Valaida Snow (June 2, 1904 – May 30, 1956) was an African American jazz musician and entertainer. 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.
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 with her then husband Ananias “Nyas” Berry of the famous dancing Berry Brothers, “Rhapsody In Black”, in New York. In the mid-30s she made films with her husband, Ananias Berry, of the Berry Brothers dancing troupe (below the sing with Dan Daily in You’re My Everything in 1949). After playing New York’s Apollo Theater, she revisited Europe and the Far East for more shows and films.
Later she became addicted to morphine. While touring through Denmark in 1941, she was arrested by the Nazis and kept at Vestre Fængsel, a Danish prison in Copenhagen that was run by the Nazis (the German police), before being released on a prisoner exchange in May 1942. She said of the Nazis:
“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”
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 died of a brain hemorrhage on May 30, 1956 in New York City, backstage during a performance at the Palace Theater.
Editor’s Note: The photograph at the top of the article is new. The original photograph used in the original post will be researched more before being abandoned.
- Harlem Debutante Ball, Renaissance Ballroom 1950′s (photos) (harlemworldmag.com)
- Florence Mills, Harlem’s Sweet Little Blackbird (harlemworldmag.com)