Delores Fisher

 CAB CALLOWAY: Autobiography

Of Minnie the Moocher & Me 

By; Cab Calloway and Bryant Rollins. Illustrations selected and edited by John Shearer. 
I've been reading autobiographies since I was a child. Whether on upstate Western New York hazy autumn dog day afternoons, warm winter evenings sitting by the fireplace (I'm now aware of how blessed I was as a young Black child to have an actual wood burning fireplace in my living room), spring drizzle days when outside would seem too rainy to play, or hot humid late summer evenings when crickets would chirp loudly into the Town of Tonawanda starlit nights, I would sit reading an autobiography and dream through lives I knew I would never experience.
My parents encouraged me to read at an early age. Both enjoyed reading. At times, I think they thought that I read too much, choosing to stay indoors rather than to play outside with friends. But my love of autobiography was cultivated with their indulgence.
As an adult music history specialist, I still read autobiographies about all types of people, although most are about writers and composers. While reading, I try not to obsess too long on the micro-history of a person's life. I try to limit my encounter with two books and perhaps a few scholarly articles. Contemporary music biographical interest is often assuaged by Internet Websites, NPR, VH-1 Behind the Music Cable Television shows, or local KPBS specials. However, when a book chances my way . . . .well, you know.
One such autobiography about the life of performer, pianist, band director, composer, singer Cab Calloway co-written by Calloway Bryant Rollins. It is indeed what we would call today, "a reveal."
The intro catches the eye with lyrics from his renowned infamous song, "Minnie the Moocher" :
"Now here's a story 'bout Minnie the Moocher
She was a low-down hoochy-coocher
She was the roughest, toughtest frail
But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale."1

It was a hit that encouraged lyrical improvisation and audience participation. Several generations later, thanks to the film "The Blues Brothers" Cab rode the audience wave with mischevous delight, hair flying and eyes twinkling in instigation like he did in the 1930s.
When it really got to feeling good, I'd holler for the
audience to join in."Wah -de-wah-de-wah-de-doo," I'd sing.
"Wah-de-wah-de-Wah-de-doo," the band and the audience
would holler back.2

This narrative song with socially charged lyrics accompanied by scat singing is about a woman we might today call a good hearted freeloading hootchie mamma. Many of Cab's songs, fun though they might be, were full of such characters who inhabited the underbelly of society.3 Calloway, although born into a fairly conservative Black family, was very familiar with the subculture within the general African American cultural frame of his era. His autobiography is his way to reveal his real life person-hood, to his flaws, true feelings about events in his life not only his mistakes, but also his successes.4
His father died when he was young, and he experienced the extended paternal family love that used to be common in the Black community. Shortly after his father died, his grandfather(a small businessman who owned a poolhall) died . Then, his family moved to another extended family situation with his mother's family. His maternal grandmother,  and uncles helped raise him until he began to break away and turn to the the streets to bring in additional family income. And he relates one of his most poignant revelations is about becoming a teenage father and making the decision to be more than an absentee baby daddy.5
The book is 250 pages long with three appendices. The first is from 1944. It was quite in light of access today's hip hop dictionary and culture books to discover that Calloway wrote ,"The New Cab Calloway's Hepsters Dictionary" with alphabetical listings of hepster slang. (Some words are not used anymore in the Black community, others remains fairly unaltered or somewhat altered in meaning today).6 The next appendix was written several earlier.
Appendix 2 , "Prof. Cab Calloway's Swingformation Bureau" is from 1939. It contains definitions and short essays on such topics as Are you hep to the Tags(Nicknames) of the Gates?, Are You Hep to the Events in the World of Jive? It also has an answer section to questions posed throughout the appendix and also a final exam!7 This section is informative. Yet it seemed so familiar because it brought memories of slick back haired older Black men in my Mortimer Street neighborhood of Buffalo New York who talked with that vocal swing. Reading some of the slang brought smiles to my face. Following this section is a long list of Calloway's published and performed works from 1937 through 1949.8
Written with an audience friendly slant, Calloway takes his readers through good times, hard times, and situations that helped him realize the importance of carefully considering one's options before reacting. "Of Minnie the Moocher and Me could easily be considered a cautionary tale for today's young music stars about why it is important to ride fame's crest with humility and soul searching introspection.

