Cab Kaye, also known as Cab Quay, Cab Quaye and Kwamlah Quaye, was born on St. Giles High Street in Camden, London to a musical family. His Ghanaian great-grandfather was an asafo warrior drummer and his grandfather, Henry Quaye, was an organist for the Methodist Mission church in the former Gold Coast, now called Ghana. Cab’s mother, Doris Balderson, sang in English music halls and his father, Caleb Jonas Quaye (born 1895 in Accra, Ghana), performed under the name Ernest Mope Desmond as musician, band leader, pianist and percussionist. With his blues piano style, Caleb Jonas Quaye became popular around 1920 in London and Brighton with his band “The Five Musical Dragons” in Murray’s Club with, among others, Arthur Briggs, Sidney Bechet and George "Bobo" Hines.
When Cab Kaye was only four months old, his father was killed in a railroad accident in Blisworth, Northamptonshire, on 27 January 1922, on his way to perform in a concert. Cab, his mother and his sister, Norma, moved to Portsmouth, where a life insurance policy provided temporary financial support. Between the ages of nine and twelve he spent three years in hospital while a tumor in his neck was irradiated. British radiation therapy was still in its infancy and Kaye’s treatment was experimental. A scar remained on the left side of his neck for the rest of his life.
His first instrument was the timpani; a Canadian soldier introduced him to this instrument and taught him how to count and use the mallets. At fourteen, Kaye began to visit nightclubs where coloured musicians were welcome, for example the "Shim Sham" and "The Nest"; he eventually won first prize in a song contest, a tour with the Billy Cotton band. During this tour, he met the African-American trombonist and tap dancer Ellis Jackson. Jackson convinced Cotton to engage Cab as an assistant, and as a singer in his band. Originally engaged as a tap dancer with Billy Cotton’s show band in 1936, Cab recorded his first song, "Shoe Shine Boy" under the name Cab Quay. This was the start of his career as a jazz singer that would bring him into contact with jazz musicians from all over the world.
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