9 February 1904
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
16 December 1978 (aged 74)
Blanche Calloway (February 9, 1902 - December 16, 1978) was an African-American jazz singer, bandleader, and composer.
She was the older sister of Cab Calloway, she was scattin' before he was. Dropping out of Maryland's then controversial all negro Morgan State College in 1923 for a life in show business, Calloway was the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra. With a music career that spanned over fifty years, she recorded in the 20's for Okeh and Vocalion, including a 1925 session with Louis Armstrong. In 1931, she was invited to tour with Andy Kirk and joined Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy. She was a popular & brash live performer, who often ended up upstaging the bandleader, eventually leaving with his disgruntled trumpet player Edgar "Puddin Head" Battle to start her own outfit. Determined to go out on her own, Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys became a top rated touring act, recording for RCA-Victor until they disbanded in 1938. They were also known as "Blanche Calloway and Her Orchestra".
Blanche's mother was a church organist, and Blanche had sung in the local church choir, and studied the piano and voice. She originally left the same college her mother had attended to perform in local Baltimore area revues & musicals, and her first real break came when she joined the touring revue for a Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake musical called "Shuffle Along" and by 1927 was a popular performer in the Chicago nightclubs.
Although no footage is known to exist, she heavily influenced her younger brother's far more sucessful career, and Earl "Fatha" Hines once said of her "Blanche Calloway, Cab's sister, had a very good way of entertaining. She was wild and wiry in certain things and very sensitive in others…Although Cab may not say this to himself, all of his style was from her. His sister taught him everything he knew about performing."
Blanche was also a composer and her songs included "You Ain't Living Right", "Line A Jive" and "Growlin' Dan". Blanche retired from performing in 1944 and by the early 1950s she managed the Crystal Caverns nightclub in Washington, DC, where she is credited with discovering R&B singer Ruth Brown. In the 60's, she was reportedfly the first female black DJ on a South Florida radio station, and prior to that was one of the first Negro clerks to serve in a voting precinct in Florida and according to one source, "the first black woman to vote in 1958."
She died at age 75, after a decade plus battle with breast cancer in 1978.
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