End Notes
1. Cab Calloway and Bryant Rollins,   "Introduction." Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, with illustrations selected and edited by John Shearer(New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976).
2. Ibid.
3. Alyn Shipton, "The Rise of the Big Bands:Cab Calloway," A New History of Jazz. Revised and Update.(New York: Continuum, 2007),206 notes: With his Zoot suit, floppy long hair, wide grin, and cries of "Hi-de-ho," Cab Calloway was one of the larger-than-life characters on the jazz scene of the 1930s. His singing was powerful and dramatic, with a repertoire of songs that contained none-too-thinly veiled references to the Harlem drug culture of the time, featuring Minnie the Moocher and Smoky Joe.
4. Cab Calloway and Bryant Rollins,   "Introduction." Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, with illustrations selected and edited by John Shearer(New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976). 4-5
5. Ibid., 46-49.
6. Ibid, 253 for instance: "Chick" is still used for girl, "freebie" still means per gratis, 255, "corny" is still stale, "signify" in some instances still means to brag, boast, declare oneself 259. Others: "Wren" a chick , queen is noy used, Twister to the Slammer: key to a door.
7. Ibid., 263-274.
8. Ibid., 275-282.

Eileen Southern's Readings in Black American Music

                                                Readings in Black American Music by Eile...                 
 Eileen Southern
Eileen Southern's disruptive compilation of African American music source documents is one of the  most important forerunners of today's  African American musicological texts. First published in 1971,  the preface to the first edition states the author's purpose is to create access:
                     to persons interested in the history of black-American music 
                     a representative number of authentic, contemporary 
                     document illustrating that history from the seventeenth 
                     century to the present time. While the book may be used 
                     as an independent anthology, it was originally intended 
                    to serve as a companion work to the present author's
                    The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York 1971)1

Southern's longitudinal archival research uncovered published documents in sources that had been shelved for years without consideration. She read and selected from a broad spectrum of contemporary sources to glean the thoughts of a few Europeans who wrote their observations on African music to serve as complement to the thoughts of Black writers from earlier eras, including traders, slaves, women of letters,musicians, composers, song collectors and critics.2 

The second edition preface published in 1983 notes that more than a decade later, increasing interest in African American music had helped to inspire publications by researchers from a diversity of fields; the second addition's aim was to "...indicate the advances in knowledge that have taken place since 1971 and to provide examples of some contemporary materials."3

Dr. Southern provides a brief historical overview that includes the time period, her academic credentials, biographical material, and the circumstances that prompted her research,
compilations, and writings. This second edition contains observations on sacred, secular and profane aspects of black music. It opens with excerpts from observations written in 1623 by European Richard Jobson who was sent out to gather information on African life on the river Gambia.4

One interesting writing from the late 1800s by often quoted African Methodist Episcopal minister freeborn Daniel Alexander Payne, reveals conflicts by educated and slave blacks on the proper way in which to worship.5

Perhaps several of her contemporary selections are the most revealing for African American msuci history students. She includes essays by composer musicians from several Black music genres including comments by James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook, Dizzy Gillespie, William Grant Still, Olly Wilson and one of my mentors, award winning contemporary composer Thomas Jefferson Anderson (T.J. Anderson).

