Cab Kaye was born Nii-lante Augustus Kwamlah Quaye on September 3, 1921 on St. Giles High Street in Camden, London to a musical family of Ghanaian ancestry. After his father’s death when he was four months they moved to Portsmouth where he was introduced to the timpani by a soldier who taught him how to count and use the mallets. At fourteen, he began visiting nightclubs where Black musicians were welcome, and where he eventually won first prize in a song contest and a tour with the Billy Cotton band. In 1936, he recorded his first song Shoe Shine Boy under the name Cab Quay.
During 1937 Kaye played drums and percussion with Doug Swallow and his band, the Hal Swain Band and Alan Green’s band. Until 1940 he sang and drummed with the Ivor Kirchin Band, with Steve Race on piano, in the Paramount Dance Hall on Tottenham Court Road. When a guest was refused entrance because of their skin colour, Kaye refused to perform, the incident led to the regular acceptance of black people and the venue grew into a sort of Harlem of London.
He would go on to play with Britain’s first black swing bandleader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson and His Rhythm Swingers, play in several radio broadcasts and joined the British Merchant Navy before his mother and Johnson were killed in bombings during World War II. A move to New York saw him playing in Harlem and Greenwich Village with Roy Eldridge, Sandy Williams, Slam Stewart, Pete Brown, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Willie “The Lion” Smith. Returning to London in 1943 he sang with clarinetist Harry Parry, then formed a band that included 16-year-old saxophonist Ronnie Schatt (Ronnie Scott), Ralph Sharon and Dick Katz on piano. Following this he sang with Vic Lewis, Ted Heath, Tito Burns and Jazz In The Town. Leading his own bands Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth and Denis Rose. Throughout his career he formed several bands that included Mary Lou Williams, Dizzy Reece, Dennis Rose, Denny Coffey, Dave Smallman, Pat Burke and performed with Billy Daniels, Benny Payne Eartha Kitt, and 16 year old Shirley Bassey among numerous others
Opening his own club in Amsterdam he performed with visiting musicians such as Rosa King, Slide Hampton, Aart Gisolf, Dirk-Jan “Bubblin” Toorop, David Mayer, Gerrie van der Klei, Cameron Japp, Max Roach, Oscar Peterson, Pia Beck and others. During this period Cab played all the major festivals until the 1990s when he was diagnosed with mouth floor cancer that resulted in the loss of the ability to speak. On March 13, 2000 vocalist, pianist, guitarist, drummer and composer Cab Kaye, also known as Cab Quay, Cab Quaye and Kwamlah Quaye and who recorded for the Melody Maker label, passed away at the age of 78.