Saturday, April 4, 1981

50 years ago: Cab Calloway “Minnie the Moocher” hit #1

Minnie the Moocher

Cab Calloway

Writer(s): Cab Calloway, Irving Mills (see lyrics here)

Recorded: March 3, 1931

First Charted: March 21, 1931

Peak: 11 PM, 18 GA (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 30.66 video, 10.70 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Cabell (Cab) Calloway III was born in 1907 in Rochester, New York. He became well known for his scat singing at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem in the 1930s. He was “one of the most exciting live performers and personalities in jazz history.” SS His name evokes “an indelible image of a rakishly handsome, zoot-suited black bandleader charistmatically belting out ‘hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-hi’ and other high-spirited scat-sung nonsense.” SS

He had 43 chart hits from 1930 to 1945. “Minnie the Moocher,” his second entry, was his only chart-topper PM and became his signature song. It was notable for its “call-and-response scatting chorus.” GN “Its ‘hi-de-ho’ singing became his trademark;” TY2 the scatting came about when Calloway forgot the lyrics during a live radio concert. WK Calloway and a big band memorably performed the song in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers.

The song is lyrically based on “Willy the Weeper,” a traditional folk song about a drug addict recorded in 1927 by Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon and later associated with Louis Armstrong. SS “Minnie the Moocher” includes drug references such as describing the character “Smokey” as “cokey,” meaning a cocaine user, and using the phrase “kick the gong around,” slang for smoking opium. WK Overall, the lyrics are “almost completely nonsensical, but Calloway’s…energetic performance and the catchy rhythmic tune were enough to make it a huge hit.” TY2

Minnie was an actual person – a beggar named Minnie Gayton. When she died at the age of 82, an obituary in the November 1951 issue of Jet magazine described her as a “familiar figure in downtown Indianapolis” GN who got her nickname by “regularly begging food from grocers and carting it off in a baby buggy. She slept on doorways, on porches and in garages. During the record-breaking blizzard, her body was found on a porch, blanketed with snow. She died from exposure, ironically in a warm hospital bed.” GN


First posted 8/6/2023.

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