Date Established: 1977
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Genre(s): Junkanoo/Fusion, Hip Hop, Rap, Pop
Baha Men has earned the only Grammy Award for the Bahamas. The energetic and pop culture influence used in their music, dress, and personalities has made a definite impression the world over. The long journey to stardom began in 1977 according to leader Isaiah Taylor. The band was known then as "High Voltage", and they played the local club scene in Nassau for the remainder of the 70's the 80's and into the 90's.
High Voltage then was known for defining the popular stage sound of junkanoo festival music of the Bahamas. In addition, they were regularly featured in Atlantic City, New Jersey where they presented exciting Bahamian reviews featuring Marvin Henfield and, Abigail Charlow, and other fine Bahamian vocalists. This long journey would not have been possible without the alliance between Tyrone " Dr. Offfff" Fitzgerald in the late seventies. Dr. Offfff was one of the pioneers in shaping the music of junkanoo outside of the festival where it was traditionally performed. Isaiah and Dr. Offfff collaborated on several projects, which enhanced the passion that Isaiah had for junkanoo music, which started the development of this unique sound.
Although the membership changed over the years, the driving force behind the band is its leader Isaiah Taylor, drummer - Colyn "Moe" Grant, and guitarist - Herschel Small, who were there from the early days. Pat Carey, one of the original members, only recently returned to fill the void left by guitarist Fred Ferguson, who had also served as the group’s music director. The other members of the group include Jeffrey Chea (vocals, keyboards); Anthony "Monks" Flowers, formerly of the T-Connection (vocals, percussion); Rick Carey (vocals), and their newest members, Leroy Butler (vocals, rap vocals), and Ryan Andrews (vocals). The group’s success is no doubt a testament to Isaiah's strict work ethic. His vision has apparently gained the support of his team of musicians.
Baha Men has won many awards both at home and abroad. These awards include best recording artists, most popular song, best performing group, best junkanoo sound, best album, and best video production. Baha Men has been on labels such as Atlantis, Mercury, and Toy Factory out of Japan.
Another important aspect of the group’s success lies in the fact that typically, Bahamian bands do not have managers. In a small community such as the Bahamas, bandleaders wear many caps - music director, booking agent, manager, etc. Baha Men, in stepping outside of the Bahamas, has proved that a management team that both understands the business and is worthy of trust is the key to any measure of success. One strategy considered to be extremely wise on the part of the group’s management is its involving Baha Men in many hit motion pictures such as "Shrek" and "My Father The Hero". This strategy no doubt will speak volumes in terms of preserving the name of the band. For generations to come, the only Grammy award-winning group will live on not only on popular radio, but also in the ears and eyes of moviegoers all over the world.
It is believed in many circles that the popularity of this Bahamian band, especially in America, could only have happened with the “commercialization” of their sound. "In the United States you're not going to get on the radio playing raw junkanoo" (Taylor, 2004). Although some have disagreed with this strategy, it remains the responsibility of the artists to determine the balance of the Bahamian sound that is to be injected into such fusion. What cannot be disputed is the contribution of this band as musical ambassadors of The Bahamas. The value of having the brand "Bahamas" wherever they perform is definitely a benefit to our music and tourism industry.
Speaking with Isaiah in the summer of 2004, it would appear that there are great things in the making for our Baha Men, and they are certainly ready for the road ahead.
Beginning of the End
Date Established: 1969
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
The year was 1969, and Nassau was in for the wave of this energetic young band called Beginning Of The End. The band, according to lead singer Raphael, was quite a unique group inasmuch as it was heavily influenced by the pop culture that was very vibrant in the United States.
The flower power movement and the hippie generation gravitated towards artists like Marvin Gaye, Impressions, Jerry Butler, and Jimi Hendrix. Hard rock, rhythm 'n' blues, funk, jazz, and of course the Latin music that was heard over the airwaves from Cuba went into one big melting pot that helped in creating Nassau's newest sound. The members made a decision to quit their jobs and rehearse for six months in order to make this band a success.
With the influence of Freddie Munnings Sr. who ran an extremely successful nightclub, " The Cat and Fiddle", the Munnings brothers along with Fred Henfield had ample opportunity to perform with and hear the many foreign acts that appeared at the club. Among them were Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Flip Wilson and just about any major star of the 50's and 60's entertainment era. These young musicians took full advantage and learnt the many styles that graced the stage of "The Cat and Fiddle".
The members of the band were Fred Henfield on bass guitar, Leroy Munnings - lead guitar, Frank Munnings - drums, and the youngest member Raphael Munnings - vocals and keyboards. Together they came up with the music of "Funky Nassau" which sold over a million copies worldwide. Assisting with the lyrics was Tyrone Fitzgerald, "Dr. Offfff", who died in 2003. Tyrone was to become a leading innovative junkanoo icon in the Bahamas. After months of experimenting with various fusions, the band was ready to present their brand of Bahamian music. In addition to the rhythm section, the band used a few horn players that contributed to the sound of the group. Those musicians were: Neville Sampson, Vernon Mueller, Kenneth Lane and two other relatives, Ralph Munnings and Freddie Munnings.
The New Year brought in the urge to record this new sound, and in 1970 Percy Munnings, the uncle of the young Munnings brothers, after relentlessly being hounded, yielded and provided a $2,000 advance to the group to assist them in cutting the record. With cash in hand, these fine musicians were joined by Neville Sampson on trumpet and Ralph Munnings (cousin) on sax in a recording session in Miami, recording "Funky Nassau" and "Gee Whiz It's Christmas" on the B-side of the record. The Criteria Recording Studio at the time only had 8 tracks, and did a wonderful job in capturing this new sound.
