What if you left your native born country because you wanted to pursue and sustain your career as an incredibly talented artist? You hailed from a large family that was musically gifted and you were also gorgeous. You were a fashionista and all your sensational marriages made the tabloids. There were other progeny that performed but you were the one that reached a different level of stardom, first in America and then internationally. The music that you transcribed and sang launched you into the stratosphere.
I am referring to the incomparable Valaida Snow, a multi-hyphenated phenom. She was a vaudeville performer, jazz vocalist and a dancer. Snow was also was a preeminent trumpet player. Her trumpet playing was so outstanding, that she was dubbed "Little Louie," a complimentary nickname after Louis Armstrong. Armstrong stated that Snow was "The second best trumpet player after himself." (memorylanecom.uk)
But another distinction that musician Valaida Snow has is this shocking claim:
That she was a African American Woman in a Nazi Concentration Camp during World War II.
Valaida Snow, Queen of Trumpet
The Artistry of Valaida Snow
Jazzitalita.net reports that Valaida Snow grow up in a musical family in Chattanooga, TN. Dates of her birth are listed between 1903-1907. Her mother taught Valaida to play the following instruments: cello, bass, violin, banjo, accordion, saxophone and trumpet. Pianist Mary Williams compared her trumpet's High C notes as similar to those of Louis Armstrong. The "Queen of the Trumpet" could also sing and dance. Her father was white, and had music industry connections. Her father's connections enabled her at an early age to be part of the vaudeville act called Snow's Gold Dust Twins.
Valaida's mixed race appearance was appealing for female Broadway and nightclub acts. She was cast in Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's Chocolate Dandies in 1924. Chocolate Dandies toured for six months and made it to Broadway. Lena Horne and Josephine Baker were among the chorus girls for this exciting production. Snow performed in concerts in the states, Europe and Asia. (memorylane.com.uk)
Valaida's heyday was in the 1930s, when she was a celebrity in London and Paris. Her signature hit song "High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm" was recorded during this time. Snow was in Rhapsody in Black with Ethel Waters in New York. She even appeared in films and her popularity showed no signs of diminishing. A successful run at the Apollo Theater in New York and a high profile marriage to Ananias Berry, one of the dancing Berry Brothers, did not hurt either. (jazz.com)
Indeed, Valaida Snow had an impressive discography of music and appearances. She made significant contributions in the male dominated music industry as a Black female. Snow traveled to all the major cosmopolitan cities by the time she was twenty five and conducted orchestras at age thirty, according to Mark Miller*. The Queen of the Trumpet also led all female jazz bands, proving that she could pack dance halls and auditoriums. Yes, she was more than just a pretty colored chorus girl doing the latest dance craze in a Harlem nightclub.
Valaida Snow conducting in Blackbirds
Was African American Jazz Artist Valaida Snow in A Nazi Concentration Camp During World War II?
Snow returned to Europe for additional tour dates and to hold court as a scenester. Jazz was the top selling genre of the era and she was enthralling. However, World War II began in Europe in 1939 and Hitler's Third Reich was determined to expand its aggression in country after country. Friend Josephine Baker advised Snow to return to the States. The singer happened to be in Denmark, which became occupied by Nazi Germany.
The Nazis viewed Non-Aryans as an inferior people. Nazis hatred were primarily targeted towards Jews. Concentration camps were set up to exterminate Jews and other people considered undesirable as Hitler's "Final Solution." Nazis performed unethical medical experiments on the small number of Blacks in Germany and forced sterilization. Propaganda against Blacks warned Aryans not to socialize with them. (USHMM.org )
Valaida did return to the states. She traveled to New York and underwent a press campaign that included " a story of internment in a Nazi concentration camp, of starvation, torture, and frequent whippings." Amsterdam News on April 10, 1943, reports Snow as "the only colored woman entertainer on record to have been interned in a Nazi concentration camp." Author Jayna Brown argued the "Amsterdam News article was designed by Snow's manager to garner attention for her comeback show. Nothing more." (Babylon Girls: Black Girl Performers and the Shaping of Modern)
Jazzcom. references Mark Miller's research on Snow. He interviewed people that knew the singer and analyzed her itinerary around the time of her internment. He concluded that:
Snow was addicted to the opiate painkiller oxycodone, and was taken into custody by Danish authorities in March 1942, possibly for her own protection. She shuttled between a prison and a hospital in Copenhagen until safe passage to New York was arranged for her via neutral Sweden two months later.
Valaida Snow was not interned in a Nazi concentration camp. This is an important distinction. She was taken into Danish custody, because of alleged drug possession and theft. There were no concentration or death camps in Denmark. (concentration camps were to the east) The Nazi concentration camp story was a ploy for publicity. With Hitler's views on Blacks widely known, it only enhanced the horror of Snow's confinement. Even today, this fabrication is circulated on the Internet as truth.
Conductor Valaida Snow
Her unmatched musicianship in the early part of the twentieth century in the field of vaudeville, jazz and film cannot be denied. The "Queen of Trumpet" excelled in a male dominated arena. She was a jazz performer who was in Denmark at the time of Nazi occupation during WWII. Valaida Snow's shocking claim of being in a Nazi concentration camp and her life as an entertainer warrants a closer look. Snow died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1956.
What are your thoughts about Valaida Snow? Are you curious to learn more about her?
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The Afro American
Babylon Girls: Black Girl Performers and the Shaping of the Modern
*High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life of Valaida Snow- Considered the most comprehensive research on Snow's life and debunks the concentration camp myth.
NPR Audio Review of Mark Miller Biography on Valaida Snow
Take the A Train
Roots, Rhyme and Rhythm