ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel


Updated on March 23, 2014

I have always felt that I was born about thirty years too late, at least where my musical tastes are concerned. I was fifty years too late to sing with Artie Shaw or Bennie Goodman, and fifty years too late to sing at the Copacabana or the Coconut Grove or the Cotton Club. Those wonderful clubs had the very best musicians of the day. Bandstands of that era would be stuffed with singular talent, executing clarinet riffs and brassy trumpet runs that would float on clouds of cigarette smoke emanating from the tips of unfiltered Lucky Strikes.

In June of 1934 my Dad counted up the money he’d saved from odd jobs he’d held while going to high school. Having just turned 18 and recently graduated from Gladstone (Michigan) High School, he put his purple and white Braves football jersey in mothballs and headed south. Though it was smack in the middle of the Great Depression, and his last name was not Rockefeller, he had decided, before he began to work fulltime, get married, and start the family that he wanted so badly, to treat himself to a graduation gift.

His frugal, if no less epic journey from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Detroit, began with a knapsack and his thumb. The trip today, depending on how many speed limits you’re willing to break, takes seven or eight hours. Now there is the beautiful, five-mile long Mackinac Bridge which connects the U.P. to the lower peninsula. The longest suspension bridge in the world, it spans the Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Huron and Michigan, and takes about ten minutes to cross by car. In 1934, the ferry that got you from one peninsula to the other didn’t cross the straits if the weather was bad and wouldn’t cross them until it had a full load of cars. Sometimes travelers waited hours for that eventuality.

Still my Dad was determined.

The beautiful Mackinac Bridge which connects Michigan's two peninsulas.
The beautiful Mackinac Bridge which connects Michigan's two peninsulas.
My Dad around the time he made his "quest for music."
My Dad around the time he made his "quest for music."

What was it that drew my Dad south with such indomitable single-minded purpose? Big Band music, of course, and Cab Calloway’s band in particular. Cab was at the peak of his popularity at this time. I remember when my Dad told me this story a few years ago, my first question was: “Did Cab sing Minnie the Moocher ?” His response: “Did he ever!” That performance of that song at that moment in time remains indelible to him, almost eighty years later. The lure of the Big Band Sound had cast its spell over my Dad, just as it would on millions of other music lovers into the late 1940s.

Cab’s band would have been archetypical for its day: a flashy (and talented) conductor, a sassy brass section with mostly trumpets and trombones, reeds like clarinets and a range of saxophones from soprano to tenor.

The great George Gershwin
The great George Gershwin

Paul Whiteman’s orchestra – with George Gershwin himself at the piano -- introduced the world to Rhapsody in Blue in 1924. It was a watershed performance. The Rhapsody in Blue was a concert piece that incorporated many of the hallmarks of jazz music, including the spine-tingling clarinet arpeggio that opens the piece. Into the 1930s, jazz bands were moderate-sized orchestras. The jazz quartet or trio would have to wait until the early 1950s to truly find its niche. Into the late1940s, jazz bands shrunk markedly. Having a single standing bass as the only representative of the string group became the usual and the ratio of percussion instruments to winds increased as well.

Paul Whiteman with his Orchestra
Paul Whiteman with his Orchestra
Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
Helen Forrest
Helen Forrest

Burgeoning new innovations in Jazz, such as improvisation, vocalese, and fusion, opened for business thanks to artists like Jon Hendricks and Miles Davis. The days of stage-filling bands with full string sections capable of playing three-movement orchestral pieces such as Gershwin’s Concerto in F, were numbered.

If I resided in the 1940s, I would have loved to be a Big Band singer a la Peggy Lee or Helen Forrest. I can only describe their singing style as “straight singing,” a simple style that respects the song, avoiding runs and embellishments that – in my opinion – show off the voice but bury the lyric – and sometimes even the melody.

My Dad never told me the story of his trip to see Cab Calloway in concert until I was in my thirties and he was almost eighty years old. Hearing it as an adult, I saw a side of my Dad that I had never guessed was there . . . a young side. He had been an impulsive, music-loving kid on a quest for the best music of his day. I love that.

Though the live performance of Cab Calloway singing Minnie the Moocher was over in less than five minutes, on film, acetate, DVD, and YouTube the music lives on.

A more recent photo of my Dad . . .
A more recent photo of my Dad . . .
. . . and the one and only, Cab Calloway!
. . . and the one and only, Cab Calloway!



    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • KaisMom profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Keizer, Oregon

      Thanks, Angela. It was fun to write this one.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Loved reading about your Dad's quest for music, Shirl. Great job!

    • KaisMom profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Keizer, Oregon

      Thanks e-five! I really appreciate your comments and I will definitely check out that Anita O'Day documentary.

    • e-five profile image

      John C Thomas 

      5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

      Great personal story and connection to music. My great grandfather was a music teacher who played live music for silent movies, and my grandfather and grandmother were both teachers who specialized in music. They introduced me to the classics from the American song book and a lot more.

      As long as you're a Peggy Lee and Helen Forest fan, I'll put out one other name you might want to look into: Anita O'Day. She was an amazing singer with a turbulent life, and one of the most popular jazz singers in the 1940s and 1950s. I highly recommend a fantastic documentary (seriously-- five stars!) called Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer. Amazing story and amazing footage.

      Thanks for the hub!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)