With no sophisticated editing machines in those days, the live performance was done eight times in total before being satisfied with the end product. Upon their return to Nassau a few days later, the 5,000 copies of the 45rpm record were sold out in less than two weeks. It is worthy of mention that Jeff Scavella who was the first to play the song and Charles Carter another influential radio DJ contributed to the success of this record on the local scene. As anticipated, the song "Funky Nassau" took a back seat to "Gee Whiz It's Christmas" which was done in a junkanoo style.
With the overwhelming response and request for "Funky Nassau" the DJ sent out a message to the band back in Nassau telling them "You Guys Have Got A Hit"! The band immediately flew into Miami where they were introduced to Henry Stone, who happened to be one of the largest record distributors in the South Florida area at that time. Henry Stone struck a distribution deal with the band on his label, Alston Records that was also affiliated with Atlantic Records. Soon after, WEDR, WQAM, and just about any station on the FM dial was tuning in to "Funky Nassau".
Fortunately, the writers Raphael Munnings and Tyrone Fitzgerald had the insight to get their work registered with BMI, unlike many Bahamian song compositions, which were and continue to be lost to foreign entities due to the innocent ignorance or naiveté of our musicians. However, the band was caught by surprise with the success of this record and never really got a firm understanding of what was going on. Cash advances from the record company and record sales royalties shot these young Bahamians into unbelievable stardom.
The only live appearance outside the Bahamas was at the University of Miami in 1971 at the invitation of Bahamian students studying there at the time. Dressed in junkanoo costumes and adding lots of Bahamian music to the repertoire, they entertained a crowd of approximately 5,000 enthusiastic fans. It was not until 1974 that the band finally recorded another album entitled "Beginning of The End" which never really took off as "Funky Nassau" had. Despite being managed by Don Taylor (manager for Bob Marley and T-Connection), the group never really re-captured the missed opportunities of the early 70's. The band played the local club scene up until 1975, and did several promotional trips for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, but never made it to the international touring circuit.
Looking back, Raphael remembers the impact of the song "Funky Nassau", and recalls that some politicians went so far as to call for a ban on local radio stations, claiming the title painted negative connotations. In fact, "Funky Nassau" spoke of what was going on in the Bahamas. "Mini skirts, maxi shirts, and afro-headed dudes, people doin' their own thing they don't care 'bout me or you" is a line of lyrics reflecting the social climate in the City at the time. The charm and friendliness of the people of Nassau started to be substituted with a disinterest.
Additionally, rock 'n' roll, funk, with all the trimmings were the order of the day. It was a new music, loud music, and these young Bahamian rockers shook the room with sheer volume. Totally contrary from the softer goombay sounds of their time, this band, although they didn't last very long, made a lasting impression on the sound of Bahamian music.
But the world hadn’t heard the last from this revolutionary hit yet. In the year 2000, the song made a grand appearance in the movie, "Blues Brothers 2000". Among the stars performing the track in the movie were Erykah Badu, Joe Morton, Dan Aykroyd, and The Blues Brothers Band. The music continues to be fused with disco and house mixes all over America, Europe, and the rest of the world. The artistic freedom embraced by these young innovators in the late sixties would appear to be testimony that uniqueness will stand up against all time.
Date Established: 1915
Island of Residence: Inagua, Bahamas
Genre(s): Goombay, blues
Blake Higgs has no doubt left an indelible mark on the landscape of Bahamian music. He started developing his skills at an early age with the influence of his mother and older brother who played the guitar. Progressing from playing on a piece of wood with a string stretched across it, to the ukulele, he continued to master just about every stringed instrument until settling on the banjo. Blind Blake came to be a permanent fixture at the Nassau International Airport later in his life, but earlier, his career placed him in the company of kings and some of the most wealthy and powerful people in the world.
Alexander Maillis, a well-known Nassau lawyer and businessman claims to have given Blake Higgs, his childhood friend, his first break in the music business upon returning home from World War II. Maillis recalls that Blind Blake was not blind as a child, and further states that Blake suffered his fate from staring at the sun for extended periods. After serving time in the armed services, Maillis arrived at the seaport of Downtown Nassau where Blind Blake was playing for pennies. Maillis recalls saying to him, "What you doin' out here with this can playin for pennies! Come with me and play at our hotel" (Maillis 2004). That very evening, Blind Blake showed up with his ukulele at The Imperial Hotel that was owned and operated by the Maillis family, but was rejected by the small combo that was employed there at the time.
The combo even threatened to quit if Blind Blake was given a job at The Imperial. However, taken aback at Maillis’ advice that they were free to leave, in the final analysis, they remained, but took every opportunity to ridicule Blind Blake whenever he made any mistakes during his performances with them. After a short time, Blind Blake became quite popular, says Maillis. Tourists came to the Bahamas seeking out the man they referred to as “the Blind Minstrel".
In addition to playing for pennies in the Over The Hill areas of Nassau, Blind Blake would perform in other clubs and venues such as Dirty Dick’s, and Blackbeard’s Tavern, St. Mary's Schoolroom, the Orthodox Hall, and the Archer Club on East Street. But life as a musician wasn't always easy. It was not until 1933 that he found steady employment at the Royal Victoria Hotel where he spent 30 years entertaining tourists. The peak season for tourist visits were between the months of December to April, which provided only a small window of opportunity for musicians and others who relied on the tourism industry to make a living. During this time in the 30's, blacks were still not welcomed with open arms in the hotels and clubs downtown Nassau.
