Calloway, Before the Cab Came

blanche calloway to follow

Blanche Calloway (1904-1978) was a Jazz singer, bandleader, and composer from Baltimore, Maryland. And she was the older sister of a guy named Cab…yep, that would be Cab Calloway. While not as many people may recognize her name the same way you do her sibling, she may have been the very first female to lead an all male orchestra. Her brother credited her for inspiring him to begin a career in show business. Blanche’s first recordings was as a sideman in Louis Armstrong sessions in 1925.
You can see the family resemblance. Just another piece of history that seems to have slipped through the cracks.

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Blue Smoke and Music

Being often left in the care of my uncle and his friends as a young child, most of my earliest memories and feelings are ones that are filled with music, hazy blue smoke, laughter, jokes I do not understand, “don’t tell your moms”, and fun. He was quite a bit younger than my mother, barely out of his teens and still seeking a life that he could experience and live to the fullest. To be saddled with a small child much of his free time was a big responsibility, and one that I am thankful he took. Through my mother’s tangled web of relationships and husbands, he was the constant male figure in my life, one that I knew loved me, would always care for me and always keep me safe.
He once told me he was paid per diaper from the day I was born, a nickel for pee and a dime for anything more. Being an overly sensitive child, I never remember hearing any sort of anger in his reciting of this, I only heard laughter.

 

My hero

My hero

 

My uncle and his best friend R. were music buffs, often leaving our small town and traveling any possible way they could thousands of miles to see bands. They would show up weeks later, dirty, tired, broke but full of stories. I didn’t always understand what they spoke of, but I appreciated that they wanted to tell me and I was worthy enough to be told.

I learned of what kind of significance music can be to an individual at a very young age. Before I was even of school age, I would wake, long after my bedtime and hear music and the low hum of my Uncle L. and his friends voices. I would slip out of bed and creep to where they were, not afraid of getting in trouble, because I wanted to watch a little bit before they noticed I was there. I would always find the same scene, they would usually be sprawled on the floor, and a low slung cloud of blue smoke would be hovering just above their heads. Whatever band they were into at the moment would be playing on the turntable, and they would be discussing it. When they would catch me hiding in the shadows they would pretend to be surprised, as if this was not something that happened often, and then ask me to join them. I would hunker down, usually on someone’s lap or burrowed under someone’s arm, and they would turn up the music. And say, “Listen, just listen.” Putting on what they wanted me to hear they would turn and watch my face. I wasn’t allowed to speak until I had heard what they wanted me to. Then they would ask ” How did that make you feel?.” This question always tore at me, I loved that someone really wanted to know what I thought of something, but I was too little to articulate what I think they wanted to hear. Sometimes I would answer right, and they would light up as if I was some sort of child genius, other times they would make me listen to other songs if they did not think I was “getting it”. Once they played Pink Floyd “Money”, and I remember telling R. that the song made me feel scared, and he jumped up dancing around yelling at my Uncle L…”You see, you see??”, I might have a little glimmer now on what he meant by this but at 4 or 5 I had none, I just knew I was important at that moment. I had answered right. They would let me stay up until I would fall asleep in someone’s lap and wake in my own bed, often making those nights feel like something I had dreamed.

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