T.J. Anderson's comments were excerpted from a 1969 Indiana University School of Music five day seminar on "Black Music in College and University Curricula" that attracted leaders in the field, both black and white from all over the nation." 6. Anderson's critique of 1966 American culture has haunting parallel's today's current socio-musical creative/discursive terrain is well worth re-visiting. For example, he states:
                      Within the black community there exists many points 
                      of fascination. In the area of instrumental music
                     (marching Bands, dance halls and clubs) one constantly 
                     sees experimentation. Musicians basically self-taught 
                     develop abilities on the basis of accident, or as a means 
                     of developing self-expression. We see development of 
                     new techniques to fit one's own personality or peculiar 
                     needs. . . And another term which I'd like to interject is 
                    "inspired intensity." I don't know if this exists in any 
                    other music, but this is a fusion of achieving the highest 
                    degree of expressive powers within a framework of 
                    limited technical facility or skill.7
Ironically, the above statement appears to be what cyclically happens in the black community when traditional music education is denied to African American children and young adults. Perhaps the last time this occurred with startling results was the era right before Hip Hop/Rap emerged. 8  As Anderson further states:
                   I think we constantly see musicians who are limited in 
                   terms of background because of the lack of economic 
                   privileges, who are basically self-taught or ill taught in 
                   many cases, and who actually develop this means of 
                   communication through the development of expressive 
                   powers which transcends their limitations in terms of 
                   expressive ability.9
T.J. Anderson has been a bridge between the often classically trained avant gard black musician and those who have used the hearth of "inspired intensity" in electronic music and on the turntables of DJs who weave the Black aural tapestry of the 21st century.(See my previous article on  
T.J. Anderson and DJ Spooky on this page site.
Some may fault Dr. Southern for not critically analyzing the documents in her reader, but that was not her purpose. This is a select compilation with brief editorial notes which allows the critical reader to seek further documentation to expand knowledge about the source. Eileen Southern's Readings In Black Music 2nd edition provides educators a broader perspective on African American music and an opportunity to share fairly accessible documents  with their students that can lead to interesting guided classroom discussions.
A reader of Black music history,
Delores Fisher


1. Eileen Southern ed.    "Preface," in Readings in Black American Music. 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983) xi.

2. Ibid., xi.

3. Ibid.,xiii.

4. Richard Jobson, The Golden Trade or a Discovery of the River Gambra and the Golden Trade of the Aethiopians Text: The original edition(London, 1623), pp, 106-107, printed courtesy of the Rare Book Division, New York Public Library, Astor Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. in Readings in Black American Music. 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983) 1-3.

5. Daniel Alexander Payne,  "From Recollections of Seventy Years [1888]" in Readings in Black American Music. 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983) 65-70.

Thomas Jefferson Anderson,  "From Black Composers and the Avant-Garde"  original text: Black Music in our culture ed. Dominique -Rene de Lerma (Kent Ohio, 1970) pp 63-67 reprinted by permission of the Kent State University Press, Copyright 1970 by Dominique-Rene de Lerma  in Readings in Black American Music. 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983) 318-322.

7. Ibid.,322.

8. See my series of reflective articles on select aspects of Hip Hop and Rap at

9. Thomas Jefferson Anderson,  "From Black Composers and the Avant-Garde"  original text: Black Music in our culture ed. Dominique -Rene de Lerma (Kent Ohio, 1970) pp 63-67 reprinted by permission of the Kent State University Press, Copyright 1970 by Dominique-Rene de Lerma  in Readings in Black American Music. 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983) 322.

Alexander G. Weheliye
Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity

Where does African American culture stand in the current configuration of today's society? Late Twentieth century majority culture constructs delineating post modernism aside, it perhaps is safe to say that African American Studies professor Alexander G. Weheliye and many others place the culture in modernity, Afro-modernity. I prefer to call it quasi-Afro-diasporic modernity, a flux liminality pointing to our next era.

Weheliye's interdisciplinary approach is based on and amplifies previous ground breaking sonic interrogations by Ralph Ellison and W. E. B. Du Bois, unique perspectives on African American lived experience differance through relationship to sound and sound producing technologies. Weheliye's explanation for examination of Black culture through the lens of a specific sonicity- presents a strong case for his theoretical reasoning.
              The sonic remains an important zone from and through which 
              to theorize the fundamentality of Afro-diasporic formations
              to the currents of Western modernity, since the field remains, 
              to put it bluntly, the principal modality in which 
              Afro-diasporic cultures have been articulated--though 
              clearly it has not been the only one.1

He flashes a light on invisibalized apects of sonic production and consumption that takes place in the diasporic terrain. One of his most fascinating chapters "In the Mix" embodies his theorist position in an historic and contemporary culture icon-the DJ as (sonic) text mixologist to hear and utilize meanings in The Souls of Black Folks (Du Bois) and The Invisible Man (Ellison) as tools of cultural critique.
            This chapter hears W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folks (1903)
            and  the contemporary practices of disc Jockeying as two central
            art forms in sonic Afro-modernity, presenting Du Bois's text
            and disc Jockey's sounds as different manifestations of "the mix." 
           The "mix," as it appears in black cultural production throughout the
            twentieth century, highlighst the amalgamation of its components, 
           or rather the process of the (re)combination, as much as
            it accentuates the individual parts from which it springs. 2

Professor Weheliye's Phonographies is not casual reading to consume in an hour. Granted, from time to time over use of the slash (/) between phrases and concepts creates awkward textual flow. However, Weheliye's theoretical model should provide exciting breakthroughs in African American interdisciplinary methodologies in the next few years.

Definitely groovin' on the future importance of this text!
Delores Fisher

1. Alexander G. Weheliye, "Introduction," in Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Durham:Duke University Press 2005), 5.
2. Ibid., 73.

Thinking About Carol Burnett:

Recently sat back to enjoy an old DVD, Stephen Sondheim's Putting It Together: A Musical Review with those irreplaceable creative flames: Carol Burnett, Ruthie Henshall, George Hearn, John Barrowman, and Bronson Pinchot. Carol Burnett is no stranger to the stage. Youtube has many of her memorable(and blooper) performance. Below is Carol performing one of my favorites "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch."."

Today is a day when her artistic touch is just what a life calls for from stage left.
Putting it All Together is one of those performances ensemble on my "save only for a Special Day"  To Do/Will See lists. It has been on my media shelf for several weeks now. After giving a performance workshop with students willing to explore the parameters of personal growth through performance for one of Dr. Emily Hicks' classes at San Diego State Monday morning followed by a Tuesday morning guest lecture on the uses of African American music in the chapter titled "Etta Mae Johnson" in Gloria Naylor's Brewster Place with students engaged in the experience of literature as a way to interrogate living culture for Dr. Gail Perez at the University of San Diego, a flood of synethesiac images from the past began to circle my awareness. Teaching is live, sound/color/ emotions/ thought. Today , we can easily record lesson plans and lectures, but I really do enjoy classroom interaction. Teaching for me is like cooking, stirring gumbo, or a pot of collard greens. Experiencing old school television variety shows filmed in front of an audience and live theater is similar.  

Stirrings filled Tuesday evening's air, with an echo memory expectancy of a voice calling; "Places . . .lights, music, action!"  I tried to ignore it all day until I got home and started watching TV. Maybe it was simply tiredness--the tiredness of watching Tuesday night TV's virtual reality emptiness. It became overwhelming. I craved a dose of live theater! But I didn't want to go out. Ah, perhaps that is what started it all, acessibility on demand, commodification of desire. . . . Sigh. Too much for me to theorize about.  Ah yes, I turned  to my "Special day" media shelf.(Everybody ought to have one).

Honestly, though, I had been avoiding this DVD. Guess it was because I didn't want to visit old entertainment memories and weigh them against today's viewing vacuity, loss. Don't compare past with present. We live in a different time. It's the twenty-first century!! Don't miss what you won't know "has been done gone and probably ain't comin' back" So many talented women and men. Comics, actors, performers with inner substance, with a flame for digging away at truth kernels. They still exist. 

Few women comedian/actresses on television today measure up to Carol Burnett's bright light. Yes, granted, when she got her own show and held the creative wheel, she could sometimes  be so over the top of societal glass houses that I was afraid to look down, yet she was more often right in the groove, a town crier pointing at a baffled naked emperor. .  

Carol Burnett joined the Garry Moore Show cast as a regular after 1958. I sat TV screen center stage as a child (in the middle of the floor in front of our TV, blocking everyone's view) to watch Carol's weekly segments on the Garry Moore show. She seemed so down to earth and really nice! At a time when racial tensions were heating up,  it didn't matter that she wasn't Black. She reached through the TV and helped me realize that I could be on stage, or in the arts and that I didn't have to be eye glare gorgeous to do it! I just had to keep working towards my dream of becoming a better performer.

Here is one of her ensemble performances from Stephen Sondheim's Putting It Together: A Musical Review. The song "Not Getting Married Today" is originally from "Company."

Carol Burnett was one of those pioneering late 1950s role models when few comedic women (let alone women of color) were on a weekly show. Her early work was often physical, tongue and cheek, or in your face. Jokes and puns could cause side hurting laughter, but it was clean, savvy. Years later when Carol starred in her own show in 1967, my mom and dad let me watch. I was a teenager, a suburban African American female caught in the culture wars of suburban upstate Western New York. But I still wanted to be in the arts. My folks knew that. Each week, Carol Burnett and her show ensemble romped in hair trigger comic timing, body contorting slapstick, costume sight jokes (Oh, the Gone with the wind Curtain dress still makes me howl !!),  complex comedic skits infusing socially relevant segments with a mirror into which I would laugh . Her style was tasteful with an edge and occasionally very politically. At show's end, her honesty laden cleaning lady-a gender inflected Chaplinesque routine melted my heart.  

Well, Ms. Burnett, here's a "Missing You Madly" from a woman whose awkward young girl years were spent laughing with live television audiences as your shows and cast brought love to us, even in impromptu scene frolic with unintended breaks in character. A tug on my ear as thanks for years of treasured memories beyond material value.

It was indeed nice to have this time together,
Delores Fisher

Book Review

 Pauli Murray 
The Autobiography a Black Activist Feminist, Lawyer, 
Priest, and Poet

Every now and then I support our local libraries when
they sell older books that have note been checked out
for several years. One can find nuggets of literature.
A month or so ago, I choose a book about a woman, 
Pauli Murray, of whom I should have been conscious. 
I continue to "re-visit" its pages for inspiration.
Pauli Murray's name seems all but invisibilized in
today's current discourse on America's struggle to
establish equal rights for African Amercans and women.
She was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and the
descriptions of their interactions illuminates the
complexity of both Murray as activist-mentee
and Mrs. Roosevelt as firstlady/person and activist-mentor.

Murray's initial battles with inequality were personal,
local protests against southern Jim Crow laws in the
workplace, housing, academics, and politics. She
candidly retells her story of how this protest became 
a national quest that evolved into international 
participation in support of global human rights coalitions.
Born 1910 and living until 1985, Pauli Murray's life 
spanned a majority of the twentieth century. She made groundbreaking contributions from the formation of
national and African law programs, the drafting of
critical national and international laws dealing with
the Human Rights and Civil Rights movements,
integration strategies that emerged later in the sixties 
lunch counter incidents, integrating segregated academic 
institutions based on racial and gender separation, 
the founding of NOW, to fighting for women's admission to the Episcopal priesthood.

Her book, written in very accessible prose, is a must
read for those who enjoy micro-historical insight into
the structural systems of complex socio-cultural issues.

Learning from a recent ancestor's legacy,
Delores Fisher

   Book Review 

 Lorenzo Thomas
  Don't Deny My Name: Words and Music and the Black Intellectual Tradition.(Edited and with Introduction by Aldon Lynn Nelson)

Creativity is a facet of "the arts." In our culture, we often build dividing walls to keep words from music, dance from song, paint from rhythmic pulsations--yet to many of us art is blends and lines, sounds and silence overlapping collage echoes. Author of several books of poetry as well as works of critical cultural analysis, Poet Lorenzo Thomas' Don't Deny My Name presents thoughts on media, artists, music, word, society, politics, aesthetics, symbolic performance and real life.

The book includes several interviews. My favorite is "Pass the Biscuits, Please: Lunchtime with Sonny Boy Williams." Thomas examines the conflation of modern Blues conceptualization with media designed mythos by locating KFFA's King Biscuit Time radio show's rural focus origins in the pathos of a racially divided, pre-media saturated America. His portrait of Sunny Boy Williamson brings a humanity to the corporeal presence of the Bluesman stereotype that Williams projected to the public.

Other chapters deal with aesthetics of the Black artist as mythical being and real human. In "New and Old Gospel: The Black Arts Movement and Popular Music," Thomas exposes the conflicted reality of being a Black artist in an increasingly consumer pleasure centered society from the Harlem Renaissance through the Blacks Arts Movement into today's global artistic climate. He situates the outline of artist in a unique tension of  community-self-commercial-public icon-spiritual-material-political-social-creative energy.