However, Blind Blake had a charm that kept him floating during the off-season in lodge halls and at private functions. It is said that the wealthy folks that frequented these islands were so pleased with Blind Blake that for years he collected his salary at the end of the season, living off the handsome tips received. When tourism finally became a year-round experience, locals were only exposed to this giant through his recordings. Out of these many recordings, it is not believed that Blind Blake gained any reward other than some degree of added publicity. In fact, persons like Harry Belafonte, Joan Crawford, and Acker Bilk recorded his songs.
In contrast to the mentioned international artists who credited Blake, however, there were many foreign producers, managers and related professionals who preyed on artists all over the Caribbean, taking ownership of their songs. Some of them ended up making ever so slight changes and registering them as their own with no credit to or arrangement with the true composers. Blake wrote many songs over his colorful career. Songs like "Conch Ain' Gat No Bone", and is said to have written "Love Alone" that was written about King Edward VII abdicating the English throne to marry the woman he loved, are only a couple of the classics that he's left with us.
The controversy surrounding the song "Pretty Boy" (which was also recorded by George Symonette, Joan Crawford, Andre Toussaint and many others and was said to have been co-written with Eric Cash, a member of the Lou Adams Orchestra has been put to rest by Mr. Eric Cash himself. In an interview, Mr. Cash, himself an accomplished musician, claims to have been approached by Blind Blake for a copy of the lyrics for the song. Soon thereafter, he heard a recording being played. This of course didn't sit well with Cash. But nonetheless, he did not further pursue the issue due to unclear copyright laws at the time.
Entertaining tourists as they arrive at the Nassau International Airport.
There is no denying, however, that Blind Blake is another one of our unsung heroes, although it is claimed that he received a letter of commendation from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, in his later years, Blind Blake was seen by many as the old man with the banjo singing at the airport. Many passed him by, not knowing the value of the many contributions that he made not only to this country, but also to younger musicians, opening doors that probably would have still been closed today.
Date of Birth: November 27, 1951
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Genre(s): Bahamian Fusion
Principal Instrument(s): Vocals/Guitar
At an early age Cyril 'Dry Bread' Ferguson was influenced by the music that he heard from the church. Spending his early years on Crooked Island, he learned the ways of the Family Island people. Living off the land, getting by with no refrigeration, going “through the bush” for food, and raising chickens were only a small part of everyday challenges. All of these challenges helped to retrain his thinking from the luxuries of the capital city, Nassau.
Dry Bread recalls the melodies and rhythms of hand clapping and foot stomping from his early childhood coming back to him in later years. The return of these influences greatly influenced his compositional skills. He later moved to Freeport where he started performing locally at talent shows. Eventually he formed a band and occasionally performed in various Family Islands and the Turks & Caicos Islands to the south of The Bahamas. One of his biggest hits, "Don't Squeeze The Mango", was written while on the Island of Bimini, inspired by a produce saleslady who, very impatiently, said to him, "Hurry take one and go; don't squeeze the mango".
"Many of my songs are about things that happen to me on the Island" (Ferguson, 2004), thus propelling Dry Bread to the art similar to that of the calypso singers. The song "Montague" tells the story of one of our historical fort site hotels that was demolished a few years ago.
Dry Bread describes his music as "Bahamian Music", and trying to categorize his music did present some challenges. His use of the drum machine in many of his songs gave a non-traditional rhythm to his music. However, the very rhythmic strum of the guitar, and the fun lyrics gave a calypso/goombay feel. His influence, or the influences evident in his music, can be heard in the music of many of the younger prominent artists such as KB and Geno D.
These days, he resides in Freeport, and much like he did in the early seventies, Dry Bread plays mostly solo jobs as a result of very few available musicians and jobs to keep a band together. Recently, Dry Bread decided to return to school in order to enhance his musical knowledge.
After spending some time at The College of The Bahamas, he returned to recording, performing, and making his musical contribution to his country. Of all the musicians in his generation, Dry Bread stands out as one who has consistently contributed to the music repertoire of The Bahamas. His efforts, he admits, rarely paid off financially.
According to a Freeport News report of April 9th, 2009:
Dry Bread was at the dock in McLean's Town when he suddenly fell out and had to be transported to the Rand Memorial Hospital. It is believed that as a diabetic, his sugar, cholesterol and high blood pressure went up causing him to be admitted to the hospital.
His wife said he immediately called her and told her that he was in the hospital, but that the doctor was going to release him that Wednesday. Unfortunately, while at home alone on Thursday, he died and was later discovered by his son Dexter. Ferguson said she is still puzzled as to why the doctor released him when he was so sick as he should have been kept in longer for observation. The family is now waiting for an autopsy to be done."
His fusing of the various styles of Bahamian rhythms continues to earn him a special place in the history of the music of The Bahamas.
Date of Birth: September 15, 1923
Island of Residence: Abaco, Bahamas
Principal Instrument(s): Voice, Steel Pan, Guitar
Among the giants on the Bahamian music scene is one of our authentic calypsonians and Cacique Award winner "Count Bernadino". The Count was destined to be in the business from a very early age in the settlement of Norman's Castle on the island of Abaco, Bahamas. On weekends, he would climb up on crates to witness the locals as they gathered at the lumberyard to dance. The Island folk would dress in their best and exercise fine courtesy as they would line up, men on one side of the room, and women on the opposite side until the men came over and bowed to a desired partner for a dance. The band was comprised of about five musicians, the concertina, 1 small goatskin drum, maracas, and 2 acoustic guitars.
