Valaida Snow was a prodigious musician who became so adept at playing the trumpet that Louis Armstrong called her the second-best trumpet player in the world. Snow found fame in the late ’20’s and 1930s in America and across Europe before her death in the ’50’s.
Snow was born June 2, 1904 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She and her siblings were taught how to play several instruments by their mother. And while the entire family was talented, Snow surpassed them all. By the time she was 15, she played several instruments professionally, but most notably the trumpet.
The talent Snow possessed made her a global attraction, and she toured with several groups such as Jack Carter’s Serenaders across much of Asia. Success came to her most readily in the ’30’s and she became a star in Europe.
Her biggest hit, “High Hat, Trumpet, and Rhythm” was recorded around this time. She also found navigating the music industry easy to do as a result of her white father, who was connected to several people in the business.
Snow got the nicknames “Little Louis” after Armstrong, and was also referred to as “Queen of the Trumpet” in some of her billings. She also starred in films with her husband, Ananias Berry of the Berry Brothers dancing troupe. Her marriage to Berry was considered scandalous as Snow was in her late 30’s while the dancer was just 19. The bad publicity around their union became too much and the marriage ended.
While on tour in Paris with Josephine Baker, Snow was asked by the performer to return to the United States just as World War II was underway. But Snow elected to stay in Europe to make her dates in Denmark. While en route, she was allegedly detained by Nazi forces and held for 18 months in a Danish prison. Snow was eventually released after in prisoner exchange.
The news of Snow’s arrest became big news as she was reportedly the only Black person imprisoned in Denmark. While Snow’s managers spun her arrest as she becoming a prisoner of war at the hands of Nazi Germany, later accounts suggest that she was arrested for drug use or for her own protection as the German invasion of Denmark was forthcoming. Snow was addicted to the painkiller Oxycodone at the time.
After returning to the States, Snow tried to regain her momentum as a performer but success was elusive. Just ahead of a performance in New York, Snow suffered a brain hemorrhage and died backstage in 1956.
Snow was the subject of a novel, Valadia by Candace Allen, and a biography, High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm: The Life and Music of Valaida Snow, written by Mark Miller.