Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Valaida Snow and the Ali Baba Trio “Patience and Fortitude”

Valaida Snow was born in 1904 and appears to have been a musical prodigy of sorts. She made her show business debut at age three, and had learned to play at least ten musical instruments before she was 16 years old; add singing and dancing to the mix and you have a very unique young talent. Louis Armstrong was Snow’s main influence, and she was often referred to as “Little Louis.” Armstrong hyperbolically referred to her as the world’s “second best” trumpet player.

As early as 1924 Snow appeared on Broadway, performing in an early Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake musical called THE CHOCOLATE DANDIES. This was followed by a tour with a revue headlined by Will Mastin. Snow continued to be active both in the States and abroad, touring the Far East during the second half of the 1920s with a band led by drummer Jack Carter. Returning to the United States, Valaida played a variety of black theaters on both coasts, followed by a Broadway musical produced by Lew Leslie starring Ethel Waters titled RHAPSODY IN BLACK. By this time trumpet was her primary instrument, although Snow’s 1933 debut on record-is as a vocalist with Earl “Fatha” Hines.

Snow returned to Europe in 1936. She toured extensively and recorded frequently over the next six years. It is on these recordings that her Armstrong influenced trumpet can be heard to full advantage. Snow was also captured on film, appearing in a British production, TAKE IT FROM ME (Warner Bros., 1937) and in two French features L’ALIBI (1937) and PIEGES (1939). Snow was jailed in 1941 — whether by the Nazis or the Swedish police is unclear —then freed and repatriated in 1942.

Snow arrived back in America in poor physical and emotional health, and the New York Amsterdam suggested that she was “on the verge of an emotional collapse.” Still, Snow fought hard to return to an active professional life. She spent a great deal of time on the road during the 1940s — the Apollo Theater in April 1943 and July 1946, Texas and Omaha sometime in the middle of the decade, and Chicago’s Latin Quarter in early 1947. She moved to Los Angeles in 1945 where she continued to work on stage and in nightclubs.

In February 1946 Snow was invited to appear in two SOUNDIES, accompanied by the Ali Baba Trio, then performing at the Florentine Gardens in Hollywood. This film short showcases not only her fine vocal talents, but also allows her to solo on trumpet. This is certainly a performance worth repeated viewings.

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