Cotton Club Revue Season #3: 1959, from Chicago to South America and New York

We saw in our last article that Cab Calloway kept himself busy between two seasons. Before its winter return in Miami, the whole troupe will find success in the Windy City, Chicago, before leaving for South America.

 

Chicago, home of Calloway fame 

Tireless, Cab Calloway honors his new contract with Victor (RCA) for recording his new album in stereo: "Hi De Hi De Ho". Sessions occur on December 5, 15 and 16 1958 in New York. The line up of musicians is totally different than the current ones. But Cab works again with alumni Milt HINTON (bass) and J.C. HEARD (drums). Note that Hank JONES is on the piano. Someday, we'll dedicate a special article to this album...

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The first stereo LP for Cab Calloway recorded in December 1958,
supposed to sustain Cab's revue, will be released in May 1959.

Right before arriving to Chicago, Cab Calloway was in Albany, where he led his band for inaugural ball dance music at the New York state inauguration Govern's gala, Nelson A ROCKFELLER. In fact, Nuffie, Cab's wife, worked during the campaign for Rockfeller. Cab and her were close friends of the Governor's oldest son, Rodman.

 

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Everything is set at the Chicago Northside Club Mist, 6412 W. Montrose Avenue when the revue starts probably mid-January with 7 nights a week. Remember that it’s there, in the windy city that Cab’s artistic career began, at the Sunset Café, along with Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines! Cab feels like home there.

I’ve only found a couple of articles dealing with the Cotton Club Revue in Chicago. We still don't know how long The Cotton Club Revue stayed there: 2 or 3 weeks?

Nevertheless, it’s an active period for Cab since he signs a new contract in January 1959 with Victor (RCA) to record his next album in stereo, to be issued on March as "Hi-De-Ho in Stereo"! In reality

On February 6, he’s on TV for Your Hit Parade on CBS where he sings his theme song Minnie The Moocher, plus a Porgy and Bess’ medley as a duet with Johnny DESMOND : There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York, Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So, backed by Harry SOSNIK and his orchestra. No mention of the Cotton Club revue is said during this show sponsored by the American Tobacco Company, but there's a funny line between Desmond and Calloway when the host welcomes Cab:

Johnny: "That was sensational, Your Majesty!

Cab (puzzled): Your Majesty???

Johnny: You're the King of Hi-De-Ho, aren't you?

Cab: Yeah, but look what 'Rock-and-Roll' did to Hi-De-Ho!  I feel like King Farouk!

Johnny: Well, as far as I'm concerned, you're still the King!'

 

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Right after his stay at the Mist, Cab seems to appreciate the chiiling climate of North and spends a week at the Rancho Don Carlos in Winnipeg, Canada, billed as "The star of Porgy and Bess" (...) "with his Dancettes"... Who are they? They are 5 and we can guess that they are probably some of the girls from the troup... but there Cab only sings his regular repertoire like Minnie The Moocher, That Old Black Magic, My Funny Valentine, St James Infirmary and Stormy Weather. Yet, the show is televised for the Winnipeg CBWT Channel 3 on April 16, direct from the Rancho - the first time a night club is televised there! Facing the success, the Cab Calloway' Dancettes are held over for another week backing Sam COOKE.


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Brazil, its rhythms and its feathers!

As early as November 1958, Cab Calloway's visit to Rio is in the news. Yet, in early April 1959, the Brazilian press "officially" announces the forthcoming arrival of Cab Calloway and his troupe for an engagement at the Golden Room, in the prestigious Rio de Janeiro Hotel, the Copacabana.

According to various sources, the revue will have 22, 28 or 31 artists.

Eddie Barefield’s orchestra is composed of local musicians and certainly with the usual American soloists and rhythmic section — although I haven’t been able to find the exact names.

