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Are You Hep to the Jive? The Cab Calloway Hepster Dictionary

cab calloway head shot 1930s 1940s singer

Each generation has their own slang and lingo, a language that defines them. Each generation also has a purveyor of cool who creates a language that only the initiated understand. During the 1950s and 60s, Frank Sinatra created a personal lingo [1] that influenced a generation of swanky and swaggering men.

But before Sinatra, there was Cab Calloway.

Calloway was an energetic singer and bandleader during the 1930’s and 1940’s. His big band gained fame at Harlem’s premier night club, The Cotton Club. Cab Calloway and His Orchestra became a nationwide sensation with their weekly radio broadcast on NBC and their nationwide tours. Calloway wrote such hits as “Minnie the Moocher” and “Jumpin’ Jive.” He was also one of the first jazz musicians to make use of “scat” in his performances. Here’s Cab Calloway and His Orchestra performing Mini the Moocher.

In addition to writing and performing great swing music, Calloway created an entirely new lingo. He never took his hepster slang too seriously; it was all about having fun and being unique. Soon lots of people wanted to speak just like Cab. To help facilitate this, Calloway produced a Hepster Dictionary in 1940 that accompanied Cab Calloway sheet music.

Below are the definitions of Cab’s jive. You’ll notice that we still use many of them today. Learn a few choice phrases and try peppering your speech with them. Just like Cab, you’ll get a kick out of the reactions you’ll get from the ickies. Plus, using slang your grandpa might have used is a cool way to connect with Gramps.

So are you ready to get hep to the jive?