The Hi-De-Ho Man

November 22, 1994

Bandleader-singer Cab Calloway made his fame more than six decades ago through performances at Harlem's fabled Cotton Club, live radio broadcasts and concert tours that took "the King of Hi-De-Ho" and his high-flying band to nightclubs and dance halls around the world. But Mr. Calloway -- who died at age 86 last Friday, five months after suffering a stroke -- never forgot Baltimore, where he lived with his family from the time he was 10 until he was about 20 years old.

A graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, Cabell "Cab" Calloway III remembered Baltimore in a mostly fond light, despite the segregation of the day. The reverence he felt for his family and teachers was matched by his fondness for the characters he encountered in what he called "that rough and raucous Baltimore Negro night life with loud music, heavy drinking and the kind of moral standards that my parents looked down on."

After he became a star, he often brought his orchestra to his home town, for shows at the Royal Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue and the Century on West Lexington. Later, in the coda of his career, he appeared at the Morris A. Mechanic Theater in a 1978 production of the musical "Bubbling Brown Sugar," and in 1990 he had his last local engagement, at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

But he was only 23 when he first sang "Minnie the Moocher" at the Cotton Club and, on the spot, became an archetypal figure of 20th century American culture: the charismatic vocalist fronting his own band. The zoot suits, the broad smile, the slick dance moves -- all predated a long line of pop stars who, whether they realized it or not, walked a trail blazed by Cab Calloway.

There was more to Mr. Calloway than surface "star" appeal; his trumpet-like voice, for example. And though not in the league of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras, the Calloway band was respected for featuring some of the hottest arrangements of the big band era, played by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Ben Webster and Cozy Cole.

Cool be-bop, which Mr. Calloway scorned, ultimately overshadowed his heated style of play. Yet he kept making music around the world, staging concerts as late as last year. He led a sing-along to "Minnie the Moocher" in May 1993 during commencement ceremonies at the University of Rochester, where he was given an honorary doctorate in fine arts. Five months later, he received a National Medal of Arts from President Clinton. These honors merely confirmed, officially, what had been known in Baltimore and the rest of the world for years: There was no one like "the Hi-De-Ho Man."

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