Valaida Snow in her time was known as "Queen of the Trumpet and Song," "The Female Louis Armstrong," "Little Louis," and "Lady Louis."
Attractive, Talented with Mellow and Hot Rhythm, and an Irresistible Performer.
Exciting Vocalist, Band-Leader, Dancer, Songwriter, and Arranger.
Ella Fitzgerald is known for being the so-called First Lady of Jazz and for her fast, hypnotic scatting. But Valaida Snow was the First Lady of Jazz and could scat you into a frenzy.
There isn't a lot of footage on her. A lot of it is lost and hard to find. But, Valaida Snow's music is very easy to find. A lot of her music has just been released and its selling like hotcakes. Valaida Snow high singing voice sounds like Betty Boop, but her voice possessed clarity, strength, perfect pitch, feeling and charisma. She could put a song over the way Bessie Smith would but Valaida didn't have to sound rough to do so. Valaida was different from other Black vocalist when it came to singing, a lot of Black vocalists were loud, rough and raunchy; Valaida's voice was easy-going, sweet and mellow but she still could strongly put a song over and move you in a classy way. In the 1920's Blues singers with their loud, powerful, raunchy voices ruled but Valaida was the start of the change of the style Black females sing. If you listen to most Black singers after Valaida, you'll see that Valaida served as kind of a role model for many Black singers who began to sing graciously. Valaida would sing sometimes without even using words. She would hum, squeak or scat and still give you the same feel as she would if she sung the words. Valaida sang like an angel and sounded just like an instrument. She had a lot of soul before there was soul.
Valaida Snow was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on June 2, 1905, one of 5 children in a musical family. From an early age Valaida was tutored by her parents on various instruments. In her teens she already was a professional appearing with various touring shows. In the 1920's, Valaida Snow was no stranger to show business. The young trumpet player, dancer, and singer appeared in New York for the first time with Will Mastins' show band. Legendary Noble Sissle next employed Valaida in a production that became popular when it was performed on Broadway under a different title "The Chocolate Dandies"... one of most popular Black shows on stage at the time and a sensation. Valaida's appearance in the show took her career to big strides. The 1920's was the start of the greatest era of Black Entertainment. The 1920's was the start of the Black influence on the world through entertainment. Valaida Snow, Florence Mills, Ethel Waters, Blanche Calloway, Gertrude Saunders, Mamie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Fredi Washington, Mae Alix, Adelaide Hall, Josephine Baker was the pioneers, the ones who set the foundation for the future of black performers.
During the 1920's, Valaida set sail for the first of her many adventurous tours that took her around the globe. She performed in Shanghai with Jack Carter's band, followed by engagements back in the United States. She played in Paris as a member of the "Blackbirds" show and then appeared in Germany, Russia, British Isles and the Middle East.
Valaida Snow was a lady before her time. You can tell what type of performer she was just by listening to her sing...Vivacious, Passionate, Energetic, and a Breath-Taking Performer.
Valaida was a sight to behold on stage! People who've seen Valaida perform said she was a powerhouse performer. Every inch of what an entertainer suppose to be. Her image on stage was beauty of class, elegance, glamour, talent and magnetism. You can just tell the competition was tough between the jazz ladies back then, because all had talent and did anything to please and wow their audience. But Valaida Snow had advantages over Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Josephine Baker; they either had just a voice or dancing talent. Valaida had many talents besides singing and dancing. She could write, arrange, play just about every instrument, led fine bands, and was always looking for different ways to enhance her performances with her many talents. Valaida Snow could give any performer, man or woman, a run for their money and she did. Valaida Snow stood above all her contemporaries because she was a musical prodigy. Valaida was most popular for her signature trumpet playing. She was so good at the trumpet, people called her "The Female Louis Armstrong."
Valaida could dance, also! She sometimes danced without moving her feet...she could make her trumpet and voice dance as smoothly and gracefully as her feet. Valaida was intoxicating...those were the qualities that took the world by storm and won the hearts of many even to this day Valaida is still winning hearts.
