Watch Cab Calloway perform Minnie the Moocher in The Blues Brothers (1980)
“Minnie the Moocher” is a jazz song first recorded in 1931 by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, selling over 1 million copies. “Minnie the Moocher” is most famous for its nonsensical ad libbed (“scat“) lyrics (for example, “Hi De Hi De Hi De Hi”). In performances, Calloway would have the audience participate by repeating each scat phrase in a form of call and response. Eventually Calloway’s phrases would become so long and complex that the audience would laugh at their own failed attempts to repeat them.
“Minnie the Moocher” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
- The song is based both musically and lyrically on Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon‘s 1927 “Willie the Weeper” (Bette Davis sings this version in The Cabin in the Cotton).
- The lyrics are heavily laden with drug references. The character “Smokey” is described as “cokey”, meaning a user of cocaine; the phrase “kicking the gong around” was a slang reference to smoking opium.
- Minnie herself is mentioned in a number of other Cab Calloway songs, including “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day”, “Ghost of Smoky Joe”, “Kickin’ the Gong Around”, “Minnie’s a Hepcat Now”, “Mister Paganini – Swing for Minnie”, “We Go Well Together”, and “Zah Zuh Zaz”. Some of these songs indicate that Minnie’s boyfriend Smoky was named Smoky Joe as well.
- A number of Cab Calloway albums are called Minnie the Moocher.
- In the 1935 Marx Brothers‘ film A Night at the Opera, Groucho Marx famously quipped, “You’re willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of ‘Minnie the Moocher’ for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.”
- The song is also performed by English actor Hugh Laurie in the pilot episode of “Jeeves and Wooster” (1990), which has his character (Wooster) singing/playing the song on the piano while Jeeves watches.
- The septuagenarian Calloway revived the song to charming effect in The Blues Brothers (1980).