On the bill are:

  • “Famous Broadway director” Mervin NELSON (“Jazz Train” — a famous flop: see our article about Dotty Saulters) will direct the actual revue.
  • Joel NOBLE, from previous seasons, is the choreographer.
  • A new feature singer, Leslie SCOTT, of Porgy and Bess movie’s fame.
  • Again Norma MILLER and her dancers, among them Jeannette Du Bois, Gladys Ward and Bobbi Parker, Lady Inex Washington, Shirley Cooke…
  • The Three CHOCOLATEERS who toured so many times with Cab in the past (they're the ones who created the song Peckin’ (read our article)
  • Ketty LESTER from the Ziegfield Follies
  • John LEI, first dancer from Katherine Dunham’s troupe
  • STONEY and JUNE, a dancing duet.
  • Several other names from the troupe appear on the bill such as Lady WASHINGTON, Barbara TAYLOR, Piscilla SPENCER, Pat BLACKMAN, Gladys WARD, Mercedes CRUZ, Small BOYKINS, William DOTSON...

The 1-hour long show consists in 14 tableaux.

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Cab Calloway and the whole troup land in Rio de Janeiro on April 26, 1959.

Everybody lands at Rio’s airport on a Varig flight on April 26. “Coming to Rio is an old dream that comes true”, declares Cab on the tarmac.

Cab stays at Hotel Copacabana, suite 305 (that’s one hell of a scoop, isn’t it?).

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The tout-Rio rushes in the Copacabana for Cab Calloway's Cotton Club Revue.

The Premiere is on April 29 at 11 pm and the tout-Rio rushes in: bourgeois, aristocrats, politicians (2 ministers are seated at the tables) enthusiastically applause under the flashes of the many journalists covering the event. Tickets are 1600 cruzeiros, which is dramatically expensive, the average price for a Brazilian cabaret being between 400 and 600 cruzeiros at that time.

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Anyway, the Golden Room has a packed full house every night!

The revue is only there for 10 days before going on tour to Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Montevideo… and even to Italy (we suppose it’s just a public relations announcement, since nothing's confirmed nor happened).

According to an interview for the Brazilian newspaper Ultima Hora, we learn that Cab considers Frank SINATRA and Paul ROBESON among his favorite contemporary singers, without forgetting Nat King COLE. On his side, the journalist notices that, despite the years, Cab is still a great jazz singer, which his renditions of My Funny Valentine and That Old Black Magic testify.

Among the local musicians who accompany Cab at the Golden Room is famous Brazilian reed-player Paulo MOURA. The rest of the orchestra remains unknown.

On May 9, for the "Baile Oficial das Debutantes de 1959" (1959 Debutantes Ball), the whole Cotton Club Revue is here to entertain the evening broadcasted live on Tupi TV-channel and aired on Radio Nacional, on the Desfile Bangu program. The evening gala is dedicated to the Pioneiras Socials, under the auspices of the newspapers Diaro de Noticias and Mundo Ilustrado.

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After one show at the Copacabana, a local star mingles with the guys in the orchestra. He’s aslo a musician and among the best on his instrument (according to French jazz historian Hughes Panassié), the soprano saxophone. His name is Booker PITTMAN who once was American (he has even played in Blanche CALLOWAY’s orchestra), then European before immigrating to Brazil where he became a rich farmer. He hasn’t forgotten his instrument and has also become a very famous local star with a large Brazilian audience. His grown up daughter also became a singer (and still lives in Rio!) and they released an album together (recently published on CD in Japan).

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On May 16 and 17, at convenient hours allowing for performances at night at the Copacabana, the show is also done at the Tijuca Tennis Club, under an indoor gymnasium, in order to welcome a larger attendance.

 

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Inside the Paramount movie theater in Sao Paulo

Then the whole troupe leaves for Sao Paulo and the brand new Paramount movie theater where they stay for 2 weeks.

As a pleasant reminder, while in South America, US critics praise his cover of "It Ain't Necessarily So" Cab recorded as replacement of Sammy DAVIS Jr. for the soundtrack LP of the movie Porgy and Bess. A kind of revenge for Cab who got his part in the movie "taken" by Sammy Davis Jr. (read our story)

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Adeus Brazil, hola Argentina!

