Text and photography by George Cassidy Payne
Who deserves the title of Rochester’s most influential musician?
Is it the Delta bluesman Son House, who lived in the Corn Hill neighborhood for twenty years?
Perhaps it is the world renown Soprano opera singer and Churchville-Chili graduate Renee Fleming.
Or maybe it is Lou Gramm, the lead singer of Foreigner and hometown darling.
For my money, this title belongs to the incomparable king of “Hi-De-Ho,” the prince of swing, the greatest bandleader of his generation, and legendary ambassador for the art of Jazz, Cab Calloway.
Rochester is honored to claim Calloway as a native son. He was born on Sycamore Street in the Swillburg neighborhood, once the site of a large pig farm in the 1800s. According to the City website, “the owner Mr. George Goebel, collected “swill” for his swine alongside the Erie Canal. The name, if not the pig production, remained.”
Although Calloway moved to Baltimore during his high school years, got his beginning as a performer at the Dreamland Ballroom in Chicago, and spent the rest of his stardom in the clubs of Harlem and on tour, the Flower City will always be his first home. Born on Christmas Day in 1907, Calloway’s international legacy will forever be tied to this unique community of humble pig farming origins.
“One of the great entertainers of his era, Calloway was a household name by 1932, and never really declined in fame. A talented jazz singer and a superior scatter, his gyrations and showmanship on-stage at the Cotton Club in Harlem sometimes overshadowed the quality of his always excellent bands.” (http://www.allmusic.com/artist/cab-calloway-mn0000532957/biography)
What opera isn’t violent? Two things happen, violence and love. And other than that, name something else. You can’t. Cab Calloway
“In the 1960s, Swillburg was slated to be divided right down the middle by a proposed extension of the Genesee Expressway. An impassioned fight ensued, with Swillburg neighbors determined to prevent the center of their community from being paved over by four lanes of asphalt. In 1975, they finally won their battle, but not before some 40 houses had been demolished.” (https://swillburg.com/gardenspark/otto-henderberg-park/)
“The cleared land between Avon and Sycamore Streets (off of Field Street) was turned into Otto Henderberg Square, in honor of the longtime resident who spearheaded the successful campaign. Surrounded by front porches and quiet residential streets, this green square is now a lovely spot for a picnic with the kids or for one of our community gatherings.” (https://swillburg.com/gardenspark/otto-henderberg-park/)
Everybody that you could name would join in our audiences from, Laguardia on down. Everybody came. Everybody came to the Cotton Club. Cab Calloway