Written by Raquel at Out of the Past Blog
Cab Calloway (1907-1994) knew how to put on a show. The energetic jazz singer and bandleader commanded a stage with a flick back of his hair, arms that gestured wildly and his signature dance moves. The classically trained Calloway had a booming voice and added scat singing, which he learned from Louis Armstrong, to his repertoire. The Cab Calloway Orchestra took the jazz scene by storm and made a name for themselves at The Cotton Club, on the radio and eventually in Hollywood.
Calloway earned the nickname The Hi De Ho Man for the call-and-response line Hi De Ho in his most famous song Minnie the Moocher. In 1937 he and his orchestra appeared in Hi De Ho, a one reel Vitaphone short in which Calloway plays an aspiring bandleader who consults his tea-leaf-reading mother about his future prospects. Ten years later the famous line was used for an independently produced feature length film. Hi De Ho (1947) was directed by Josh Binney and written by Hal Seeger for All-American Productions. This “race film” featuring an all-black cast stars Calloway as himself, a singer and bandleader on the verge of stardom. His manager Nettie (Ida James) has landed him an audition with a club owner. Seeing Calloway’s potential, the club owner asks him to build his crew to a full fledged orchestra. Calloway’s girlfriend Minnie (Jeni Le Gon) is jealous of Nettie and seeks revenge on Calloway by siccing local gangsters after him. The flimsy plot provides some structure to what is essentially a showcase of performances by Cab Calloway and players. His performances include an acapella rendition of Minnie’s a Hepcat Now as well as a big finale capped off with the spirited I Got a Gal Named Nettie and Don’t Falter at the Altar. The finale also includes a couple of songs by the singing trio The Peters Sisters (Mattie, Anne and Virginia Peters) as well as gravity-defying tap dance performances by The Miller Brothers and Lois in which they tap on 4 foot high letter blocks that spell out MILLER among other captivating stunts.
If you need an excuse to watch Hi De Ho (1947), let it be a chance to see Cab Calloway in action. The film doesn’t really utilize two of its major players at their best. Ida James who plays manager turned love interest Nettie was a renowned singer but only sings a few lines in the final number. Jeni Le Gon, a dance legend in her own right, doesn’t get to show off her moves. This is really a vehicle for Calloway to shine. Hi De Ho is great for jazz enthusiasts or anyone who caught Calloway in Stormy Weather (1943), The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and The Blues Brothers (1980) and want to see more of this jazz superstar.