Ok, so I'm officially starting Black History Month early (February's a short month, anyway!) All February, I'll be focusing on African American musicians and writers for my Monday book post & Wednesday music post. If you missed Monday's post on the Jubilee Singers, you can catch up here.
To me, Valaida Snow is one of the most interesting musicians of the 1920's & 30's. She was an incredibly talented trumpet player and arranger and had perfect pitch and impeccable timing. The only thing was, girls didn't play in the brass section in those days. It was considered improper, vulgar, far from feminine.
But Valaida had loads of talent and perseverence. She spent years playing in all-girl bands that were ridiculed or hired only as novelty acts, sleeping on floors and getting kicked out of club after club because of her race, her gender, or both. Eventually, she became quite a celebrity (complete with a lavender car and a pet monkey!) and began to spend most of her time touring in Asia and Europe, where many African American musicians found a friendlier social climate than they experienced in the U.S.
Louis Armstrong famously called Valaida Snow the 2nd best trumpet player in the world (next to himself, of course!)
The end of her life is a bit of a tragic mystery. The story I've always heard is that when World War II began and many African Americans in Europe began returning to the U.S. to avoid the Nazi regime, Valaida chose to stay, and in 1940 was detained in a concentration camp in Denmark for two years (this is the story that Valaida stuck to her whole life.) Well, yesterday I was browsing Wikipedia, and they tell quite a different story. Further research on the subject has shown that either story is plausible and could have happened, though no one seems to have any real evidence either way. By any account, she was never the same afterwards. She tried to return to performing, but with very little success and energy.
A good place to begin with Valaida Snow's music is Hot Snow: Queen of Trumpet and Song...it's a great 2 disc set of Valaida Snow's work. Her combination of trumpet playing and singing is full of joy, pizazz, and energy. If you like swing music, I think you'll love it!
A couple random sites with Valaida Snow biographies:
Valaida Snow: Queen of the Trumpet (audio program)
Nina Mae McKinney's "Valaida Snow: The Real Queen of Jazz"