With her musical talent Valaida was naturally an entertainer. At the age of fifteen years old she was already a recognized professional singer and trumpet player. While her beauty attracted audiences, it was her incredible talent as a jazz trumpeter that really captivated them. She was given the nickname of "Little Louis" because of her Louis Armstrong-like playing style. During her career she toured and recorded frequently in the United States, Europe and Far East both with her own bad and other leader's bands. From 1930 through 1950 Valaida was seen performing with various jazz "greats" including, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Teddy Weatherford, Willie Lewis and Fletcher Henderson.
She was also an actress and she debuted her acting career on Broadway in 1942 as Mandy in the Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle's musical Chocolate Dandies. She went on to appear in many other Broadway productions including Pieges in 1939 with her husband Ananais Berry.
After headlining at the Apollo Theater in New York, Valaida returned to Europe and the Far East to perform. World War II had already begun and she was arrested by the Germans for theft and misuse of drugs. She was held prisoner for 18 months at Wester-Faengle, a Nazi concentration camp. Later, in unstable health, she was released as an exchange prisoner. Although imprisonment caused her great physical and psychological health problems, she resumed performing and appeared at several prestigious engagements. It was during this time that she married producer Earl Edwards.
Valaida's contagious energy and spark was characterized in her 1930's style. In the 1940's her style changed to reflect the deep blues feeling she was known and admired for as well as her tremendous breadth and depth of talent. She made her last performance at the Palace Theater in New York in 1956 and died that year on May 30th of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her rare talent was as much a curiosity as it was admired as she was a women in the male dominated jazz world. She was truly another gutsy woman!
Copyright M. A. Webb, 2005. All Rights Reserved
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