His highness, the King of Hi de Ho!
Many jazz fans will be delighted by this story told by Cab Calloway in his autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me: at an evening reception in honor of Duke Ellington, Richard Nixon approached Cab Calloway and told him "My wife and I really like what you're doing, Mr. Ellington" True or not, it indicates the presence of Cab at the White House and his relationship with the U.S. leader. The Hi de Ho Blog will tell you a little more...
Franklin Delano Roosevelt : just call me FDR!
November 2, 1938 : Cab Calloway and his orchestra record "FDR Jones". Composed in honor of then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and created by Rex Ingram in the revue Sing Out The News, the song goes pretty popular and is soon covered by others, such as Ella Fitzgerald (the first version), The Mills Brothers, Harry Roy, Chick Webb, then Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole Trio and Judy Garland (16 covers alone in 1938!).
I must say that the popularity of Roosevelt among blacks was high: the New Deal program allowed them to expect some progress and especially promise of getting a job! The number of African Americans babies receiving the baptismal name "Roosevelt" or variations reached such proportions that a white author captured the phenomenon and wrote this song. Here are the lyrics:
I hear tell there's a stranger in the Jones' household,
(Yes siree, yes siree) That's what I am told
I hear tell there's a new arrival six days old
(Yes siree, yes siree) Worth his weight in gold
Come right in and meet the son
Christening's done, time to have some fun
(Yes Siree, yes siree) yes siree-e-e-e
(Yes siree, yes siree-e)
It's a big holiday everywhere
For the Jones Family has a brand new heir
He's a joy heaven sent, and we proudly present,
Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones.
When he grows up he never will stray
With a name like the one that he got today
When he walks down the street
Folks will say "pleased to meet
Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones"
What a smile, and how he shows it
He'll be happy all day long
What a name, I bet he knows it
With that handle how can he go wrong
And the folks in the town all agree
He'll be famous, as famous as he can be
How can he be a dud
Or a stick-in-the-mud
When he's Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones.
Go to sleep my baby, and maybe,
You'll balance the budget by and by
Oh you're a lucky baby
With Franklin D. for your name
Mrs. Jones' baby boy is a welcome resident
Give him a fishing rod for a toy,
He's the future president
When this rascal goes to school
ABCs wont matter
Teach him plain old `rithmetic
And of course the fire side chatter
My friends, my friends, let's all shout "Hooray"
We'll be proud to affirm when he serves his fourth term
Just you wait and see, he'll make history
'Cause he's Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones.
Urylee Leonardos and Cab Calloway (Ziegfield Theatre, New York - Photo : JET)
From Lincoln to Kennedy
During the JFK presidential campaign, Cab records supportive radio spots, as many other African American artists who were involved with the young Kennedy's support for civil rights: Nat King Cole, Hary Belafonte, Lena Horne.
After the death of Kennedy, Cab recorded the strange tune "History Repeats Itself" (see our separate article) establishing a bizarre parallel between Lincoln and JFK ...
President L. Johnson and his spouse.
One of the highlights of Cab Calloway at the side of a president was certainly the night in November 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson and his wife were attending the premiere of "Hello Dolly!" with Pearl Bailey and Cab. The musical was then pre-Broadway tour in Washington DC. At the curtain calls, the President was invited to go on stage and accepted - a historic first - to join the artists. Everyone sang in the choir as Hello Dolly, and Cab went with... Minnie The Moocher, of course!
Cab Calloway and his wife Nuffie,
arriving at Duke Ellington's 70th birthday party at the White House.
On 29 April 1969 on the occasion of Ellington's 70th birthday, President Nixon celebrates the great musician with a host of musicians including, Cab Calloway. He will be asked two more times, always with his wife Nuffie.
In 1987, during the concert at Carnegie Hall in New York celebrating 60 years of Cab in show business, the honoree received a telegram from Ronald REAGAN: "You do deserve such a celebration. During your whole life, you've contributed to the American musical songbook through your so special humor and jargon. You captivated the youngs and the olds and you are entered into our hearts to stay there forever. Nancy and I are proud to greet you. God bless you." (quoted by Serge Loupien in Libération, November 21, 1994).
On this official picture, Margaret Tatcher's smile is quite as wide as Cab's!
On this date a ceremony at the White House was held in honor of Ray Charles and Cab Calloway among others.
On the death of Cab Calloway, November 18, 1994, Bill Clinton sent a letter of condolence to the family.
To explore this topic further:
- Roosevelt's Blues: African-American blues and gospel songs on FDR par Guido van Rijn
- Pearl Harbor Jazz,
- Ghosts Of Harlem de Hank O'Neal
- Les magazines Jet, Ebony, Billboard
Many thanks to Philippe BAUDOIN for the "FDR Jones" sheet music, from his private collection and mublished here with his authorization.