What’s In A Name

Valaida Snow 4

Queen of the Trumpet Valaida Snow, circa 1930

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

I suppose Shakespeare was right, but with a name as uncommon as Valaida, I’ve always believed that my name somehow influenced my tastes and style. You see, my mother named me after Valaida Wynn Randolph, her roommate and friend at Bennett College. And Ms. Randolph’s mother named her after the legendary jazz musician Valaida Snow.

If you’re unfamiliar with Valaida Snow, you are not alone. Somehow, after her death in the 1950s, her star failed to continue shining brightly as was the case with her contemporaries and fellow musicians Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker.

Here’s a little more about Valaida from Wikipedia:

She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Raised on the road in a show-business family, she learned to play cello, bass, banjo, violin, mandolin, harp, accordion, clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone at professional levels by the time she was 15. She also sang and danced.

After focusing on the trumpet, she quickly became so famous at the instrument that she was named “Little Louis” after Louis Armstrong, who used to call her the world’s second best jazz trumpet player besides himself. She played concerts throughout the USA, Europe and China. From 1926 to 1929 she toured with Jack Carter’s Serenaders in Shanghai, Singapore, Calcutta and Jakarta.

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Her most successful period was in the 1930s when she became the toast of London and Paris. Around this time she recorded her hit song “High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm”. She performed in the Ethel Waters show Rhapsody In Black, in New York. In the mid-1930s she made films with her husband, Ananias Berry, of the Berry Brothers dancing troupe. After playing New York’s Apollo Theater, she revisited Europe and the Far East for more shows and films.

Valaida lived an amazing, storied life, performing around the globe and thriving through trials and triumphs. Below is one of my favorite stories about her (hence the orchid accents here).

My fave Valaida Snow storyIn fitting fashion, while performing at the Palace Theater in New York City, she collapsed on stage, suffering a fatal cerebral hemorrhage, and was buried on her birthday. Her final curtain call given with flair. Brava!

So today, on the anniversary of her birth (109 years ago) and her burial at age 51, I am remembering the Queen of the Trumpet Valaida Snow (June 2, 1904 – May, 30 1956), a jazz musician extraordinaire and my namesake, once removed.

Here’s a link to a YouTube video about Valaida’s life.

Valaida Snow 5

watered

Rose and watering can still-life from "Giving Back" | Charles W. Thomas, Jr., photographer

“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” — Proverbs 11:25

After orchids

After orchids, the rose is my favorite flower. Its unmatchable beauty and famous symbolism have inspired my “Stop and Smell the Roses” parties over the years. Roses forever stir the poet and lover and philosopher in me.

Home in April (Valaida's iphone)

A stalky rosebush grows at the edge of my driveway, just where I pull up and park every day. I imagine it could be nearly as old as my 75-year-old house. Constant and kind, my tall rose greets me upon arriving home and bids adieu when leaving. Just seeing it makes me happy. And it makes me think, too. Sitting in the car, before turning off the engine or driving away, I often take a moment to breathe in its metaphorical messages. Day to day, season to season, it seems to have something new and important to say.

Reaching (Valaida's iphone)

Bare of blooms and thorny, sometimes draped in ice or laced with snow in winter, its stems and its leaves stay green throughout. Budding feverishly at the hint of spring, it bodes a host of hopes yet to come. Bowed with bursts of blossoms before summer, it beckons boldness with humbleness. Sometimes, I am tempted to oblige with a quick curtsy for its gracious and welcoming bow. The weeks pink petals litter the pathway, I’m convinced it has strewn them just to make my day.

The other day I came home to find my rosebush lying prone across the driveway. It had fallen over from the weight of wild new growth and from the neglect of an admiring but challenged gardener. Roots intact and still vibrant, it just needed pruning and a secure fastening to its trellis. Yet another message. A reminder of life’s delicate balancing act. Stretching, growing, climbing, reaching can its toll. This I know. While I have taken time to do some pruning and can show scratches for proof, struggles in keeping my own balance have kept me from re-anchoring it. So, it still blocks my driveway.

Yesterday as I drove up, a surprise. There, in the spindly, thorny mass that has sprawled the drive for days, perhaps weeks now, a single blossom. One rose eked out by my fatigued floral friend. A tiny gift. And a monumental message. Even when weary from this world’s weight, keep doing your thing. — VF

What's that? (Valaida's iphone)

A tiny gift (Valaida's iphone)