugar.

His best-known acting show was also his final, as a jive-talking music promoter in director John Landis’s comedy The Blues Brothers (1980). During the film, Calloway pretends his mark white tie and tails and performs Minnie the Moocher again.

Honors & Rewards

Honors & Rewards
Honors & Rewards
  • In 1983, he received the Silver Platter Honor Award from Salesian High School.
  • Town Supervisor Anthony F. Veteran declared a Cab Calloway Day in Green burgh, New York, in 1985.
  • Calloway was presented with the Beacons in Jazz Award from The New School in New York City. New York City Mayor David Dinkins announced the day Cab Calloway Day in 1990.
  • The Cab Calloway School of the Arts was founded in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1992.
  • Calloway’s daughter Camay Calloway Murphy founded the Cab Calloway Museum at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1994.
  • The New York Racing Association (NYRA) annually honors the jazz legend, a native of Rochester, N.Y., with stakes races restricted to NY-bred three-year-olds as part of their New York Stallion Series. First, run in 2003, The Calloway has undergone various distance and surface changes.
  • The race is currently run at Saratoga Racecourse, Saratoga Springs, NY, one of America’s most popular, premier racetracks.
  • The Cab Calloway Stakes celebrated its 13th renewal on July 24, 2019, and was won by Rinaldi. In 2020 Calloway was initiated into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Cab Calloway received the following awards:

  • Best Performance, Outer Critics Circle Awards (Hello, Dolly) (1967).
  • Inducted into Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame (1987).
  • Beacons in Jazz Award, The New School (1990).
  • National Medal of Arts, Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, University of Rochester, and Cab Calloway School of the Arts dedicated in his name in Wilmington, Delaware(1993). 
  • Inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame (1995).
  • Grammy Hall of Fame Award for “Minnie the Moocher”(1999).
  • Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Minnie the Moocher added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry (2008).

Personal Life

In January 1927, Calloway had a daughter named Camay with Zelma Proctor, a fellow student. In Virginia, She was one of the first African-Americans to teach in a white school.

Then,  in July 1928, Calloway married his first wife, Wenonah “Betty” Conacher. In 1949, they adopted a daughter named Constance and divorced.

On October 7, 1949, Calloway wedded Zulme Nuffie MacNeal. They lived in Long Beach on the South Shore of Long Island, New York.

In the 50s, Calloway shifted with his family to Westchester County, New York, where a duo raised their daughters Chris Calloway, Cecilia Lael Eulalia Calloway, and Cabella Calloway.

However, Chris died in August 2008 after a long battle with breast cancer; after two months, Nuffie, at the age of 93, died at a nursing home in Delaware.

Cab Calloway III Death

Cab Calloway III Death
Cab Calloway III Death

On June 12, 1994, Calloway suffered a stroke at his Westchester County, New York home. On November 18, 1994, he died five months later from pneumonia, a month before his 87th birthday, at a nursing home in Hockessin, Delaware. 

In his last days, he was endured by his wife, five daughters, and seven grandsons. At Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, Calloway was buried.

Law Suit

In December 1945, Calloway and his friend Felix H. Payne Jr., in Kansas City, Missouri, were beaten by a police officer, William E. Todd, and arrested after trying to visit bandleader Lionel Hampton at the whites-only Pla-Mor Ballroom

. After, they were taken to the hospital for injuries and charged with intoxication and resisting arrest. Hampton refused to continue the concert when he learned of the incident. 

Todd said he was clued up by the manager, unaware of Calloway, that they were attempting to enter. He claimed they declined to leave and smacked him.

However, Calloway and Payne denied his claims and maintained they had been moderate; the charges were dismissed.

In February 1946, six civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, insisted that Todd be fired, but he had already reconciled after a pay cut.

In 1952, Cab Calloway was arrested in Leesburg, Virginia, on his way to the race track in Charles Town, West Virginia. He was charged with speeding and attempted corruption of a policeman.

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