Valaida Snow rose to prominence with her trumpets at a time when it was uncommon for many women to perform on stage with brass instruments. She was unquestionably a trailblazer in the use of trumpets.
Her captivating jazz performances on international stages spanned Europe and Asia in the early 1900s. According to the New York Times, she caught the attention of audiences when she walked onto the stage as a member of her father’s performance troupe at the age of five.
Her one-of-a-kindness landed her on the front pages of local and international tabloids as an exceptional female trumpet master. It wasn’t long before she was seen on movie screens promoting music of African descent from the vaudeville stage.
She is remembered for her ability to easily transform interviews into performances and use music to tell tall tales. In his book “High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm: The Life and Music of Valaida Snow,” her biographer, Mark Miller, stated that Snow was a fierce pursuer of her dreams and career.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, she was born into a show business family. Her mother taught her how to perform and play any musical instrument at a young age. She was the most talented of her siblings.
She began playing the violin at the age of five, while also singing and dancing. Valaida the Great was the star artist among the Pickaninny Troubadours, who were trained and managed by her parents.
By the age of 15, she had mastered a variety of musical instruments including the bass, violin, banjo, harp, accordion, saxophone, mandolin, and trumpet. Her favorite instrument was the trumpet, which earned her the nickname Little Louis — a reference to Louis Armstrong’s influence on her, according to the New York Times. She was also known as Queen of the Trumpet, a title bestowed upon her by W.C. Handy.
By the age of 17, Snow was performing in front of thousands of people on international stages in the United States, China, and Europe. When the Nazis invaded Denmark in 1939, she had just finished filming her second French film, Pieges. She was performing in Copenhagen when planes began dropping leaflets announcing that Germany had taken over the Danish government in 1941.
According to Encyclopedia, she was apprehended by Nazis at bayonet point as she was about to leave Denmark. Authorities are believed to have seized her clothing, jewelry, and her golden trumpet, which was given to her during a command performance in front of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.
She weighed 65 pounds when she was released in a prisoner exchange after 18 months in captivity. She is said to have been kept in a Nazi concentration camp, but her biographer claims that Snow exaggerated the situation.
He speculated that Snow was detained by Danish authorities due to her oxycodone addiction and placed in custody to protect her from the Nazis. She was released once her health condition improved.
According to her biographer, Snow was unable to recover from the experience because it broke her psychologically and emotionally. Attempts to resurrect her career in the 1930s were futile. She died of a brain hemorrhage on May 30, 1956, while waiting to perform at New York’s Palace Theatre.