Calloway Brooks keeps Hi De Ho going strong

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The King of Jive is still alive

By Greg Summers

In his heyday, the late Cab Calloway’s unique, innovative and ground-breaking, high-energy swing music and jazz brought joy and happiness to millions.

Now his namesake – Calloway “C.B.” Brooks – is following in his grandfather’s footsteps by teaching the “Hi De Ho” to a new generation. 

Red-hot lyrics backed by a silky smooth ensemble, tight harmonies and irresistible swaying will fill the University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bundy Auditorium on Saturday when the Cab Calloway Orchestra brings its infectious sound and Cotton Club-style hijinks to USCL’s Performing Arts Series.

Growing up in a musical family, Brooks has the opportunity to tell a Zoot suit story about the Swing Era that few can tell.

“The music is in my blood,” he said.

Brooks said he considers his grandfather – who died in 1994 – a brilliant communicator who was always looking for new and innovative ways to move an audience. From sharing the famed stage of the Sunset Cafe in Chicago with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s to appearing in films with Nat King Cole, (“St. Louis Blues”), Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson (“The Cincinnati Kid”) and the “Blues Brothers” with Dan Akroyd and the late John Belushi, Cab Calloway’s career left quite a legacy.   

“My grandfather was certainly one of the most successful performing musicians on the 20th century,” Brooks said. “His career spanned 70 years and his ‘Hi De Ho’ is universally known.”

Brooks grew up around the Calloway sound and some of his earliest memories are watching his grandfather’s band rehearse at the old Shoreham Blue Room in his hometown of Washington, D.C.

Brooks said since both his parents worked full time, he tagged along with his granddad whenever he came to town.

“That was absolutely the most fascinating thing I had ever seen,” Brooks said of the band rehearsals. “My mom came back to pick me up and I refused to leave.

“She tried everything to get me to go with her, but she finally let me stay and I guess I’ve never been the same since,” Brooks said.

By age 7, Brooks was playing the guitar.

He won his first music award at 11 and went on to graduate from the New England Conservatory of Music. 

Brooks said the experience of playing with his grandfather for 15 years was just as important as the classical training he received.

“I learned how to relate to a crowd, how to pace yourself, how to program and sequence a show, how to keep track of tempos, how to rehearse, how to put your moves together, how to appear both on and off stage, how critical it is to be on time, how important it is to successfully work with the many different people and personalities and collaboration it takes to be successful.”

Brooks said those attending Saturday’s concert won’t be sitting on their hands.

The orchestra, he said, always thrives on the opportunity to bond with the audience and pick up on its energy.

“Granddad used to say, ‘I’m a performing artist, not a recording artist,’” Brooks said.

“Audiences will get that Calloway feeling, so expect to walk away smiling,” he said.    

The Cab Calloway Orchestra

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: The University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bundy Auditorium inside the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $55 each and are available at the auditorium box office inside the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building. Tickets can also be purchased online at plittle@gwm.sc.edu.