Wednesday, February 22, 2012

PBS Celebrates the inimitable Cab Calloway

"Hi de hi de hi de ho!" When that clarion call pierced the air, you knew a rousing time was about to be had. Cab Calloway was a force of nature. When he appears in movies, one simply cannot take your eyes away....even with that delectable Lena Horne in the same frame.
Charisma and creativity, energy and elegance all dressed up in white on white double breasted zoot suit with looping gold chain.
Calloway led one of the most popular African American big bands during the jazz and swing eras of the Harlem Renaissance in the '30's and '40's.
PBS's “American Masters” will premiere 'Cab Calloway: Sketches' beginning Monday February 27 at 10 pm.
Mobsters owned the Cotton Club. Cab and his band were “invited” to sub for Duke Ellington when the latter was on tour, being given the infamous Mafia 'offer'. Suddenly, the young Calloway (barely 23 in early 1930) was the new star, the chic place for rich, white people to enjoy the twin thrills of slumming in Harlem and taking in the elegant, sexy revues performed by stunning and scantily clad black showgirls. He soon became the darling of journalists and of New York’s nightlife. The radio quickly caught on to the phenomenon, broadcasting his shows three times a week. The United States had discovered Cab Calloway, and he was an overnight success.
Calloway lived in a segregated world. At The Cotton Club blacks could only perform, not attend. His was one of the first bands to tour the segregationist South, suffering through the indignities of Jim Crow. He finally demanded his own Pullman car.
The song “Minnie The Moocher” with its endlessly scatted chorus of “Hi de ho”, Calloway became the first black performer to sell a million copies of a 78 rpm record. Oddly enough, the upbeat-sounding song actually tells the tale of a poor girl under the thumb of a pimp who cares more about coke than love. The lyrics, emanating from the primordial core of Calloway, perhaps are never fully absorbed.
The PBS show explores Calloway's musical beginnings and milestones in the context of the Harlem Renaissance including period footage of that era of segregation.
The Broadway composing master of them all, George Gershwin, modeled the character Sportin' Life after Calloway. In 1952 he sang that part in a production and toured for two years.
He had his own Renaissance with “The Blues Brothers” in 1980. Calloway influenced Michael and Janet Jackson, Prince, Alicia Keys but others that you might not consider: present day hip-hoppers!
The biopic includes interviews of Cab's daughters, Cecilia and Camay, one of whom lives in Hockessin and continues a presence at Cab Calloway School of The Arts.
Aisle Say suggests you see this show on PBS. Additionally, if there is one movie that captures ALL the Afro American performers of that glorious age, it's Stormy Weather (1943). The history of jazz is brought to life with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Fats Waller, Lena Horne, and in the grand finale, Cab Calloway, surrounded by celebrated tap dancers the Nicholas Brothers. Wow! While Horne's “Stormy Weather” makes every male wish he was snuggling up with her on that wet and wild night, the Nicholas Brothers dancing sequence down that staircase is extraterrestrial.
One assumes there will be a universal home work assignment at Cab on Friday the 24th!
PBS. Monday, February 27, 2012, 10:00-11:00 pm. ET; repeat. Friday, March 2, 2012, 9:00-10:00 pm. ET

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