George Symonette was not only tall in stature, measuring at nearly six and a half feet, but is said to have been like a tower over the music scene in The Bahamas during his reign as the King of Goombay. A pharmacist by profession, George worked at The Bahamas General Hospital, the now Princess Margaret Hospital for a time before opening his own drug store in the Kemp Road area of Nassau.
George was an avid sportsman, a fine gentleman, and a talented pianist all in one. He enjoyed playing to the extent that his passion for performing could no longer remain on the back burner. His beginnings in music were no doubt influenced by the music of the church. His father, the late Reverend Alfred Carrington Symonette of Acklins, Bahamas, no doubt was pleased with his son being the organist at the St. James Baptist Church off Kemp Road. While the guitar and assorted percussion instruments were the instruments of choice for most calypsonians, George entertained from behind the piano.
The collision course between George and the music industry was imminent. According to The Nassau magazine, George Symonette along with his accompanist Berkeley "Peanuts" Taylor entertained guests at The Waterside Club on the site of the old Spider Web premises in the late fifties. This was only one of the many jobs that George Symonette held as a leading musician of that era. In fact, he would play at The Imperial Hotel Garden from 10:00 to 2:00 am in between his shows at The Waterside Club.
Alexander Maillis of The Imperial Hotel recalls that after the hotel lost popular entertainer Blind Blake to The Royal Victoria Hotel, George made quite an impact as Blind Blake’s replacement. Always accompanying his own singing, he mastered and transferred the rhythmic riffs usually played on the guitar to the piano. His unique style no doubt helped earn him the title "King Of Goombay". His music took him to the United States where he performed at various hotels and clubs. His domain was the city of Nassau, where he reigned supreme, performing at every leading club on the island of New Providence. George also played with The Chocolate Dandies, a popular orchestra in the late 1930's and early 1940’s.
According to Lou Adams Sr., George was a real star. "He reminds me of Cab Calloway, a real hi-de-ho man"(Adams Sr. 2004). Adams Sr. and George would form an even closer bond after Adams Sr. was invited to join the original Chocolate Dandies as a trumpeter. George recorded many goombay albums among which he featured the songs of Blind Blake, Charles Lofthouse, and Alice Simms, a winter resident from New York. Although his reputation spread in the sporting and medical field, his greatest contribution is said to have been in the area of music.
His recordings would include other fine musicians such as Jack Roker (guitar), Harold McNair (flute), Leonard Dillet (drums), Dennis Donaldson (bass), and of course, Peanuts Taylor and himself to form a sextet. Together they made memorable music. Although the unique goombay sound of George Symonette has since been duplicated by any other, he has influenced some of our finest piano players including Theophilus Coakley of the internationally popular group T-Connection.
Click play to hear T. Coakley speak of George Symonette - (interviewed by Charles Carter 2004, Island FM)