Being a female with the talent Valaida had was looked at as a threat and at times she wasn't taken seriously. Even in the Black side of show business, males dominated. Valaida was a woman with talent, and not just some glamorous pretty woman singing and shaking her hips. She wanted to be more then just a vocalist with an all-male band. The males were threatened by Valaida's talent outside of singing because she could hit any note higher than any male trumpeter and arrange and write songs that were as good and rivaled any male musicians. Men in show business felt as long as women stayed in their place by letting the males do their work of playing the instruments, arranging and songwriting and women just sing and perform men's work that would help her to become a star. But if a woman, like Valaida Snow tried to surpass male musicians, men tried anything to bring her down. Men didn't want competition with a woman, even if she proved herself worthy. Men rather have a woman sing with their band instead of playing or running a band and arranging and songwriting. But with the strong, independent will and driving force of Valaida's, she prevailed despite prejudices because of her race and sex.
Valaida Snow was a hot commodity in the U.S. People in the business were scared that they would lose Valaida permanently to Europe when she went to entertain like Josephine Baker. People within the business and fans were afraid Great Britain would promise her a better career and life and that Valaida wouldn't want to come back to the United States. The U.S. already lost Josephine Baker, Adelaide Hall, Alberta Hunter and others to Europe. Valaida did love the attention, publicity, love, the popularity, and being the Queen in Europe. Yet, she knew the U.S. was her home and made frequent visits back, even though she did her best work in Europe and had a lot of freedom when it came to recording, writing, producing, arranging and being a star.
In Europe, Black performers were highly admired and treated like royalty by royalty. Queen Wilhemina was so impressed with Valaida's performance that she awarded Valaida with a golden trumpet and famous actors like Maurice Chevalier escorted Valaida to famous spots.
When Valaida Snow opened at the London Colliseum on August 25, 1934, billed as one of the stars of the "Blackbirds" show, she was still a virtually unknown artist in Great Britain. However, Valaida had already seen more of the world than possibly anyone in and out of the business but surely and quickly she took the British public by storm. Based on her success, she stayed on in London and was able to make the first of her rather extraordinary recordings. Her stage appearances in Great Britain proved enormously popular and enabled her to record, arrange and write with the best British musicians - white and black. Valaida wrote syncopacted, rhythmatic songs for dancing and wrote and sung songs that seemed to describe Negro women's love rites and created songs that identified Negro life. A song written by Valaida Snow that was her most popular and simply brilliant was "High Hat, Trumpet, And Rhythm" - It described just what type of performer Valaida Snow was. A lot of songs Valaida wrote were recorded by other jazz artists, including "High Hat, Trumpet, And Rhythm," "I Want A Lot Of Love," and "Take Care Of You For Me." Valaida's simple but empowering lyrics proved her a outstanding songwriter.
Valaida was one of first few Black vocalist to step (sing) outside the box by not just singing Black jazz and blues. Valaida proved that a Black vocalist could sing anything and still have that "Negro feeling" in singing. Valaida recorded many American/Broadway standards like "Singing in the Rain," "It Had To Be You," "Maybe I'm To Blame," and "Sing You Sinners" but with her artistry she transformed them from white Tin Pan Alley songs to Jazz/Scat standards and at times she sung the songs the way they were written to be sung but with "Valaida's smooth touch" she sang the songs as if they were her own. The song "I Wish I Were Twins," ranks among the very finest examples of Valaida Snow's artistry. The sympathetic accompanying band supports her in a swinging manner but never overshadows the leader. The relative success of this and some of the subsequent recordings brought raving reviews in the English press, not least because Louis Armstrong had also been heard in the country but was then unable to record. No wonder some critics referred to Valaida as "Little Louis." Whoever didn't get to hear Louis Armstrong in Europe, got a little taste of Louis Armstrong's style through Valaida Snow. Being compared to Armstrong and being called "The Female Louis Armstrong" was an honor to Valaida but Valaida was no copycat she had an original style of her own and wanted people to notice that - again in a way it was sexist to just call Valaida - The Female Louis Armstrong...Valaida Snow was Valaida Snow. Though Louis Armstrong was Valaida's role model, Valaida was certainly a genuine and original star in her own right, despite Satchmo's undeniable influence.
