She’s known as “the female Louis Armstrong.” Most of the World doesn’t know who Valaida Snow was or of her wonderful entertainment career. Her life was changed, when a world altering event occurred. Valaida legacy may have been lost to history, but it deserves to have a spotlight shone on it.
Valaida was born in 1905 to a musical family. She learned to play cello, bass, banjo, violin, mandolin, harp, accordion, clarinet, trumpet and saxophone all by the age of 15. In her teens she appeared in many touring shows. Besides the instrument playing, Valaida also sang and danced. Valaida had a high pitch singing voice different from other black female vocalist at the time who voices were more rough and raspy.
Snow’s career took off when she performed in a Broadway show called “Chocolate Dandies.” This newfound fame took her act globally as Snow soon performed in Shanghai, Paris, Germany, Russia, the British Isles and the Middle East.
Valaida focused her instrument skills on the trumpet and became so good at playing it she earned the nickname “little Louis” after Louis Armstrong. Armstrong even called her the worlds second best jazz trumpet player besides himself.
In a 1928 Chicago performance, Snow played the Trumpet, sang and danced in seven pair of different shoes during a chorus. Armstrong caught the show and remarked, “Boy I never saw anything that great.”
Given the racial and social issues that faced African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s many feared Valaida would leave the U.S. for Europe and never return. In Europe black performers were greatly admired and treated like modern day celebrities. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands even gave Valaida a golden trumpet after being impressed by one of her performances. In the U.S. segregation was still alive and kicking. Valaida would return to the U.S. even with the royal treatment she received in Europe.
Valaida was one of the first black vocalists to sing traditional Broadway songs and not just Jazz and Blues.
Snow became very successful in the 1930s and was the toast of London and Paris. Valaida recorded her hit song “High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm,” around this era. During this period Snow made films, played the Apollo Theatre and did more touring of Europe and the far east. Valaida had a flamboyant style. When she went out she had a chauffeur, doorman, footman and a monkey, that all dressed alike.
Valaida returned to Denmark from a tour in Sweden. In Copenhagen, the Nazis captured and imprisoned Snow and placed her in a concentration camp. There are rumors, Snow was put in a prison and not a concentration camp for drug use, but Snow vehemently denied these rumors and stated she was put in the concentration camp because of her race. Snow’s many influential friends and her friendship with a Belgium police official helped her to become released on a prisoner exchange in 1942. Snow was in the concentration camp for 18 months. When Valaida finally returned to the U.S. she weighed less than 100 lbs and looked sickly.
The press didn’t believe Valaida’s concentration camp story and mocked it. Jazz historian Scott Yanow stated Snow, “never emotionally recovered from the experience.” Valaida never could regain her former success. Critics said she lost the “magic,” that made her so appealing. On May 30, 1956 Valaida Snow died of a brain hemorrhage in New York City backstage during a performance at the Palace theatre, she was 51 years old.
Mistakes were Made:
The horrors and atrocities of the Nazi regime are well documented in history, but this is one story that is not well known. Many non Aryan race prisoners were kept in concentration camps besides Jewish people. Though the press disputes Snow’s concentration camp story, it’s clear Snow suffered through something that changed her life forever.
Valaida was one of the best entertainers in the world and on the same level as Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong, given the sexism of the time Valaida may very well have been better than Armstrong. She lost her skills because of a lengthy stay in a concentration camp; she was only in because of her race. Think of all the lives and talent the world lost because of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. We should remember Valaida Snow just like we remember Louis Armstrong, but unless you’re a Jazz historian, you’ve probably never heard of the name till today. Hopefully, this article will spark some Spotify or Apple Music plays for this talented entertainer, whose career was altered by the Hitler regime.
Originally published at https://mwmblog.com on February 3, 2020.