Valaida Snow (June 2, 1904 – May 30, 1956) was a virtuoso American jazz musician and entertainer who became an internationally celebrated talent. She was known as "Little Louis" and "Queen of the Trumpet," a nickname given to her by W.C. Handy.
Snow was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her mother, Etta, was a Howard University-educated music teacher and her father, John, was a minister who was the leader of the Pickaninny Troubadours, a group mainly consisting of child performers. Raised on the road in a show-business family, where starting from the age of 5, she began performing with her father's group. By the time she was 15, she learned to play cello, bass, banjo, violin, mandolin, harp, accordion, clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone. She also sang and danced.
Her solo career began when she joined a popular revue called "Holiday in Dixieland," after exiting an abusive marriage. She then held a residency at a Harlem cabaret, which helped lead her to be cast along Josephine Baker in the musical "In Bamville," a follow-up to the enduring hit musical "Shuffle Along." While the musical was itself not a hit, Baker and Snow both received positive reviews.
After focusing on the trumpet, Snow quickly became so famous at the instrument that she was nicknamed "Little Louis" after Louis Armstrong, who called her the world's second best jazz trumpet player, besides himself. W. C. Handy, who is known as the Father of the Blues, gave her the nickname "Queen of the Trumpet." Contemporary critics Krin Gabbard and Will Friedwald have commented on her approach to playing like Armstrong. Gabbard said she developed a "distinctly Armstrongian style" and Friedwald said she "mimicked" Armstrong. In a 1928 performance in Chicago at the Sunset Café, Snow played the trumpet, sang. Then seven pairs of shoes were placed in a row at the front of the stage, and she danced in each pair for one chorus. The dances and shoes to match were: soft-shoe, adagio shoes, tap shoes, Dutch clogs, Chinese straw sandals, Turkish slippers, and the last pair, Russian boots. "When Louis Armstrong saw the show one night, he continued clapping after others had stopped and remarked, 'Boy I never saw anything that great'." Despite her talent, she had fewer opportunities to hold residencies as a bandleader at clubs in New York or Chicago, like many of her male peers. Instead, she predominantly toured, playing concerts throughout the US, Europe, and China. In 1926, she toured London and Paris with Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds" revue and then 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 the Apollo Theater in New York City, she revisited Europe and the Far East for more shows and films. She was imprisoned in a Copenhagen jail during WWII when Nazi soldiers took over Denmark where she was touring.
According to a jazz radio show that aired October 28, 2017, she said she was arrested in Europe, apparently going to jail for theft and illegal drugs. While later touring through Denmark in 1941, she said she was arrested by Nazis and probably kept at Vestre Fængsel, a Danish prison in Copenhagen that was run by the Nazis, before being released on a prisoner exchange in May 1942. It was rumored that her friendship with a Belgian police official helped her to board a ship carrying foreign diplomats. According to jazz historian Scott Yanow, "she never emotionally recovered from the experience". She married Earl Edwards. In the 1950s, she was unable to regain her former success.
Valaida Snow died of a brain hemorrhage on May 30, 1956, in New York City, backstage during a performance at the Palace Theater.
Many recordings of Snow performances still exist, including audio recordings and audiovisual recordings of her on stage or in films. According to musicology professor Dr. Tammy Kernodle, "The unfortunate thing about her legacy is that she wasn't recorded as much as many of her peers, but she was a greatly respected musician on the vaudeville circuit, and even amongst male jazz musicians themselves." This quote was from a phone interview by Giovanni Russonello, who on February 22, 2020, published her belated obituary in The New York Times, as part of the "Overlooked No More" series. There are no commercial recordings of Snow as trumpeter made in the United States, all were recorded in Europe. Before her obituary was published, The New York Times wrote about her only once in a paragraph-long review about a 1949 Song Recital at New York's Town Hall.
Dr. Kernodle also said that Snow's legacy is important as she helped "shift the context of jazz away from the early Dixieland style" and "she [was] important in terms of helping us gain an understanding of the spread of jazz to Europe, particularly after World War I."
On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Valaida Snow among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. Her biography High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life and Music of Valaida Snow was written by Mark Miller in 2007.
- March 11, 1933; Earl Hines and Snow performed in Madrid ballroom in Harrisburg, PA.
- September 23, 1945; First Cavalcade of Jazz concert in Los Angeles at Wrigley Field produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. along with Count Basie, The Honeydrippers, The Peter Sisters, Slim and Bam and Joe Turner.
Valaida Snow in literature
- John Edgar Wideman (1989). "Valaida". Fever: Twelve Stories. Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 978-0-8050-1184-5.
- Valaida Snow appears as a fictional character who threw herself on top of the protagonist when he was a child to shield him from a beating at the hands of the Nazis in a concentration camp. Snow is depicted as a strong, generous woman who proudly recalls that "They beat me, and fucked me in every hole I had. I was their whore. Their maid. A stool they stood on when they wanted to reach a little higher. But I never sang in their cage, Bobby. Not one note" (p. 28).
- A novel based on Valaida Snow's life story.
- Mark Miller (2007). High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life and Music of Valaida Snow. Toronto: The Mercury Press. ISBN 978-1-55128-127-8.
- Biography. Both the Allen and Miller books contradict the assertion that Snow was held by the Nazis and instead place her in Danish custody at a Copenhagen prison.
- Inspired by Valaida's life, but it is more fictitious than strictly biographical.
- Valaida Snow, by Emmanuel Reuzé and Maël Rannou, comic strip, BDMusic, Paris, coll. " BDJazz ", 2012.
- 1940–1953 (Classics)
- Queen of Trumpet and Song (DRG, 1999)
- Hackman, Florence. Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. ISBN 978-0-415-93853-2.. Other presumed birth years are 1900, 1901, 1903, 1905, and 1907
- Russonello, Giovanni (February 22, 2020). "Overlooked No More: Valaida Snow, Charismatic 'Queen of the Trumpet'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 15, 2020.
- Lusane, Clarence (2003). Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in the Nazi Era. p. 168.
- Reitz, Rosetta (1982). Hot Snow: Valaida Snow (Queen of the Trumpet Sings and Swings. Black American Literature Forum. p. 158.
- Devlin, Paul (2008). Snow, Valaida. New York: Oxford UP.
- Lusane, Clarence. Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experience of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans and African Americans in the Nazi Era. ISBN 978-0-415-93295-0.
- Rye, Howard. L. Macy (ed.). "Snow, Valaida [Valada, Little Louis]". Grove Music Online. Retrieved March 18, 2008.
- "Valaida Snow, Sunset Royal Ork And Alan Courtney at Apollo". The New York Age. April 10, 1943.
- Scott Yanow (2003). Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years. Backbeat Books. p. 228. ISBN 0-87930-755-2.
- Russonello, Giovanni (February 22, 2020). "Overlooked No More: Valaida Snow, Charismatic 'Queen of the Trumpet'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
- "Song Recital by Valaida Snow". The New York Times. May 21, 1949. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
- Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- "Nite Club Orchestra at Madrid Tomorrow Nite". The Evening News(Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. March 3, 1933.
- “Big Name Bands, Singers in ‘Cavalcade of Music’ Sept. 23” ” The California Eagle Sept. 13, 1945.
- "23 Dec 1933, Page 16 - The Pittsburgh Courier at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. December 23, 1933. Retrieved May 17, 2018.