The music of the time, according to Count, was "strictly bush" (meaning local rhythms and melodies). Around age nine or so Count recalls learning to play the guitar, part of a combo comprising 2 guitars, 2 drums, and 1 concertina. The drums that were used at that time were described as being about 8 inches in diameter, and were held across the knee in performance. "That was some sweet music!" exclaimed Count. It was quite a challenge for him to recall the name of the style of music performed back then; as some of his contemporaries would state, the music style had no name as such. For the most part, the music was generally referred to as African music.
Frame drums - similar to drum described by Count Bernadino
The island of Abaco being pretty much isolated from the rest of the world up to this point saw very little influence from other cultures. There was one battery-operated radio owned by the owner of the lumberyard. The radio was set up on a wall where the locals oftentimes listened in amusement to foreign radio shows. Nonetheless, every weekend was dedicated to the largely instrumental music of the small combo in that settlement. These childhood experiences remained with Count up until he finished school and came to Nassau.
Once in Nassau, in the early forties, Count practiced on an old guitar given to him by a friend back in Abaco. Being under strict supervision, which was very common in those days for girls and boys, Count had very little interaction socially in Nassau. "When I came to Nassau, they had big bands," Count recalls, mentioning names like Charlie Carey and Lou Adams. He remembers that people would attend church after which they would go dancing. Folks would be all dressed up for a fun night on the town. Dance competitions were quite common during these evenings on the town. The men were especially talented dancers.
Shortly thereafter, Count was enlisted into the army shipped off to Jamaica. It is there that he began playing regularly. Whether it was before guard duty, or on weekend furlough, the men would sit around and sing while Count played the guitar. During a 24-hour furlough, a group of enlisted men went to a club called "The Glass Bucket", and there they coaxed Count to go on the stage. Count was introduced to the pianist of the three-piece band who to his amazement was born in the Bahamas but was then living in Jamaica. That individual turned out to be none other than George Moxey (father of Edmund Moxey).
Thereafter, regular visits to "The Glass Bucket" provided Count with the opportunity to learn new songs and gain confidence performing in front of an audience. After being discharged from the army, upon returning home, he would run into George Moxey again. With only an occasional gig (job) over the hill, Count decided to take up an invitation from his uncle to go to New York in 1947. "Life was not easy, I washed dishes to get by," said Count.
A short time after working at the restaurant, the owner, knowing that Count played the guitar encouraged him to entertain the patrons on his breaks. For this Count's salary went from $36 to $42.50 per week and was promoted to head dishwasher.
Not long after, Count met some musicians who practiced in an apartment located on his way home from work. Not being shy, he went in and introduced himself. They all became friends and he joined them at the New York School of Music where many other West Indian and Caribbean people were enrolled. Eventually they formed a band, and Count was the designated leader. The "Bacannals" as they were called was a 12-piece band that performed around the New York area. In fact, on graduation night, booking agents came to hear the various bands from the New York School of Music; of course they took a liking to the "Bacannals" and invited them, well, seven of them, to go on tour. With a scaled down unit, the group would travel to different States performing their calypso songs.
Count and his band had the opportunity to travel performing in Chicago, Boston, New York, and various parts of the United States. This lasted for about seven years before Count decided to return home to the Bahamas. Upon returning home, he met Freddie Munnings Sr. who auditioned and hired him on the guitar to perform at The Cat 'n' Fiddle club. It was not until three months later that a friend visiting from New York informed Freddie Munnings Sr. that Count could also sing. With that bit of information, Count began his singing career in the Bahamas.
Count formed a group in the early 60's and made his first trip representing the Bahamas in Canada. Following that, the Bahamas Development Board under the leadership of Sir Stafford Sands sent Count and many other entertainers all over the world to attract tourist to the Bahamas.
Musicians in those days were an important component in the development of the country. Their craft brought them great influence. Count, along with others played for some of the most powerful people from all over the world.
Signed note from Vice President of the United States - Richard Nixon
Many of these types of promotional tours continued throughout the 60's. Although these trips were exciting, there were many challenges according to Count.
Around the mid 60's, cruise ships were required to shut down their entertainment and casinos one they got within three miles of the Bahamas. When that law changed, the impact was far reaching. Clubs all over Nassau that thrived from these tourists hungry for entertainment gradually went out of business. Even taxi cabs, restaurants, and many other support services suffered as a result.
From the seventies up to his death in July of 2015, Count attributes his survival to calypso music. As one of our few calypsonians, Count entertained locals and tourists alike all over the islands of the Bahamas. He performed on Paradise Island two days weekly, Saturday night shows at Breezes, and several other engagements at various hotels.
Click play to hear Count talk about preserving calypso tradition -
In addition to performing, Count made his contribution to local charities throughout his career. He teamed up with Ronnie Butler and released "Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number". This local hit song was produced and composed by Fred Ferguson, one of our finest musician/composer.
According to the then Minister of Culture Mr. Daniel Johnson, "Count Bernadino Ellis recorded a body of work that has chronicled the changing times and captured the essence of Bahamian culture and sensibility - be it our history, our women, our food, the reality of aging and even the inevitability of death"
Date Established: Unknown
Island of Residence: Cat Island, Bahamas
Principal Instrument(s): Guitar/Voice
"Charlie Adamson has often been called the Burl Ives of the Bahamas, since his simple sincerity and good-natured humor shine from his singing in typical folk quality. Charlie accompanies himself on the guitar, strumming the chords and simultaneously beating out the rhythm on the guitar case. This manner of playing probably originated in Spain where the guitar was often the only accompaniment for dancing". (Holliday In Nassau, liner notes, 1956).
