One Classic Musician Connects The Blues Brothers To Halloween

Read Time:4 Minute

Cab Calloway of “Minnie the Moocher” fame made a famous appearance in The Blues Brothers, and was the inspiration for the villain in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

By Mark McKee
| Published

Inspiration in Hollywood can come from some very unexpected places. It may surprise you to discover that Miami Vice inspired The Golden Girls, Ryan Coogler admitted that The Godfather was an influence on Black Panther, or that B.J. Novak confessed The Office took its lead in some ways by The Sopranos. But what if we told you that Cab Calloway, a black singer/songwriter/dancer/actor from the mid-1900s, was the inspiration for many Hollywood classics and connections and productions, including The Blues Brothers and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas?

Cab Calloway’s mother wanted him to be a lawyer like his father, but the pull of the stage was too much for him, and after letting performing distract him from college in Chicago, he moved to New York to pursue music full-time in 1929 at the age of 22. Two years later, his band, Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, recorded their most famous song, “Minnie the Moocher.” They also performed “St. James and the Infirmary Blues” and “Man in the Mountain,” but neither of those reached the heights of “Minnie the Moocher” as it became the first song by a black performer to sell a million copies. 

Hollywood noticed the path to stardom he was on and decided to capitalize on it by putting him in productions like The Old Man in the MountainSnow White, and a Betty Boop cartoon, “Minnie the Moocher.” He wasn’t just an inspiration or getting a musical credit for these productions; he did voice work, and through rotoscoping, the filmmakers captured his movements, and the characters were also based on him. Cab Calloway used these as a springboard to do a number of short films for Paramount, where he could be seen doing a backward slide that he called “The Buzz,” which some believe was the precursor to Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, and performing his hit single, “Reefer Man.”

Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, and Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers (1980)

Cab Calloway remained a household name until he was introduced to a new audience when he performed his life’s biggest hit, “Minnie the Moocher,” in the Dan Akroyd/Jim Belushi 1980 hit comedy, The Blues Brothers. The scene saw Calloway on stage dressed in an all-white tuxedo ensemble and doing his thing in front of a stage background that contained many of the clubs he performed at as a young man, including New York’s The Cotton Club. While he was on stage, proving that he still had it at the age of 73, the film’s protagonists snuck by a sheriff outside, their footsteps in cadence to the music coming from the auditorium. 

Tim Burton was clearly moved by Cab Calloway’s work as well, as he made him the primary inspiration for the villain in his holiday classic, The Nightmare Before Chirstmas, Oogie Boogie. In Burton’s autobiography, “Burton on Burton,” he confessed that the villain was based on his performance in the Betty Boop cartoon, where he sang “Minnie the Moocher.” When watching the scenes side by side, it is almost impossible to see the parallels in the song, the dance moves, and even the side characters in the background, like three skeleton backup singers. 

Oogie Boogie terrorizing Santa Claus in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The artist had a stroke in his home in 1994, died in his house five months later of pneumonia, and was survived by five daughters and seven grandsons. Music critics and historians have credited him as an inspiration for some of the biggest names of the last generation, such as James Brown, Michael and Janet Jackson, and some of hip-hop’s biggest names. Cab Calloway was introduced to the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1995, the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and received a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. 

While Cab Calloway’s impact on both the music and movie industries can be seen in almost every genre and can see him weaved through the fabric of entertainment, seeing unexpected connections throughout different productions has become a norm. While The Blues Brothers is by far not a Halloween movie, the connection that Calloway’s music and persona creates intertwines it with The Nightmare Before Christmas and Halloween in a way that is impossible to ignore. If you have never heard of Cab Calloway before, now that he is at the forefront of your mind and you see the inspirations he is responsible for, you will begin to see him in all kinds of unexpected places.