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able yet to find any info about the passage of the troupe in Uruguay or elsewhere in South America before the revue settles in Argentina. They played there at Montevideo's Theater Solis but, so far, I haven't been able to find precise intel about this event. Cab already played there in 1951...

But for Argentina, we’ve got a newsreel of the arrival in Carlos Gardel’s country!

Beginning June 11, the Cotton Club revue plays at Buenos Aires’ Opera (Lococo Circuit) for a 2-week engagement (10 days) and there again, ticket’s face value is quite expensive: from 40 pesos up to 120 pesos (50 c to $1.50) at a time of austereity and depression in Argentina. But queues forms each day in front of the Opera!

The decor is by Benet DOLMINGO (1914-1969) and costumes are by John ALLEN. A short article indicates that the show will include excerpts from Porgy and Bess. Eddie BAREFIELD's orchestra is with local musicians and the number of 30 is announced by Variety (July 8, 1959).

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Since we have the Buenos Aires program in hands, here's the whole evening menu:

  1. Opening by Eddie Barefield
  2. Another Opening by Cab Calloway and the company
  3. Cool and Crazy sung and danced by Norma Miller and the Jazz Men and the Cotton Club Girls
  4. The Songbird Ketty Lester
  5. Cakewalk Your Lady by Lady Washington and Joel Noble (a longer sketch involving most of the troup)
  6. Porgy Returns, by Leslie Scott
  7. Happy Isle by Joel Noble and John Lei and female dancerrs
  8. Three's a crowd by the 3 Chocolateers
  9. Shades of Blues (another longer sketch involving most of the troup)

INTERMISSION

  1. Shades of Blues (second part)
  2. Waiting for Jane by Norma Miller with Paul Black and Eddie West
  3. Man with a Cane, number by Charles Young
  4. Diga Diga Doo by Leslie Scott and Ketty Lester
  5. Call of the Wild (a semi-ballet dance number with the entire cast involved)
  6. The King of Hi de Ho by you know who
  7. Final: Remember These by Cab Calloway and everyone

Despite all those talents, Variety reports that the revue "lacks of finish and at least on the first night the music was over-strident, and singers had difficulty getting the local band to keep the right tempo."

Leslie SCOTT's singing (from Porgy and Bess plus the Toreador song from Carmen and Old Man River), like Joel NOBEL and Jon LEI's hoofing are praised but Cab as an emcee is a standout. The Norma MILLER dancers are the stars of the show according to Variety, since the "lack of any other outstanding voice beyond Leslie SCOTT."

 

Back to North America

When Cab is back from South America, he signs a new contract to play on Broadway next fall in Harold ARLEN and Johnny MERCER’s musical Free and Easy, along with Sammy DAVIS Jr. Another project that won’t see the light.

The whole Cotton Club revue is announced in Atlantic City, NJ where they stay in July, as confirmed by this July 15 trade ad in Variety.

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During the summer break (what break?), Cab is the guest ont the Andy Williams TV Chevy Showroom on July 28. He sings “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Blues in The Night”. Other guests are Jack DURANT and the glamorous Julie LONDON. Then we find Cab at the Goldman Hotel in West Orange, NJ on August 19...

 

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Copper Door in New York with Cab

On September 15, the Cotton Club Revue inaugurates this new night spot, the 400 seats Copper Door. Producer Ray SHAW (former Broadway star) introduces himself the show and rave reviews by critics and the public is combined with certain nostalgia for the Cotton Club or Connie’s Inn from a long gone past.

Located at the former El Toro (opened shortly and closed in the same summer that year) on Broadway between 50th and 51st street (the former Winter Garden building, Club Zanzibar's first site read our full lenght article), the Copper Door Café is to the realization of “the time for return of Negro shows and showmen to their rightful place in the nightlife and entertainment world of this great metropolis without having to be known as jazz artists. (…). According to Bob BLICK, Ray SHAW and Edward LEVINE, president of Copper Door, they will feature from time to time the biggest names in the field including Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole and possibly the return of Josephine Baker in an all-French theme revue. These shows will also include some of the country’s most outstanding starlets seeking their way to fame and fortune via the nightclub circuit. The young singers, dancers and comedians have in recent years found difficult to get a hold in show business because of the limitations and almost non-existence of clubs such as Copper Door where they could be heard or seen under extremely favorable conditions. This applies particularly to the young Negro performers whose quality of performance and style keep them out of the ‘rock n’ roll’ bracket.” (New York Age, Sept 19, 1959). Despite the famous names, the place is devoted to youngsters!

