I n t r o d u C t I o n
olks, now here’s a story ’bout Minnie the Moocher / She
was a red- hot hoochy coocher” is the beginning of one of
most famous songs of the Jazz Age. Cab Calloway and
His Orchestra first recorded “Minnie the Moocher” in Decem-
ber 1930, while Calloway was presiding over Harlem’s world-
famous Cotton Club in the absence of Duke Ellington and the
club’s regular orchestra, who were then touring and making
films in Hollywood. Perhaps the most famous “black and tan”
nightclub, where white patrons reveled in black pageantry, the
mob- owned Cotton Club has come to represent the sundry de-
lights of the Jazz Age.1 A New Woman and New Negro, Min-
nie signified an age of newfound freedoms. The story Calloway’s
song spins about black womanhood, however, is multiracial and
spatial in nature. Minnie’s exotic, erotic dancing—named the
“hoochy coochy” in the song—was a fusion of “authentic” and
fantastical forms of belly dancing borrowed from an imagined
Orient, and in the course of her adventures, Minnie travels the
length of Manhattan and finds herself in an opium den in China-
town. This song, then, provides a complicated snapshot of Jazz
Age New York, in which we find not just the Harlem of black
entertainers and white interlopers, but a complex, multiracial,
imperial cityscape.
In Jazz Age New York, exotic tropes of empire had captured
the imaginations of city denizens. Nightclubs featured perfor-
mances and décor inspired by idyllic dreams of island paradises;
Previous Page Next Page