They called her “Little Louis” because of her musical resemblance to the great Louis Armstrong. She also earned the title “Queen of the Trumpet,” which is most certainly befitting of Valaida Snow, a very talented trumpeter, entertainer, dancer, arranger, and composer who garnered much acclaim during the swing era.
She was one of the few female trumpet players to attain international success during the the Jazz Age.
Snow was born in 1903 in Chattanooga, Tennessee and was schooled by her mother on a number of instruments including the cello, bass, harp, saxophone and trumpet.
She turned professional by the time she was 15, and worked with musicians such as Count Basie, Earl Hines, drummer Jack Carter, and Fletcher Henderson. She also began appearing in plays such as Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s The Chocolate Dandies, Rhapsody in Black and the London and Paris musical Blackbirds.
Snow gained much more success in Europe (as was the case with many African American jazz musicians) touring and appearing in films during the 1930 and 40s. While in Europe during WWII, she was held in a Nazi prison camp for 18 months for theft and drug use.
Her prison stint, some experts say, was the downfall of her career, and hindered her success within the music business. She never fully regained her physical and mental health following prison, and after a few more musical engagements, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 30, 1956 at the age of 52.
Snow, like many entertainers, had her share of trials and tribulations, especially being a woman within the male dominated jazz world. Her crisp, strong trumpet skills and ability to hit high notes definitely made her stand out in show-biz, and she made no apologies for her extravagant lifestyle, and charismatic personality. She held her own and emerged as one of the most famous female entertainers of the early to mid 1900s. Her musical talent has been compared to that of her contemporaries Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, and Josephine Baker, who was a close friend of Snow’s.
Listed below is Snow singing the Tin Pan Alley song, “I Must Have That Man.” There is also a taste of Snow’s trumpet skills during her solo.