Ray Shaw is so confident that he convinces Philip GREENWALD, talent booker and director of entertainment at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills to book Cab Calloway and the Cotton Cub Revue for New Year’s festivities. Cab is already a regular attraction in the Catskills and he will appear there many times during summer and holidays.

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Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and his wife Catherine
attend Cab Calloway's premiere at the Copper Door

On the premiere night, the attendance counts several faithful Cab friends: former boxer Joe LOUIS, Ella FITZGERALD, Count BASIE and his wife Catherine, Sarah VAUGHAN, Ida JAMES… but also Sally NIX, Jay MONROE, Jimmy RICHARDSON, LaVerne BAKER, Slappy WHITE and Norma MILLER (from the previous seasons), Allen MORRISON, Mr. And Mrs Jesse WALKER, Evelyn Cunningham HAYNES, Ameil BROWN, Shirlee ROUSSEAU, Wendell SMITH, Jerry GRAY, Fannie PIERRE and last but not least – and very puzzling, but remember that she was a former chorus girl – Mrs Miles DAVIS!

Also noticed but not in the show, Gary and Greg CHRISTMAS, twins from Boston who absolutely wanted to be part of the revue during its 6 weeks engagement. Since the cast was already set up, they accepted to work as doormen of the nightclub! The month after, they open in London where they apparently became well-known there and settled down later in Amsterdam (watch also this video).

This time, Clarence ROBINSON is back on duty as director and the stage choreographies are by Joel NOBLE, like before. Eddie BAREFIELD still conducts the 12-piece orchestra for a 60-minute show. No info was found about the musicians then.

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JET Magazine gives enthusiastic review to the Cotton Club Revue
at the Copper Door in its October 20 edition. Too late...

But the troupe has many people on the bill:

  • The Four STEP Brothers, who come back now as feature number
  • Blues singer DoDo GREEN – who will sing several days with her left foot in caster, after she fell from a cab)
  • Joe CHISHOLM, from the 1957 season.
  • Joel NOBEL and his trio
  • Joe PANAM and his Mambo-Cha Cha orchestra
  • Bob DESTINE, dancer and fire-eater
  • The Copper Dorables, a dozen of dancers with the likes of Helen HAYES, Jeannette DUBOIS, B. CLARK et Mary ALEXANDER (the rumor says that she owns a pink fishtail Caddy and a 15-room mansion)
  • Cecilia COOPER, first black girl to win the “Miss Cannes Festival” prize in a specialty
  • VERDE, exotic dancer
  • Al WILLIAMS, dancer, who will have a thundering affair with pianist Dorothy DONEGAN.

Original score is composed by successful duet Eddie WHITE and Mack WOLFSON. But we haven’t been able to find a single note of it yet.

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Cab Calloway with Miss Cannes Festival, Cecilia Copper.

In her September 26, 1959, critic Izzy ROWE thinks that she “never seen Cab better and this – viewing back to the days of the Cotton Club and through Las Vegas.”

From October 1st, we can read in newspapers (like the San Mateo Times, CA) that the show has been signed for 16 consecutive weeks! But everything seems to stop at the end of October when bankers ask for their money… Beside, “some of the entertainers in the show (…) weren’t paid before creditors shuttered the night spot, so singers, dancers and musicians are flocking to their respective unions, hoping the unions can collect the salaries.” (Dorothy Kilgallen, The Weirton Daily News, W-Va). Moreover, the Copper Door is “supposed to have dropped $50,000 in angel money.” (Dorothy Kilgallen, New Castle News, PA, November 13, 1959).

