American Masters “Cab Calloway: Sketches”

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American Masters pays tribute to influential
jazz legend Cab Calloway during Black History Month

 “Hi de hi de hi de ho!” Charismatic music and dance pioneer Cab Calloway (12-25-1907 – 11-18-94) is an exceptional figure in the history of jazz music. As a singer, dancer and bandleader, he charmed audiences around the world with his boundless energy, bravado and elegant showmanship. Calloway was also an ambassador for his race, leading one of the most popular African-American big bands during the Harlem Renaissance and jazz and swing eras of the 1930s-40s. During Black History Month, American Masterscelebrates the career and legacy of “The Hi De Ho Man” with the new documentary Cab Calloway: Sketches. American Masters “Cab Calloway: Sketches” airs Monday, February 27, 2012 at 9 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS.

“I am especially delighted to bring Cab Calloway to younger audiences — and he does become quite alive through the inventive animation in this film,” says Susan Lacy, American Masters series creator and executive producer. “He, and his era, is such a vital part of our musical cultural heritage — and such an energetic one!”

With the Cotton Club — where blacks could perform but not attend — as his home stage, Calloway became a star of New York’s jazz scene and then a household name with his signature song “Minnie the Moocher.” Despite its tragic, taboo subject matter, the song broke into the mainstream and was even used in Max and Dave Fleischer’s Betty Boop cartoon of the same name, along with Calloway’s dance moves. Breaking the color barrier with this “hi de ho” hit, he was one of the first black musicians to tour the segregationist South. He published a Hepster’s Dictionary of his jive slang in 1938, starred in films, including Stormy Weather (1943) with Lena Horne and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and played Sportin’ Life — a role George Gershwin modeled on him — in a 1952 touring production of Porgy and Bess, making “It Ain’t Necessarily So” an enduring part of his brand. With his zany theatricality — scat singing, jive talking, zoot suit wearing, straight-hair head-shaking, and backslide dance (a precursor to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk) — Calloway transcended racial specificity on his own terms.

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