Song of the Day: Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway (ft. Blues Brothers Band)

Minnie the Moocher” is a jazz song first recorded in 1931 by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, selling over 1 million copies.”Minnie the Moocher” is most famous for its nonsensical ad libbed (“scat”) lyrics (for example, “Hi De Hi De Hi De Hi”). In performances, Calloway would have the audience participate by repeating each scat phrase in a form of call and response. Eventually Calloway’s phrases would become so long and complex that the audience would laugh at their own failed attempts to repeat them.
“Minnie the Moocher” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.


Folks, here’s a story about Minnie the Moocher
She was a lowdown hoochie coocher
She was the roughest, toughest frail
But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale

Hidee hidee hidee hi
Hode hode hode ho
Hee dee hee dee hee dee hee
A hidee hidee hidee ho

She messed around with a bloke named Smoky
She loved him though he was cokey
He took her down to Chinatown
And he showed her how to kick the gong around

Hidee hidee hidee hi
Hee dee hee dee hee dee hee
A hidee hidee hidee ho

She had a dream about the King of Sweden
He gave her things that she was needin’
He gave her a home built of gold and steel
A diamond car with platinum wheels

Hidee hidee hidee hidee hidee hidee hi
Hodee hodee hodee hodee hodee oh
Scurlivou scurlivou scurlivou rlivourlivu
Setetetete raburlutu scetete raburlutu toy

He gave her his townhouse and his racing horses
Each meal she ate was a dozen courses
She had a million dollars worth of nickels and dimes
She sat around and counted them all a million times

Hidee hidee hidee hi
Hooh whoaa oh oh whoa
Hidee hidee hidee hi

Poor Min, Poor Min, Poor Min


The song is based both musically and lyrically on Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon’s 1927 “Willie the Weeper” (Bette Davis sings this version in The Cabin in the Cotton). The lyrics are heavily laden with drug references. The character “Smokey” is described as “cokey”, meaning a user of cocaine; the phrase “kicking the gong around” was a slang reference to smoking opium.

Calloway also wrote an extended version, adding verses that describe Minnie and Smokey going to jail; Minnie pays Smokey’s bail, but he abandons her there. Another verse describes her tempting “Deacon Lowdown” when she “wiggled her jelly roll” at him.

Finally, they took Minnie to “where they put the crazies”, where she dies. This explains why both the short version and the long version end with the words “Poor Min, poor Min”.

Minnie herself is mentioned in a number of other Cab Calloway songs, including “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day”, “Ghost of Smoky Joe”, “Kickin’ the Gong Around”, “Minnie’s a Hepcat Now”, “Mister Paganini – Swing for Minnie”, “We Go Well Together”, and “Zah Zuh Zaz”. Some of these songs indicate that Minnie’s boyfriend Smoky was named Smoky Joe as well.

A number of Cab Calloway albums are called Minnie the Moocher.

In the 1935 Marx Brothers’ film A Night at the Opera, Groucho Marx famously quipped, “You’re willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of ‘Minnie the Moocher’ for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.”

Jeffrey Lewis referenced “Minnie the Moocher” in his song “Mini-Theme: Moocher from the Future” from his 2009 album ‘Em Are I.

In 1931, the same year that Cab recorded the first version of Minnie, his sister Blanche (who performed as Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys) recorded “Growlin’ Dan”, in which Minnie makes a guest appearance — as does a primal version of Cab’s hi-de-ho.

The song is also performed by English actor Hugh Laurie in the pilot episode of “Jeeves and Wooster” (1990), which has his character (Wooster) singing/playing the song on the piano while Jeeves watches.


Calloway performed the song in the 1955 movie Rhythm and Blues Revue, filmed at the Apollo Theater. Much later, in 1980 at age 73, Calloway performed the song in the movie The Blues Brothers. Calloway’s character Curtis, a church janitor and the Blues Brothers’ mentor, magically transforms the band into a 1930’s swing band and sings “Minnie the Moocher” when the crowd becomes impatient at the beginning of the movie’s climactic production number. According to director John Landis in the 1998 documentary The Stories Behind the Making of ‘The Blues Brothers’, Calloway initially wanted to do a disco variation on his signature tune, having done the song in several styles in the past, but Landis insisted that the song be done faithful to the original big band version.

In the 1979 film Escape to Athena, Stefanie Powers sings “Minnie the Moocher” for an audience of German officers in a POW camp.

The band The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo performed the song in the Richard Elfman film Forbidden Zone, with altered lyrics and titled “Squeezit the Moocher”, after one of the movie’s characters, Squeezit Henderson. Danny Elfman, playing a rather vaudevillian Satan, sings the song as his band (other members of Oingo Boingo at the time) respond to his calls. Oogie Boogie’s song from The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Elfman composed the music for, is also similar to “Minnie the Moocher”.