The beautiful Copper Door Cafe project is off as quickly as it came on… A few months later, Ray Shaw opened a new joint on 3rd Avenue featuring hamburgers and bowling… But once again, destiny (or fate) ends a nice show and new prospects for Cab Calloway. But it won’t take long before Cab starts up something new. On November 23, he’s already the guest of the Canadian TV Jack KANE Hour, along with Larry ADLER and Sylvia MURPHY. Also, in November and during Christmas holidays, Cab is back in Miami, singing in hotels only backed by local band.

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Later in Europe…

The cast of the Cotton Club Revue will have another experience with “Harlem Heatwave” a new show by Benny DAVIS with almost the same cast as with Cab Calloway:

Mauri LEIGHTON, Paul MEERS and LaRAINE, Norma MILLER, The Three CHOCOLATEERS (billed as “Three Zanies From Manhattan”), Joel NOBLE, plus The Four Clefs, Jack Hammer, The Two Earls, and Baby LAWRENCE.

Subtitled “La Revue Nègre 1960” for its Parisian stay at Paris Olympia, the revue was as risqué as Josephine Baker’s revue from 1924!

The revue toured Europe: Madrid, Spain in November 1959, April 1960 in Paris, and from April to August 1960 at the Pigalle restaurant in London, UK. There, the show was taped and aired on May 19 on AR-TV. EMI released an LP on HMV (as Billboard notices, “probably the first time a British cabaret production has been issued in album form.” – April 11, 1960). And at that time, Mauri Leighton was signed by HMV for ‘Time to Love is Now’. Apparently, the show will be back in 1961!

 
****

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Three seasons despite a hell of a lot of obstacles.

In April 1960, people in Pittsburgh, PA will be able to attend a light version of the Cotton Club Revue (with a cast of 30 artists) at the Twin Coaches. This will be the last production of this revue, which — despite weather, robbers, cons, racists, falls, etc. — has been able to last almost 3 years at a time where old timers like Cab were not expected to remain on stage anymore. Kudos to all those talented artists!

The coming Sixties will be another step in Cab’s career…

 

Cotton Club Revues’s Chronology

COTTON CLUB REVUE OF 1957

  • December 22, 1956 – January 14, 1957: Beachcomber (1 100 seats), Miami, FL
  • January 15, 1957 – February 21 (?), 1957: Copa City (3 000 seats), Miami, FL
  • April 17 – July 2 1957: Royal Nevada Hotel, Las Vegas, NV (12 weeks)
  • July 6 – July 21 1957: Theatre Under the Stars, Central Park, New York, NY
  • September 17-23, 1957: Town Casino, Buffalo, NY (light version)

 

COTTON CLUB REVUE OF 1958

  • 20 décembre 1957-early mars 1958 : Cotton Club, Miami, FL

 

COTTON CLUB REVUE OF 1959

  • January-March 1959: Club Mist, Chicago, IL
  • April 29 – May 18, 1959 (11:00 pm): Golden room, Copacabana Hotel, Rio, Brazil
  • May 16 (9:00 pm)-17 mai (5:00 pm): Tennis Club, Tijuca, Rio, Brazil
  • May 28 – June 7: Jardim de Inverno, Teatro Paramount (2 000 seats), Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • June 8 ca-19 ca: Teatro Solis, Montevideo, Uruguay
  • Before and after June 20 1959: Gran Teatro Opera, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • May 1959: Atlantic City, NJ (announced in Jet Magazine, April 30, but not confirmed)
  • September 15 – October 30 ca 1959: Copper Door (400 seats), New York NY

 

COTTON CLUB REVUE OF 1960

  • April 18, 1960: 2 weeks at Twin Coaches, Pittsburgh, PA

 


Sources and references

Brazilian newspapers

Foreign acts visit Brazil 1957 to 1968

Your Hit Parade

 


Special thanks to

Keller WHALEN, for his help, his advices, his support and his friendship.

Jean-François VILLETARD for his help on the Brazilian articles and his knowledge of Booker Pittman.

Gille PETARD for his re-release of The Cotton Club Revue of 1958 on Official.

 


 

Read Season #1

Read Season #2

 

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