This week’s video feature begins with Jack White’s mention of Cab Calloway and improvisational performance of St. James’ Infirmary Blues on BBC2’s Later with Jools Holland:
Before doing his northern Detroit version of St. James’ Infirmary Blues, White mentions that he first heard it performed by Cab Calloway as part of a Betty Boop cartoon. This great version of the song along with the original cartoon is also available online and posted below. Calloway’s performance comes about 4 minutes 20 into the cartoon and it’s not only Calloway’s voice you can hear but also his dance moves you can see too, as performed by Koko the clown. Calloway’s performance was in fact recorded and then transferred into the animation using the rotoscoping method so that frame-by-frame Koko would mimic Calloway’s unique moves. This method was also used to transfer Calloway’s move onto the screen in the Betty Boop cartoon Minnie the Moocher that we used as our first video of the week post.
Of course White has always been influenced by earlier blues artists and this continues on his first solo album, Blunderbuss, which was released last week. Track 8 – I’m Shakin’ – features a great guitar riff and sees White covering “The Prince of the Blues” Little Willie John.
Earlier in his career as one part of the duo The White Stripes live performances often included covers of various Delta Blues artists including: Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson and as shown here below the fierce voice and guitar bashing sounds of Son House.
We here at the Black Atlantic Resource are happy to announce a new feature: Video of the Week. Each week we will aim to bring you an interesting video – posted here within our debate space – which we have found freely available online. We are doing this to highlight the amount of potential research material which is now digitized and accessible by a click of your mouse!
Here’s your first Video of the Week: Cab Calloway – Minnie the Moocher
Cab Calloway and His Orchestra’s hit jazz song Minnie the Moocher is used here as the soundtrack to a Fleischer Brothers’ 1932 Betty Boop cartoon. First we get to see Calloway’s signature dance moves while he conducts his orchestra, the video then cuts midway through the cartoon to a dancing ghost walrus voiced by Calloway and sporting his moves! Cab Calloway was a hugely talented American bandleader, singer and dancer who performed regularly at Harlem’s Cotton Club in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance era and later. Click here to find out more about Cab Calloway.
Aside from this the content of the cartoon, which at that time would have been produced as entertainment mainly for an adult audience, provides an interesting comment on American society of the 1930s. The cartoon’s representations of capital punishment – in light of the Powell v. Alabama ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court associated with the Scottsboro Boys case of 1931 – or what it’s depictions demonstrate about animators and audiences associations with jazz music are all telling…
If you have any suggestions for a video of the week please leave us a comment or post us another video in reply – we look forward to hearing from you!
NEW! Zora Neale Hurston profile at the Black Atlantic Resource. This new resource includes links to a vast array of primary sources including many of Hurston’s writings, a number of recordings she made for the WPA in the 1930s, and clips from a great documentary about Hurston’s life: ‘Jump at the Sun’.
Hurston was a vivid personality, a great writer, and a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance. She was a well educated anthropologist, playwright and novelist, her works including the novel ‘There Eyes were Watching God’ and collection of folklore: ‘Mules and Men’. Hurston had a deep appreciation of African diasporic folk culture which is celebrated throughout her work. Particularly important are her writings on African-American folktales. These vibrantly record the artistic and inventive telling of folk tales in dialect, at a time when many other key figures in American culture did not value or approve of such representations of black culture.
For many years Hurston’s writings lay in obscurity until they were rediscovered by a new generation. Alice Walker reawakened interest with her article ‘In Search of Zora Neale Hurston’ (1975) and Hurston has since been cited as an influence by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Oprah Winfrey amongst others.
Fiercely original and unique Hurston was criticized by many of her contemporaries including Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois for pandering to the tastes of white audiences, particularly her patroness of many years, Charlotte Osgood, and reproducing stereotypes of blackness. However Hurston did not relent declaring “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”
Read more at the Black Atlantic Resource and give your views on the life and work of Zora Neale Hurston here…