Little is documented about Adamson, a premier calypsonian that made his mark during the 50's and 60's. His music was extremely soothing and melodious, and his interpretation was second to none. It is evident that the music of the neighboring West Indian and Caribbean communities had much influence on his style. Even down to the inflection of his words his diction is more like that of popular singers from Trinidad and other surrounding territories. It is said that he was a gentle man and was very easygoing. Indeed this is quite evident in his song style. If you were to close your eyes and listen to the voice and music of Charlie Adamson, the peaceful nature of his spirit shines right through.
He played the guitar either left-handed, or upside down right-handed. However this awkward technique did not hamper the smooth rhythmic patterns used in his calypso and goombay that became his trademark. Charlie would thump the body of his guitar while playing in order to create accompanying rhythms for his goombay strum. “The subjects he dealt with were all looking at the community and singing about it” (Rahming, 1996). Most of his songs featured a very simple melodic introduction followed by Adamson's smooth, mellow, and unassuming voice. Whether it was at the live radio shows that he frequently appeared on to perform his original music, or on his breaks at a gas station on Blue Hill Road where he worked, Adamson created and developed a unique sound in his music.
One thing that we do know is that Charlie made an indelible contribution to the Bahamian musical landscape with his compositions, arrangements and rich baritone voice. His music is such that one could listen for hours and be totally relaxed. Said to have been born on Cat Island, a Bahamian island blessed with a rich tradition of good music. Charlie will always be remembered for his pleasing manner and his infectious goombay rhythms.
Date of Birth: October 14, 1947
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Principal Instrument: Voice
At an early age, his father Wilfred Minnis who played the violin encouraged Eddie to take up the violin as well, but that was short lived. His education began at St. John's College and The Government High School in Nassau. Upon completion, he went on to study at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and obtained a BSc. Degree in Architecture.
The year was 1971 when he returned home from Canada. However, his love for art pulled him away from following through with his architectural pursuits. Eddie developed a passion for writing poems after one year of English at McGill, and this directed him into the music field. "The thought came to me that, maybe if I put my poems in the form of songs, then I could get others to record them and my message would come out through the songs" (Minnis 2004).
Without any formal training in music, Eddie's love for music and determination yielded his first hit "Miss Lye" based on a colorful bodacious character from a radio drama by Jeanne Thompson in which Eddie also played a character. This production was due in part to an alliance with Kenny Knowles, leader of Bahamian band Kenny & The Beach Boys.
Additionally, Eddie has over the years become one of the most influential painters. Through this expression, he has developed a style that reflects the look and feel of the islands.
Eddie Minnis - Capturing Bahamian life on canvas
Eddie continued to share his artistic talent with The Bahamas, however, combining it with an awareness of what was going on socially, through an editorial newspaper cartoon called Pot Luck. This cartoon editorial was very instrumental in capturing the latest gossip or headline news of the day for many years.
Eddie recalls an explosion of Bahamian music in the early 70's that also inspired him in his writings. Ronnie Butler, Tony McKay, Beginning Of The End all had a hand in shaping his musical future. In addition, the only radio station at the time, ZNS, the government-run station, often complained of not having enough Bahamian music to air. All of these factors encouraged Eddie to become more involved in the business. With calypsonians like Sparrow from Trinidad hot on the music scene, Eddie followed his lead in taking everyday occurrences in society and singing about them. After Eddie's hit song 'Miss Lye', Ronnie Butler being impressed with his writing sought him out and immediately they started a very successful musical journey together.
Eddie Minnis and KB (Kirkland Bodie)
It is widely accepted that Eddie Minnis filled a void in the early 70's with his brand of music. Many of his songs were filled with humor; some presented serious issues in a more sober manner; but all told the stories of how we live and how we play in the Islands of The Bahamas. The most successful album, 'Da Real Ting', featured some of Eddie’s most memorable songs, songs like People To People, Johnny, & Straighten Up An' Fly Right. Naughty Johnny has become even more popular now having been used for ring-play in many of the family islands.
Balancing his painting and his music became increasingly challenging as Eddie gained popularity. Ronnie Butler would play an even greater role in getting the music out of Eddie. Remember, there was no knowledge of how to play an instrument except for his very brief experiment with the violin. Eddie believes that this was a plus for their relationship, however, the reason being that since he had no real knowledge of music theory, no one could tell him that anything wasn't possible as far as the music went.
Many of his songs were written while he was out painting. Armed with a small tape recorder, "I would record the melody lines that I come up with so I don't forget them" (Minnis 2004). After putting together a portfolio of songs, Eddie would take a couple of months off in order to rehearse and prepare the songs to be recorded. This time would pull Ronnie and his band together to execute Eddie's plan. This expensive hobby as stated by Eddie was truly a balancing act. There have been very few live appearances by Eddie Minnis, but he hopes to do more in the coming years. These days Eddie lives on the island of Eleuthera with his wife and three children who are also artists. He's gone back to the soil. Bush teas, fruit trees, cassava, sweet potato, are not only themes for songs for Eddie; they’re a way of life.
There are a few regrets that Eddie shared with the author, the first being not taking advantage of distribution contracts for his music around 1973-74, and the other, listening to and paying too much attention to those who gave negative criticism, stressing that he was not a musician, not a “singer” etc.
"Looking back at the past, I think I would have paid more attention to the music I was doing and not so much at the criticism I was getting." (Minnis 2004). Admitting that these negative comments did affect and discourage him from time to time. With all that was going on with art and music in Eddie's life, he had no clue as to how popular his music had become. He’d heard that other parts of the Caribbean and certain communities in the United States were listening to his music.
