AUGUST 23, 1900 - OCTOBER 26, 1979
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Minto Cato received her musical education at the Washington Conservatory of Music and School of Expression (founded 1903) in Washington, D.C., a hidden cultural gem in its own right, aligned with Howard University. At its inception, it was unique in the city and perhaps the U.S. as a privately owned institution operated solely by Black musicians and was equipped to offer Black students a conservatory approach to music study. Cato taught piano in public schools in Arkansas and Georgia. In 1919, she opened a music studio in Detroit. Launching her professional career as a vaudevillian, she performed on B. F. Keith’s circuit in Detroit’s Temple Theatre in 1922. Marrying impresario Joe Sheftell in 1923, Cato performed in many of Sheftell’s shows during the 1920’s. With Sheftell, she toured Europe, Alaska, Canada and Mexico in a show called Southland Revue. By 1929, separated from her husband, she was in Chicago at the Regal Theatre with a solo act and as a producer in the US and abroad. Cato sang with Louis Armstrong in the Blackbirds shows, and she introduced the song “Memories of You” in Blackbirds of 1930. It was after these successes Cato decided to pursue opera, performing in Il Trovatore in 1936, and, in New York, in Aida, Show Boat, and Gentlemen Unafraid in 1938. Importantly, Cato was a member of The National Negro Opera Company (NNOC) founded in 1941 by Mary Cardwell Dawson to offer professional opportunities to Blacks. For over twenty years, the Company mounted major productions in East Coast cities. 1947 saw Cato in La Traviata, then a return to Europe performing through the early 1950s. Minto Cato can be heard in The Girl from Chicago (1932) on YouTube.
Video Credit: hoffmannjazz Hoffmann
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