Valaida's life was full of many failed love affairs and failed marriages. She had a romance that led to marriage with a young popular dancer by the name of Ananias Berry (member of the Berry Brothers) whose parents did anything to end the union because of the age difference (Valaida was in her early 30s, Ananias was under 20). Some say the real problem was the father wanted Valaida and when he couldn't get her, he surely couldn't take it when the son and Valaida took interest in one another. His family got back at Valaida any chance they got by publicly shaming Valaida, including one attempt when they found she was married twice before and made sure bigamy charges were made against her. She had to face the possibility of going to jail in court. Valaida suffered through suicide attempts (backstage at some shows), alcoholism, drugs, and, some say, relations with same sex. Valaida made people frown as well as smile. Valaida was the first of black performers to receive so much attention in the press. She was a hot topic in the gossip and entertainment sections of the front page newspapers for her glorious endeavors as well as her down-falls. Valaida was the most talked-about woman in show business during the 1930's - that was an achievement for a Black performer, though Valaida didn't like the publicity and fought it, many Black performers wished for publicity. Many stars of that time kept their business to themselves and did anything possible to keep their personal doings from the public and maintain a good image, but Valaida's life always made headline news. She went through what stars today go through having no privacy. The press loved gossiping about her as well as glorifying her.
Valaida had an extraordinary and tragic life. Some sources say as tragic as Billie Holiday. The Black newspapers followed Valaida's every move with praise and scrutiny. Valaida Snow was as flamboyant off stage as she was on it. Valaida was known for her music, as well for trouble that seemed to always follow her, but also for her glamorous, extravagant costumes, cars, and clothes. Josephine Baker was known for shocking people in Europe. Valaida shocked people in the U.S. with her bright colored, expensive cars and with her monkeys and driver dressed in the same outfits. She lived the life of a star and enjoyed every minute of it and also suffered the tragic side that seems to haunt many greats. She may not be remembered much today, but people in and outside the business held Valaida Snow in high regard.
The 1930's was the highlight of Valaida's career. She graduated to being the biggest star of her race alongside Adelaide Hall, Ethel Waters, and Josephine Baker. Throughout the 1930's, Valaida was the busiest female performer entertaining in the U.S. and abroad. In mid-1934 Valaida appeared in England with an updated version of the "Blackbirds" show and produced the first recordings under her own name. A year later she appeared in two Hollywood films (and also appeared in European films) but she was only in California a short time before a new tour took her back to the Far East and India. Throughout the Thirties Valaida was mainly active in England and in the U.S. but missed the right moment to return to the States. Good friend Josephine Baker warned Valaida to get out of Europe as fast as she could, she knew a breakout was coming. But Valaida was too late...
Valaida Snow would have became one of the greatest entertainers of Jazz of the 20th Century, some believe, had it not been for a tragic incident during the outbreak of WW II that damaged and halted her career and caused her great suffering until her death, as well.
Returning to Denmark from a tour through Sweden Valaida was imprisoned by the occupying Nazis in Copenhagen and was subsequently placed in an internment camp. Some sources say Valaida was imprisoned in prison or a concetration camp for drug use, but Valaida stuck to her story for many years and said she was wrongfully put in a concentration camp. With the help of influential friends, Valaida Snow was traded and was able to return to her homeland towards the end of 1942. Many said Valaida Snow never was the same again mentally and physically; on her return to the states, Valaida weighed under 100 lbs and looked near death. The press was suspicious of Valaida's story of being in a concentration camp. Valaida's story was often mocked and fun was poked at her. Whether Valaida was wrongfully or rightfully incarcerated one can't imagine the horror and hell she went through. Despite her dreadful experiences, she was able to stage a minor comeback in the U.S. In her 40's, Valaida still could fill a nightclub; she attracted nightclub-goers and record buyers. Her career never was the same as it was in the 1930's because some say she loss that "magic" that made her so appealing. Yet, she still drew a crowd until her death. On May 30, 1956, while performing at the Palace Theater in Brooklyn, New York, Valaida suffered a stroke and died backstage. She died the way many performers would like to die...performing.
Despite what happened to Valaida in the early 1940s, she still accomplished enough to be remembered. Jazz historians and Entertainment historians are foolish to overlook a great like Valaida Snow. Who can be considered alongside Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and even Judy Garland.
But no matter what, Valaida always knew "the show must go on," a saying which sould have been created for her, because no matter what, she went on and gave her all. Whatever she lacked in life, she made up for in her talents. Valaida died doing what she did all her life... performing. I don't think she would have wanted to go any other way.
I have to say if Valaida Snow was around today, she would be considered a superstar and a genius - with many awards and credits to her name but even today there is no Valaida Snow. She is one of a kind!
There is finally a book out about Valaida Snow beautifully written by Candace Allen. I think you will enjoy it. Do yourself a favor and read it.