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 my name has in some way 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.
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).
In 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.