Calloway perform "Dawn
Time" from the movie Hi-De-Ho.
A premier black entertainer of the Harlem Renaissance, Cabell ("Cab")
Calloway's impressive singing ability and showmanship won him steady
gigs at the famous Cotton Club.
Calloway's lasting influence on popular music stems from his minting
and mastery of scat-jive vocals. His signature style was to improvise
nonsense (but incredibly inventive) lyrics on the spot, often incorporating
snippets of Harlem street slang in his monologues and songs.
Some of Calloway's most popular songs referenced the nitty-gritty
of Harlem nightlife and its more fervent practitioners, such as his
1931 smash hit, "Minnie the Moocher." In this innovative
song, Calloway used call-and-response technique to bat the phrase
"Hi-de-ho" back and forth between stage and audience.
Calloway didn't find acclaim in nightclubs alone. His talent also
sparkled in theaters and on the silver screen. In 1929, when Calloway
landed a role in Connie's Hot Chocolates—a musical
revue created by the team of Fats Waller and Andy Razaf—he found
himself sharing the stage with a young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong.
In 1937, he appeared in the revue Manhattan Merry-Go Round
with the beloved dance group Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.
Audiences nationwide would soon witness Calloway's talents when he
toured in George Gershwin's acclaimed musical Porgy and Bess,
playing a fictional character named "Sportin' Life," who
is thought to have been based on Cab Calloway himself.