Eddie Minnis - Receiving Cacique Award in 1996
Eddie Minnis is one of the recipients of the prestigious Cacique Award which he received in 1996. Recently his recordings have made a comeback in the re-releasing of some of his old favorites on CD mixed with some new songs. 'Church Out, Crab Crawlin' ' is only one of the new sounds of Eddie Minnis, offering commentary on Bahamians’ struggle to balance religious and secular life. He has nowhere to go right now, so we will be hearing more from him. In closing his interview, he advised young musicians to seek knowledge, constructive criticism, and training in order to succeed in this creative field.
Visit Eddie's website: http://www.eddieminnis.com/
Date of Birth: December 2, 1933
Island of Residence: Ragged Island, Bahamas
Genre(s): Rake n' Scrape
Principal instrument(s): Keyboards
Mr. Edmund Moxey, the son of renowned pianist George 'God Bless' Moxey ATCL and Naomi Lockhart, a public school music teacher, was born in 1933 on Ragged Island. There he attended the all-age school in Duncan Town. Ed recalls having a wonderful childhood typical of Family Island settlements back in those days. The settlement was set up like a small city with all of the streets bearing names, which was not common in most family islands around that time. Also, "you didn't have a fully equipped house until you buy an organ" (Moxey, 2004).
The people of the settlement held three major concerts each year, one at Easter, one at New Year's, and the third on Emancipation Day in August. These concerts were going on for quite some time even before Moxey's time. Around this time, the settlement had a population of approximately 400-500 people only. The men traded goods such as fruits, vegetables, rice, flour, cattle, grits, and peanuts etc. with Haiti and Cuba. These goods were then brought down to Nassau the capital city to sell. Singing was a favorite pastime among islanders. They would often order sheet music for cantatas from the United States for the concerts and other events they held during the course of the year.
Dancing in the settlement was a time of great celebration, and Moxey made his debut at age fourteen playing for these dances. Amazingly, the instruments used for the dance sessions were solo cornet, piano, drum, and the saw. It was a fun time hearing the various rhythms, and observing the vigorous dancing inspired by these few instruments, recalls Moxey. The rhythms played by the musicians were indeed influenced by listening to Cuban music on the radio. The music that they played in the settlement was called Goombay, as Moxey recalls. Although we know now that this music originates from Africa, the introduction of European instruments gave it a new dimension.
At the age of 15, Moxey joined the telecommunications department as a student wireless operator, leading him to spend some time in Nassau. In 1952, at the age of 18, he was sent to work on Crooked Island. There he claims to have met some of the most musical young people ever. Boys were scarce because they had to leave the island to seek employment opportunities in the capital city of Nassau. However there were about 25 young girls with extraordinary musical talents. In addition, they all read music, says Moxey. Books like Crown and Glory, Harmony Heavenwere popular American hymnals used by these young ladies. A gentleman carried out the nurturing of these musical talents by the name of Theo Cunningham according to Moxey. Cunningham was referred to as the godfather of music in Cabbage Hill, Crooked Island.
Moxey plays for dancers doing the heel & toe polka
and the Quadrille (photo by Pete Reiniger)
Later on in 1953, Moxey was transferred to Coopers Town, Abaco, a highly religious settlement, as he recalls. The settlement of Coopers Town followed a strict religious code. There were no bars, liquor stores, or dance halls. As a matter of fact very few people smoked in those days. These particular island folk had a thriving Crawfish industry, which supplied the West Palm Beach area in Florida.
Although they had no instruments, they perfected a technique of hand-clapping that was truly fascinating. In a demonstration to the author, he indicated that the elderly folk would play a pattern that sounded on the up beat of each quarter note, while the younger folk would play variations of sixteenth note syncopated rhythms. The closest example of that type of hand-clapping I uncovered was in a very obscure 1953 Folkways Records recording entitled "Religious Songs & Drums In The Bahamas", featuring the Church of God congregation. The sound clip below demonstrates the complex rhythms that were possible with just the hands used as an instrument.
The hand clapping rhythms used in this example are quite intricate, demonstrating the mastery of the clappers, who were not formally trained as musicians, in keeping steady time on the up-beat in a sixteenth note pattern.
Listening to this example, one can only surmise that these Bahamians, average churchgoers, though not formally trained, were naturally talented musicians in their own right with a good sense of timing. Even as a somewhat experienced musician, it proves quite challenging to play consecutive up-beats in the fashion demonstrated above.Moxey's interest in the inner workings of wireless telecommunications led him to further his knowledge in that field in 1956 in Chicago. After returning home in 1958, he began using the skills passed on by his mother, playing the organ at the Church of God in Nassau.
Apart from playing in the church, Moxey played at Club DeAfrica that was located on Wulff Road near Claridge Road in Nassau. At the time, bands led by Freddie Munnings Sr. and W.A.G. Bain were among the most popular bands in Nassau. The hotels at the time used smaller combos to entertain their guests. The only other club that was graced by Moxey was The Juju Tree in Fox Hill. There along with Nattie Small on drums and Bud Huyler on saxophone, they played dance music. Other musicians that would perform and record with Ed Moxey over the years would include Rudy Pinder (conga), Chris Dean (saw), Cyril Dean (goat skin drum), Cyril Webb (goat skin drum), and John King (drums).
Edmund Moxey (r) outside The House Of Assembly
In 1967, Moxey decided to enter politics and made significant changes as a representative for the Coconut Grove constituency. His interest in developing the talents of the young people in his constituency prompted him to form the Coconut Grove Chorale & Folklore Troupe. Later, in 1969, in a milestone development, his troupe presented folk music and dance to an audience of primarily “grassroots” individuals, a term which did not have at the time the negative connotations that some have come to attribute.