Thompson's work (one of his last books) is insightful and thought provoking. The entire book presents a gourmet meal for sumptuous critical thought and contemplation in this twenty-first century grab a quick app world.

Thompson's biography:

A few thoughts,
Delores Fisher

 T.J. Anderson Composer: 
Teacher Extraordinare

The name T. J. Anderson,thanks to composer and one of my music composition mentors Dr. David Ward-Steinman, became a source of learning, reflection, and appreciation.Dr. Anderson is quoted by scholars who reference his ideas and practical knowledge. He is one of the pioneers in music composition who continues to interact with today's scholars, performers, and composers.
Watch this video with DJ Spooky:

Listening to his work, it felt as if a good friend had stepped into the room, sat down and said,"Hello." One early San Diego summer morning last year I had a chance encounter with a relative of T.J.s. I was on my usual stroll near the Embarcadaro and  Convention Center. It was a typical dialogue with a tourist/conventioneer. As we talked, our discussion about music and some of the American  musical giants who contributed to our contemporary scene settled on Dr. Anderson.

A recent interview from Youtube

After exchanging emails. I waited. Within weeks, T.J. Anderson answered my email. What an honor---we continue to keep in contact. He is quite wise. . . .For us contemporary, perhaps avant garde  composers, his music is a model source of reflection.Visit his website;  it is with much gratitude that I introduce to some and present to others  Dr. T. J. Anderson:

Music is more than sound,
delores fisher

Maya Angelou: Author, Poet, and Mother to Many of us . . .
Maya Angelou

If I were to write an open letter to a list of writers who have impacted my life since childhood, the list would start with Maya Angelou. In my old neighborhood, we had, "Play mommas." These were women approved by our parents who joined in the community goal of helping us reach a healthy, productive, and spiritual adulthood. They would nurture, chastise, and comfort for the good of children and family.

As I began thinking about writing you this open letter, my heart filled with joy. What would I say?

Momma Angelou . . .
First, thank you for making my life brighter with childhood southern rural word portraits and adult snap shots from global travels. Your interior thought-scape not only helped me sidestep several major culture war landmines in the late sixties, but also shines a light on many of today's camouflaged PC gray cultural flagstone detonators.

At one point you became that wise aunt from "Out there in the world" that I had never met, but watched on TV speaking poetry to the nation at a president's inauguration. Youth are so hard to impress, but what a day! Many of my friends and I were so proud: we pronounced your name---a golden diamond pearl.

In my early twenties, I would curl up on the sofa with hot tea or warm milk while watching reruns of your programs that promoted children's literacy. You were always so "there," in the moment. Your voice warm and encouraging. The same voice that had a mischievous smile with a full-bellied laugh.

You loved many "poet's" work, but your rendition of "Jump Back Honey Jump Back" on Arsenio Hall put a swagger in that smile and laugh. I was rolling on the floor, going "No she didn't!" It was so hip, a smile still slides out when the memory parties through my thoughts.

Recently, I read your "The Heart of A Woman." So many memories of those days. Most history books do not do justice in retelling the micro-narrative complexities of Black people's lives during that era. Your woman's eye produced mini-postcards with a gender inflected arts community gaze.

Your participation in Dr. Dorothy Height's funeral inspired my courage to offer this letter of thanks, this tribute. You respected her leading by example. Your celebration of her home going sounded a quiet, eloquent fanfare. Dr. Height and you joined the mid -twentieth century struggle so that many of us in this generation can also lift voice to sing poems of spirit-life-words.

Our community used to have a saying: "Give them their flowers while they yet live."

Momma Angelou, I do not know you personally, but I hope as a writer and poet to be included among your daughters. My mother loved poetry and really enjoyed your poems.Your life is an inspiration, a pearl of love from God. Thank you for sharing. I am a better women because of so precious a gift.

Watch and enjoy Maya Angelou's interview to introduce her new book Letter to My Daughter right after her 80th Birthday.

Delores Fisher