I had the good fortune to interview Cab Calloway in 1988, some five decades after he became a jazz sensation thanks to his 1931 hit song, "Minnie the Moocher," with its famous "Hi De Hi De Hi De Ho" sing-a-long.
Despite lyrics about Smokey being a "cokey" and "kick the gong around," which refers to opium, Calloway said he never touched the stuff, including marijuana which he sang about in his verion of Fats Waller's "Reefer Man," performed below in International House in 1933.
"Boom, you're gone." the frenetic bandleader told me if he found a band member high.
Calloway, who died in 1994, grew up in the traditionally Black Druid Hill section of West Baltimore. The status of his family house at 2216 Druid Hill Ave. had become a controversy when the City announced its plan to demolish the building and others on the block because they were in disrepair and structually unsafe. The buildings had been abandoned and were razed on September 5. To earn the family's support, the City agreed to build a park on the site named for the flamboyant entertainer.
However, Calloway's grandson Peter Brooks took exception to the plan, stating:
“It’s hard to imagine them doing the same thing to Babe Ruth or Edgar Allan Poe."
Ruth and Poe also hailed from Baltimore.
There was some hope the house would be converted into a national landmark like the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York.
Calloway was introduced to rock fans when he performed "Minnie the Moocher" in The Blues Brothers movie in 1980.
"The Prince, Michael Jackson - they've all taken things I originated," Calloway noted in 1988. To him Jackson's famous Moonwalk dance move was based on one he called the Buzz. "I was doin' that before he was born. Everybody was. But I admire Jackson for giving it a name."