Among those in attendance was Lee Elliot Berk of the Berklee College of Music in Boston who happened to be vacationing in the Bahamas at that time. The presentation highlighted songs and dance of the Bahamas in the early years. One of the songs performed was "Burma Road Boys Declare War On The Conchy Joe". This song, which had racial overtones, speaks of the blacks rioting against white Bahamians referred to as "conchy joes", following a huge labor dispute in 1958. The melody used in this song is still being used in many traditional secular and gospel songs in The Bahamas.
As a result of the connection with Lee Elliot Berk, a few young Bahamian musicians got the opportunity to attend that institution. In 1969, Moxey was trying to come up with ways to further develop appreciation for the music elements of culture in Nassau. A meeting with the Nassau Jaycees, a service organization, started the ball rolling towards the birth of a cultural community center. It is there that the question of funding came up, and the suggestion of a festival of some sorts was proposed. The "Jumbey Festival" was the name chosen because jumbey sounded like goombay and was the name given to a certain type of vegetation, which was extremely common in The Bahamas.
Ironically, jumbey leaves, also referred to as bough (pronounced bow as in curtsey) was commonly used as feed for goats, whose skin was used for drums that produced the core sounds of goombay. The festival took place on Coconut Grove Avenue for the first two years, but the putting up and tearing down of the temporary structures was too demanding according to Moxey. Two years later, the Government was then petitioned to donate land that was eventually developed and built upon. It wasn't 1971 that this project was well on the way.
Performances in music, dance and displays of artwork and local craft created excitement on the grounds of Jumbey village. Many of the artists were sought out by Moxey and featured on a regular basis at a Jumbey Village.
Pat Rahming (folk guitarist) performs at Jumbey Village Joseph Spence playing the guitar at Jumbey Village
Stone structures housed gift shops, kitchen, arts and crafts stores, and a bush medicine garden on well-manicured land. Serving as a sub-chairman for the cultural committee for the independence celebrations, Moxey approached schools for their input. According to Moxey, attempts were in the making to bring foreign artists for these celebrations to which he strongly objected. This production, he insisted, should be an all-Bahamian production, and so it was. A cultural pageant was staged depicting life in The Bahamas from the Arawaks straight on to independence in 1973. Among the key organizers were the late Clement Bethel, director of Culture, and Carlton Francis, then Minister of Finance and Education.
Stone Structures at Jumbey Village
The music of the Bahamas up to 1970 or thereabouts, according to Moxey, was called Goombay, and he says that it was not until he and Charles Carter went to Cat Island that the term Rake 'n' Scrape was coined by Charles who observed local musicians scraping the saw. It must be stated here that Charles Carter discounts the latter claim, however. At one point, a group of eighteen performers came from Cat Island and were featured at Jumbey Village. According to Moxey, this wonderful dream that was realized died when the Government of the day stopped supporting his efforts in 1973. Although the reason given was that of budgetary constraints, to this day, Moxey believes otherwise, contending that the popularity gained through this venture seems to have offended some. Finally, in 1987 explosives were put to the by then derelict site to make way for the National Insurance Board office complex. This event was an extremely sad one for Moxey and even in relating the event in 2004; his deep emotion was quite evident.
Another significant contribution made by Moxey was the documenting, along with Timothy Gibson, of 50 Bahamian songs. These vocal arrangements were done in 4-part harmony and were submitted to the Government be used for the Goombay Summer Festival.
The demise of Jumbey Village would not put an end to Moxey’s contributions, however, and in a most memorable occasion, he appeared at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in 1997.There Bahamians proudly had the golden opportunity to display their many talents, music, arts and craft, poetry and story telling, dancing, cuisine and just about any aspect of Bahamian culture imaginable.
These days, Moxey performs from time to time playing the concertina with his rake 'n' scrape band. Ever since completing a three-month course at Berklee College of Music, he has been encouraged to conduct workshops similar to those he conducted in Acklins and Crooked Island from 1968 to 1974. Always willing to share his experiences, he visits schools, and makes guest appearances at cultural events such as the Junkanoo In June Festival, Bahamas Heritage Festival and other special events.
Moxey rushin' (parading) with Chippie and his junkanoo group
The Tribune article of August 1, 2014 reads -
SENIOR figures from Bahamian life paid their respects to Edmund Moxey at the House of Assembly yesterday, where his body lay in state before his funeral this morning.
Mr Moxey, who died last week aged 80, was a Bahamian cultural icon and creator of Jumbey Village, which before its destruction was designed to be a centre of traditional Bahamian cultural exposition in an Over the Hill setting.
Mr Moxey was also a former MP for Coconut Grove and an accomplished musician.
I had the privilege of performing at a memorial concert in his honor. Hundreds of his friends, family, and supporters came together to celebrate his life and most valuable contribution to his beloved Bahamas. Without a doubt, Edmond did leave his footprint in the sand.
Date of Birth: 1935
Place of birth: Jacksonville, Florida
Principal Instrument: Voice / Guitar
Born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1935, Eloise showed interest in music from a very early age. Her brother, Freddie, who played the guitar and wrote songs, played a hand in passing his musical skills on to his sister. Eloise, without a doubt, rose to become the most respected female entertainer in her time. Only time will tell whether she will be the greatest in the annals of Bahamian times. There are many reasons for the many accolades bestowed upon her. She was a pioneer when it wasn't popular for women to be performing on stage in nightclubs. In a male dominated industry, she made her presence felt with her powerful voice and unique delivery of goombay songs.