The popular refrain is performed by a funeral band in the 1999 film Double Jeopardy.


In 1932, Calloway recorded the song for a Fleischer Studios Talkartoon short cartoon, also called Minnie the Moocher, starring Betty Boop and Bimbo. Calloway and his band provide most of the short’s score and themselves appear in a live-action introduction. The thirty-second live-action segment is the earliest-known film footage of Calloway. In the cartoon, Betty decides to run away from her parents – who insist that she eat something despite the fact that she doesn’t want to eat (to the tune of “They Always Pick on Me,”), and Bimbo comes with her. While walking away from home, Betty and Bimbo wind up in a spooky area and hide in a hollow tree. A spectral walrus — whose gyrations were rotoscoped from footage of Calloway dancing — appears to them, and begins to sing “Minnie the Moocher”, with many fellow ghosts following along. After singing the whole number, the ghosts chase Betty and Bimbo all the way back to Betty’s home. While Betty is hiding under the covers of her bedsheets, her runaway note is torn up and the remaining letters read “Home Sweet Home”. In 1933 another Betty Boop/Cab Calloway cartoon with “Minnie the Moocher” was The Old Man of the Mountain.

The 1933 Pooch the Pup cartoon She Done Him Right also features the song “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day”. It was sung by the night club singer whom Pooch is in love with.

In “Blue Harvest”, the kickoff episode of the sixth season of Family Guy, “Minnie the Moocher” is played while Han Solo (Peter Griffin) and Luke Skywalker (Chris Griffin) are boarding theMillennium Falcon to escape the Death Star, coolly walking so as not to be noticed by the stormtrooper guards. This is a direct reference to the film The Blues Brothers, as Jake and Elwood Blues try to sneak past the police officers at their concert.

In the Team Four Star parody series, Dragonball Z: Abridged, the introduction instrumental plays when Krillin, Gohan and Dende are taking the DragonBalls while Vegeta is asleep to prevent him from making his wish for immortality.

Notable performances

“Minnie the Moocher” has been covered or simply referenced by many other performers. Its refrain, particularly the call and response, is part of the language of American jazz. At the Cab Calloway School of the Arts, which is named for the singer, students perform “Minnie the Moocher” as a traditional part of talent showcases.

In 1967, the song was covered again by an Australian band, The Cherokees. A version by the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra made #35 in the UK charts late in 1988. Tupac Shakur andChopmaster J made a hip hop version of the song in 1989. The song can be found on Beginnings: The Lost Tapes 1988–1991 from 2007. A contemporary swing band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, recorded a cover on their 1998 album, Americana Deluxe. L.A.-based new wave/rock band Oingo Boingo has covered this song, as well as other Cab Calloway songs, during live performances throughout their career, dating back to their years as Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.

On January 19, 2001, Wyclef Jean opened his “All Star Jam @ Carnegie Hall” concert with this number, walking to the stage from the back of the audience, dressed all in white. The song “The Mighty O” by Outkast is heavily inspired by the song.

English Singer/Songwriter Robbie Williams, famed (and often light heartedly ridiculed) for his frequent tendency to engage in Call and Response with his audience. As a tongue in cheek retort to the criticism, he performed Minnie the Moocher on the Take the Crown Stadium Tour, albeit changing the lyrics to be about himself. He then released a studio recording of the song on his 10th Studio Album Robbie Williams Swings Both Ways.

In film and television

In the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, Cab Calloway memorably reprises the song at the fundraising concert at the Palace Hotel Ballroom. It was performed in the 1984 Francis Ford Coppola movieThe Cotton Club by Larry Marshall as Cab Calloway. K7 sampled the “Hi-De-Ho” section of “Minnie the Moocher” in his song of the same name, which was notably used in the 1994 film The Mask. Puerto Rican rapper Tego Calderón quoted the basic melody of the song—a favorite of his late father—as the beat used in his first hit, “Abayarde”.

During a performance on the first season of American Idol, Tamyra Gray performed this song on “Big Band” night. Hugh Laurie, in a 2006 interview on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, stated that his charity cover band, Band from TV, has the most popular recording of “Minnie the Moocher” available on the iTunes Store. Laurie also performs a part of the song in the first episode of theBritish comedy television series Jeeves and Wooster, playing the role of Bertie Wooster, duetting with Reginald Jeeves, played by Stephen Fry. The episode first aired in 1990. A recording was later released on the Jeeves and Wooster soundtrack.

Although it is not heard, the song is mentioned by name in the 1991 Sylvester Stallone movie, Oscar.

It is performed on screen with video of Cab at every New York Jets home game.

Cab Calloway

Birth name Cabell Calloway III
Born December 25, 1907
Rochester, New York, US
Died November 18, 1994(aged 86)
Hockessin, Delaware, US
Genres Jazz, blues
Occupations Bandleader, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1930–1994
Associated acts The Cab Calloway Orchestra
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