She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Raised on the road in a show-business family, she learned to play cello, bass, banjo, violin, mandolin, harp, accordion, clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone at professional levels by the time she was 15. She also sang and danced.
After focusing on the trumpet, she quickly became so famous at the instrument that she was named "Little Louis" after Louis Armstrong, who used to call her the world's second best jazz trumpet player besides himself. She played concerts throughout the USA, Europe and China. 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 New York's Apollo Theater, she revisited Europe and the Far East for more shows and films.
While touring through Denmark in 1941, she was arrested by the 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. According to jazz historian Scott Yanow, "she never emotionally recovered from the experience". She later married Earl Edwards. In the 1950s, she was unable to regain her former success.
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.
- 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
- 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 18 March 2008.
- Scott Yanow (2003). Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years. Backbeat Books. p. 228. ISBN 0-87930-755-2.