By: M. Swift
March 31st marks the 86th anniversary of “Minnie the Moocher.” Recorded and co-written by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra. Here are five things about the first jazz song to move one million copies.
5 FACTS: MINNIE THE MOOCHER
Calloway performed “Minnie the Moocher”—both with His Orchestra and a stand-in—in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. It was also featured in episode 34 of famed animator Max Fleischer’s Talkartoons from 1932. The cartoon to go along with this song was a Betty Boop short.
For The Blues Brothers version of the performance, Calloway actually wanted to do a disco version of the song. At the time disco’s run at the top had just ended in the U.S, but was still very popular in Europe. Director John Landis wanted to keep the song true to its original version.
The song is laced with references to drugs that were popular at the time: cocaine and opium. It details the titular Minnie who enjoys her drugs and her boyfriend—who also enjoys his drugs—who is looking for her. Minnie the Moocher is one of many songs about the Calloway characters Minnie and Smokey Joe.
The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. It was in great company that year such as James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin, The Temptation’s “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”, and “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green.
The person Minnie was said to be based on was Minnie Gayton, a homeless Indianapolis woman who froze to death in 1951 at the age of 82. This would have put her in her early 60s when the song was recorded.
M. Swift primarily writes on moments and important figures in Black history for Your Black World. He also writes heavily on wrestling, comics, gaming, and Black sci-fi and fantasy.