Tox Tunes #40: Minnie the Moocher (Cab Calloway)

January 23, 2011, 10:32 pm

Cab Calloway (1907 – 1994) was a jazz great who — like Fats Waller — was at times dismissed as a clown and mere entertainer.  In fact, he was a highly trained musician who led one of the great jazz orchestras of the swing era.  Musicians who — at one time or another — played in his group included Dizzy Gillespie, Doc Cheatham, Ben Webster, and Chu Berry.  In his book The Swing Era, jazz historian Gunther Schuller called Calloway “a true jazz musician” and “the most unusually and broadly gifted male singer of the 30’s.”

Many versions of “Minnie the Moocher” on YouTube — unlike the one posted here –omit the stanza with references to drugs:

She messed around with a bloke named Smokey
She loved him though he was cokey
He took her down to Chinatown
And he showed her how to kick the gong around.

[To kick the gong: To smoke opium (from Chinese opium dens of the last century where customers struck a gong to make the attendant come and bring them a pipe). – The Urban Dictionary]

Notice how at 1:34 Calloway incorporates Yiddish influences into the song.

Alyn Shipton’s biography of Calloway – Hi-De-Ho – was recently published.  Terry Teachout’s review in Commentary is informative and appreciative of Calloway’s often neglected talent.

Tox Tunes has previously featured Calloway’s “Reefer Man“.

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