Older sister of Cab Calloway, Blanche Calloway was born in Rochester, NY in 1902 to a middle class family (her father was a lawyer and her mother a music teacher) that moved to Baltimore, MD when she was a teenager. Much to her family’s chagrin, she dropped out of college in the early 1920’s to pursue a music career. She initially worked as a singer and dancer, but often struggled in her career in the racially segregated and male-dominated music industry of the period.
Her greatest success was from about 1931-1935. She was the first woman to lead an all male jazz orchestra, Blanche Calloway and Her Joy Boys, later renamed Blanche Calloway and Her Orchestra. Her band performed frequently in the New York City area, recorded several excellent songs and was known as an outstanding orchestra for that period. Her performance style was lively and animated and was a major influence on her brother’s career and performing style. By the mid 1930’s, just as Cab Calloway’s career began to rise, her bookings and music opportunities diminished.
In her later life, she was involved in several business ventures, both music and non music, and became active in politics. She died in 1978 from breast cancer.