St. James Infirmary Blues

If you grew up watching Betty Boop cartoons, you knew that the animators of the 1930’s were on the good hooch, and you were exposed to a lot of good music. Most of Betty’s whimsical adventures have gone down the memory hole, but the episodes with guest appearances by luminaries like Cab Calloway remain iconic. Those shorts were the first examples of what we now think of as music videos; their bright idea of working popular songs into the narrative of a popular cartoon was highly novel, elevating the often forgettable cartoon short format, and highlighting the song at the same time. The animation, of course, was trailblazing, surreal and an enduring influence on psychedelic art that was to come. Cab Calloway himself provided the soft-shoe dance moves for his avatar Koko. It’s interesting that Calloway, by getting in on unexpected projects like allowing himself to be animated or, much later, guest starring in the Blues Brothers movie, managed to remain in important cultural influencer for nearly a full century.

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