SONG: Minnie the Moocher
ARTIST: Cab Calloway & His Orchestra
Listen to it here:
Minnie the Moocher was first recorded and released in 1931 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. It was the biggest hit of 1931 and was most famous for Cab’s nonsensical words (scat) of hi-de-hi-de-hi/ho. It’s also argued that this recording is the first jazz recording to sell one million copies!
The song was not initially written by Cab Calloway, but based on a song from 1927 called Willie the Weeper, written by Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon. The song is full of drug references – “cokey” meaning cocaine and “kick the gong around” meaning smoking opium. This was Cab Calloway’s biggest song, and led to his nickname of Hi De Ho Man. He even got to reprise it in the 1980 classic The Blues Brothers, looking spry and sounding great at age 73!
Cabell Calloway III was born in Rochester, New York on Christmas Day, 1907. Cab’s family moved to Baltimore when he was 11 years old. As a child Cab often skipped school to hustle – sell newspapers, shine shoes, earn money. When his parents caught him doing this, they sent him to a boarding school where he began his formal music education with voice lessons. Despite his formal training (and his parents’ disapproval) Cab started performing in nightclubs around Baltimore.
One of Cab’s biggest musical influences was his older sister Blanche, who was a band leader before him. Cab went to college to pursue law, but the draw of showbiz was too much for Cab, especially being in Chicago, a hotbed for jazz at the time. Louis Armstrong even taught Cab how to scat. Cab eventually moved to New York, and after a failure of a performance at the Savoy Ballroom, regrouped with a band called the Missourians, changed the name to Cab Calloway and his orchestra and were hired at the Cotton Club as a replacement for Duke Ellington while he was on tour. The band was so popular that they were offered a permanent spot there. Cab even became the first Black person to have a nationally syndicated radio show!
Cab Calloway pretty much maintained his popularity throughout the bulk of his life – Minnie the Moocher in 1931 made him a superstar, he had greats such as Ben Webster and Dizzy Gillespie in his band, he appeared in movies, television, and even a Janet Jackson video. Cab passed away in 1994 at age 86.
In 1961 and 1962, Cab toured with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, providing half time entertainment.
Like St James Infirmary, there is a Betty Boop cartoon of Cab performing this song.
I’ve probably heard this song a hundred times, but never really thought about it or who performed it, so first of all it was super cool to be able to learn more about it and Cab Calloway. The song is great and super fun, and a fantastic example of early scat. I do think that part of the fun of the song is the whole performance, so I would recommend watching a video of Cab in action.
I was so happy to see this song coming up on the list! Cab Calloway was known for his scat singing and it was this song that made it famous. This is another song filled with some great trumpet playing, along with the rest of the band. I like the constant chunking away of the guitar against the dirty sounding winds. I also really like Cab’s dancing, but that’s technically not part of this review! Make sure to check out his version of the song from The Blues Brothers if you don’t already know it!
Average mark out of 10:
*A mark of 8/10 or higher means this is definitely worth buying!
Other notable versions of this song:
Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers
Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry performing and analyzing the song in Jeeves and Wooster
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:
This spotify playlist contains only the songs that Holly and Kelly have given an average mark of 8/10 or higher to: