Valaida Snow : Stranger Than Fiction ©1999JCMarion


She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1903 and was part of a musical family along with her sisters, the similarly named Alvaida and Lavaida. She turned professional entertainer at the age of 15. During the nineteen twenties she was part of various musical reviews including the Sissle-Blake show "The Chocolate Dandies" that toured the United states and then went overseas. During the 1930s she was a big part of the touring revue "Blackbirds" and then the famous Noble Sissle-Eubie Blake musical show "Rhapsody In Black". Valaida Snow even appeared in some feature films in the late 1930s that were made for Black audiences, and she also did extensive touring with the Will Mastin Trio. Valaida then went on an extended tour of Europe in 1939. Not keeping informed of the deteriorating situation in Western Europe in the early nineteen forties, resulted in a devastating event in the life of Valaida Snow. While appearing in Denmark with her all-girl orchestra, she was taken prisoner by the army of Nazi Germany and sent to a concentration camp named Wester-Faengler. She remained in captivity for nearly two years until she was freed in a prisoner swap with the allied forces. She returned to New York and attempted to put her life back in order again.

The psychological and physical trauma had a deep effect on the life of Valaida Snow and she was never the same again. She tried to get her performing talent back together and regain her fame as an arranger, vocalist, and trumpet stylist. In late 1949 she is signed to the National Record label but nothing much becomes of that collaboration. In early 1950 she records for the Derby label with the Jimmy Mundy Orchestra. The result is Derby #729 - "Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone" and "When A Woman Loves A Man". The record does nicely in certain areas, especially Philadelphia and St. Louis. The Derby release is her first real effort since her tragic imprisonment and it does well. Valaida Snow embarks on a tour of the Northeast and is a particular favorite at the Monte Carlo in Pittsburgh. In the fall she is at the 845 Club in New York and is held over. In a bit of a surprise she leaves Derby Records and signs with Apollo Records late in the year.

In February of 1951 she records "Porgy" and "The More I Know About Love" for Apollo on #1197 with the Bobby Smith Orchestra. She continues her many in person appearances throughout the country, and in early 1952 embarks on a true R & B tour with Joe Liggins & His Honeydrippers up and down the West coast. Her records are sporadic to say the least and after a well attended stay at Chicago's Crown Propeller Lounge in late 1953, Valaida signs on with that city's Chess label. "I Ain't Gonna Tell" and "If You Mean It" follow soon after on Chess #1555. The next two years are spent mostly appearing in the musical revues that have always been the first love of Valaida Snow. A revival of "Blackbirds" is her main show and she continues to get good reviews for her performance. It is just at this time that the final curtain descends on her, as in June of 1956 Valaida Snow dies of a cerebral hemorrhage backstage at the Palace Theater in New York. She passed away doing what she loved most, entertaining the public with her great talents. It is a continuing shame that so many people remain unaware of this extraordinary life that brought so much joy to so many, and at the same time knew such adversity in her life from the racism, sexism, and horrors of war visited upon her.

Fortunately there is a two volume CD of her work spanning the years 1930 - 1947 available on the Harlequin label to keep the legend alive and to pique the curiosity of first timers to her life and times. Valaida Snow - what a life, but what a singular talent ! It would make quite a movie - (I wonder if Spike Lee is busy ?).

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