Unsung Gem Valaida Snow: Jazz Pioneer and Queen of the Trumpet

Written by Jae Jones

At a very young age, Valaida Snow was taught along with her siblings how to perform in front of a crowd. Snow showed great promise as a remarkable little performer; she was known to always pull tactics to outshine her siblings. However, she did have one sister who was a great performer as well.

By the time Snow was five years old, she was quite the little dancer, singer, and violin player. She performed under the name Valada the Great. Valada the Great was the star attraction of the Pickaninny Troubadours, who were managed and trained by the Snow parents. By the age of 15, Snow had mastered playing the bass, banjo, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, and harp. Although she could play all the instruments well, her first love was the trumpet. Snow now preferred to be known as “Little Louis,” after the great Louis Armstrong who had already acknowledged Snow as being the “second” greatest trumpet player alive. Most people were not accustomed to women playing instruments during this time.

By age 17, she started touring throughout the United States, and her acclaim was such that she was soon invited to perform in Europe and China. Her career hit a high point during the 1930s and she returned to perform a bit in the United States. She joined Ethel Water’s show, Rhapsody in Black. She soon moved on to the Apollo and then returned to Europe.


When Valaida returned to Paris, it was during the onset of World War II. She was urged by Josephine Baker to return back to the U.S as the news of the war worsened, but Snow did not want to deter from her schedule. Denmark was one of the first countries to fall to the Nazis, and in 1941, Snow became a prisoner of war. She was released 18 months later weighing just 65 pounds.

She tried to make a comeback after her imprisonment, but was never fully able to. Valaida Snow died of a brain hemorrhage while waiting to go onstage at the Palace Theatre in New York on May 30, 1956.


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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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