Quizzicale: Cab Calloway’s radio show

The Q-Team: Tyree Glenn, Eddie Barefield, Milton Hinton and Cab

One of the greatest experiences Cab Calloway had on the ether waves was certainly the "Quizzicale Show." For more than a year, the show was broadcast across the country and gained a huge success with the black community. The only problem was precisely that it was a show with black musicians. After nearly a year, the show was dropped for lack of a sponsor. And yet, it really had it all together for success!

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Two 1942 advertisings for Cab’s Quizzicale and other activities

In his autobiography, Cab describes the Quizzicale Show in great detail. The first show took place July 6, 1941 and the last one on August 11, 1942. Between these two dates, the national network NBC broadcast it weekly on the Mutual Network (July to September 1941, on Sundays from 10:30 to 11:00 p.m.) and the Blue Network (February to August 1942, on Wednesdays from 9:30 to 10:00 p.m.)

Quizzicale was an African-American parody of "The College of Musical Knowledge," a radio contest created by bandleader Kay Kyser.  A kind of a "vaudeville" show, Quizzicale happened in every city, every week. Small towns in the Midwest, South or East Coast cities, each show allowed the local black community to be thrilled seeing Cab Calloway and his team “in the flesh.” Candidates for the musical game were drawn. Each player had to roll the dice. The resulting numbers designated the questions that would be posed: music, variety or the stars of the day. Good answer and you can get $5. Persons submitting the questions get $10! Some good money for the time. The show was produced by Douglas STORER.

 

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Cab Calloway and a candidate in front of a packed studio audience (July 1941).
A journalist criticized Cab for calling candidates by their first name...

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Cab Calloway and a Quizzicale candidate. A the end of the broadcast,
Cab shoots dice for a Can O' Cash, left over from uncollected $5 prcies.
The dice throws locate a seat number in the audience to pick the winner. (July 1941, probably the first show)

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During one show, a question had to do with new dance steps and
300-lb. candidate "Frances BROWN demonstrated with unexpected agility.
Imprompt busines like this makes the show hard to time precisely, but lots gayer to watch and hear." (July 1941)

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Cab Calloway and a Quizzicale candidate during the Blue Network period
(between February and August 1942).

 

In fact, the show was mainly built on the team’s performances. Some musicians played the game particularly well:

  • Cab, naturally, as Professor Calloway, asked the questions and parried with the audience;
  • Eddie Barefield as Brother Treadway, famous for his babble; 
  • Milton Hinton, as Brother Jones Sixty-Two, who insulted the entire team, mocking their accoutrements or the way they spoke.

It was the ideal opportunity to hear the black slang of the moment, Jive. Cab also published his Hepster's Dictionary and Swingformation Bureau during this period.

Critics from Variety wrote after the first show that in addition of being one of the most entertaining features on the air, it is worthy of a commercial sponsor. "It is one of the most spontaneous and infectious quiz shows on the air. Fat from being any drawback, the racial angle gives an extra boost."

Some other in the black press, said on the contrary that the Quizzicale was "not only a poor imitation of white programs built on the question-answer theme, but reflects discredit upon the race." (quoted in Afro American, July 9, 1941 by Ralph Matthews). For instance, Percival PRATTIS said Cab was nonetheless than a "Fifth Columnist" working against the interest of the Negro" (quoted by P. Ford in "Dig"). The reality was that Cab "was out to make a mess of all quiz programs" (in "Dig", page 46). Variety writes that the show was sub-billed "Harlem's own idea of what a musical quiz should be" (July 9, 1941).

I can"t resist to quote a whole paragraph from Phil FORD's book:

"Quizzicale inverts the conventions of popular quiz shows such as 'Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge' and 'Dr I.Q'. The master of ceremonnies is not a professional authority but a jive-talking musician; it is not privileged white people but working-class African-Americans who get to show off their knowledgge; and knowleedge, in this topsy-turvy world, could be the answer to questions like "which would you rather have, money in the bank or a long yellow roadster with the top down, a fur coat on and a police dog?" To Calloway's middle-class critics, this kind of things sounded like undignified clowning. Other might have heard a subtle point being made: mabe the Harlem expert knows something you don't." (page 47)

As pointed out earlier, the show was dropped after one year due to lack of sponsorship. NBC could not find a sponsor willing to be associated with this black show. A dozen candidates were approached but none would sign a check. Nat King Cole suffered the same injustice when his variety show was canceled overnight. Pressure from the affiliates in the southern states was clearly influential.

Two episodes are "available" (25 February and 4 March 1942). Here is an extract of the intro and the announcement (by George Hagan) of the show February 25, 1942 in Cleveland...


Sources:

  • "Swingin' On The Ether Waves", E. SAMPSON (Sacrecrow Press, 2005) is an excellent reference book about Afro-Americans on radio. You can read there a complete script of a Quizzicale show. Unfortunately, it's a $400 book...
  • "Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture", Phil FORD (Oxford University Press, 2013). Excellent analysis.
  • Ralph MATTHEWS, "In Defense of Cab Calloway", Afro American, September 27, 1941
  • Afro American, February 22, July 22, September 27 
  • Variety, July 9, 1941

 

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May 15, 1942 advertising for the Quizzicale show to be broadcasted in Fort Worth. A program on 2 days!

 

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"Dr Calloway" in the newspaper, August 10, 1941

 

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