Remembering the unsung jazz heroine who became ‘Queen of the Trumpet’

Valaida Snow. Trumpet Master/Center for Young Musicians

Valaida Snow rose to stardom through her trumpets at a time when it was rare for many women to get on stage and exhibit their talent on brass instruments. She was undoubtedly a pacesetter when it came to the use of trumpets.

Her influence ran through Europe and Asia in the early 1900s with her intriguing jazz performances on international stages. According to the New York Times, she caught the eye of audiences when she walked onto the stage at the age of 5 as a member of her father’s performance troupe.

Her uniqueness placed her on the front pages of local and international tabloids as an outstanding female trumpet master. It wasn’t long before she found her face on the movie screens promoting the music of Black origin from the vaudeville stage.

She is remembered for how she could easily transform interviews into performances and tell tall tales with her music. Her biographer, Mark Miller, in the “High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life and Music of Valaida Snow” said Snow was a fierce pursuer of her dreams and career.

She was born into a family of show business in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was trained by her mother at a young age on how to perform and play any musical instrument. Among her siblings, she showed exemplary talent.

She started playing the violin at the age of 5 while singing and dancing at the same time. Her feat earned her the name Valaida the Great and was the star artist among the Pickaninny Troubadours, trained and managed by her parents.

She commanded exceptional mastery over various musical instruments such as the bass, violin, banjo, harp, accordion, saxophone, mandolin and trumpet by the age of 15. Out of these instruments, her love was for the trumpet which sooner than later earned her another name Little Louis — a reference to Louis Armstrong’s influence on her, the New York Times said. She would also become known as Queen of the Trumpet, given to her by W.C. Handy.

By the age of 17, Snow was on international stages touring the United States, China and Europe with performances that enthralled thousands. Her nemesis began rolling out in 1939 after she starred in her second French movie, Pieges, when the Nazis invaded Denmark. She was performing in Copenhagen when airplanes started dropping leaflets announcing that Germany had taken over the state of affairs in Denmark in 1941.

According to Encyclopedia, she was reportedly apprehended by the Nazis at bayonet point when she was on the verge of leaving Denmark. It is believed the authorities seized her clothing, jewelry and her golden trumpet which was gifted to her at a command performance before Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.

When she was freed in a prisoner exchange after 18 months in captivity, she weighed 65 pounds. She is alleged to have been kept in a Nazi concentration camp but her biographer said that was an exaggeration by Snow.

He said that Snow might have been held by the Danish authorities because of her addiction to oxycodone and placed in custody to protect her from the Nazis. She was released when they saw an improvement in her health condition.

Her biographer said Snow was not able to recover from the experience as it broke her psychologically and emotionally as well. All efforts to resuscitate her career in the 1930s failed. She died of a brain hemorrhage on May 30, 1956, while waiting to perform at the Palace Theatre in New York.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 19, 2022


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