Not only did she sing her way into the hearts of those that listened to her, she was very competent on the lead and the bass guitar. Starting her singing career at the age of twelve, Eloise distinguished herself by winning many amateur talent shows, some of which were held at the Cinema Theatre in Nassau during the 40's and early 50's. She further developed her musical talent playing with renowned goombay drummer Berkley 'Peanuts' Taylor.
After her first album "Chi Chi Merengue" in the 50's, she left to tour the United States. The 60's would bring her back to the Bahamas to perform for local audiences in various clubs including Blackbeard’s Tavern on Bay Street, Montague Beach Hotel at the eastern foreshore of Nassau, and The Emerald Beach Hotel on west Bay Street. After a three- year absence from the stage, she joined 'Peanuts' in 1967 as a star attraction at the Drumbeat Club just off downtown Nassau. At a time when the Bahamas Tourist Board used local musicians to drum up visitors to our shores, Eloise along with many other musicians made invaluable contributions to the building up of the tourism industry. Her travels would take her to many far away destinations including the United States, Mexico, Europe, and Japan, where she captivated audiences with her brand of goombay music. Her move to Freeport would mark the last of her travels. There she remained until her death in 1984.
Maureen DuV-alier, a prominent entertainer herself, and a friend to Eloise, described Eloise as "a very private person who kept few friends" (DuV-alier, 2004). They first met when Eloise was working at the Hillside Hotel just steps away from where Maureen appeared at the Silver Slipper on East Street near Downtown Nassau. According to Maureen, Eloise would talk music all day, and encouraged everyone she met to learn to play an instrument. An avid reader, Eloise enjoyed time alone unlike the bubbly Maureen who was always on the go. Maureen recalls the one occasion both of them happened to walk into the Blackbeard’s Tavern about 10 minutes apart. George Symonette celebrated that moment and invited both of the most popular ladies of music to join him at the piano. The music went on all night at the insistence of the club owner, with people on the outside clamoring to gain entrance to witness what was described as a once in a lifetime performance.
During her years on the Bahamian stage, Eloise was often accompanied by George Wilson (bass), "Peanuts" Taylor (drums), and "Barbalou" (maracas).
Date of Birth: 19 January 1919
Place of birth: Nassau, Bahamas
Genre(s): Acoustic bass, Saxophone
Principal Instrument(s): Acoustic bass, Saxophone.
Mr. Eric Bertram Cash Sr. was born in Nassau, Bahamas and grew up on Lewis Street and the Market Street area. He remembers very distinctly that as a boy, a catalog owned by his sister caught his eye. In this catalog were musical instruments like trumpets, pianos, and various other instruments. Eric's sister also brought home her schoolbooks, which included the "Royal Reader". These books would include lessons accompanied by music examples. At the age of 5, Eric taught himself to sight sing these music examples after his older siblings sang the songs to him.
Leon Young, in the early twenties, owned two wooden houses opposite each other on Young Street (in the Grants Town/Bain Town/Market Street Area) where all of the residents were either from Andros or Cat Island. On Sundays after church, they would assemble under the trees in the yard and would sing in four-part harmony from the Harmony of Heaven hymnal. Eric was about 8 years old at this time. One afternoon, Eric built up the courage to ask to join in, and the regular singers were indeed surprised, and even more so when he sat and read the music as he sang along with them.
Eric's mother, being advised of his talents, bought him a mouth organ (harmonica) and later a ukulele. He taught himself to play and enjoyed playing for his mother as she would sing around the house. The author observed the joy in recalling how happy this time was especially for his mother.
Eric was later enrolled at the local Catholic school and became an altar boy at the Our Lady’s Church that ran the school. Eric was given the responsibility of opening the church building in the mornings. This was truly a blessing for him because the schoolroom housed many instruments including the band instruments for the newly formed Catholic band. At 6:00 a.m., Eric would sneak into the church before “the Father” arrived at 6:30 a.m. for 7:00 a.m. Mass. He and a friend, Harry Allen, (father of politician Algernon Allen) would sneak into the church to teach themselves to play on the reed organ and the piano. Harry's payment for this escapade was the use of his John Thompson piano book and of course the sweets that his mother would bake. While Harry played the piano, Eric would play songs from the hymnal at the organ. At this stage, Eric was approaching the age of 10.
Eric had developed a routine in order not to get caught by Father Arnold Munlock. One morning, to Eric's surprise, Father Munlock arrived 10 minutes earlier than usual. Fearing strong disciplinary measures, Father Munlock, pleasantly shocked at what he'd heard, issued the sentence of having Eric play for Thursday night holy hour. This indeed made Eric both happy and relieved. Eric, later on, taught himself all of the other instruments in the schoolroom, and ended up playing the organ for the church from the age of 14 to present.
During his young years, Eric's tried to involve him in a trade, which was common for young men in those days. Many attempts were made to interest Eric in trades like farming, tailoring, carpentry, etc… but this was not to be. The hard labor just didn't compare to Eric's first love, music. Eric finally settled on being a waiter at a local hotel, which was quite prestigious in those days. First, he would have to attend the Dundas school that was run by Charlotte Douglas. At the Dundas school, Eric became familiar with all of the French menus, and proper etiquette associated with working in a first-rate dining room.
A call came from the Montague Hotel in 1927, based on someone’s recommendation of Eric, and the ensuing experience exposed Eric to the foreign bands, and their diverse cultures, that visited the hotel. Bands that performed locally were The Bain’s Orchestra in which Mr. Bain played the violin, and the Chocolate Dandies, in which musicians like Lou Adams Sr. and George Symonette were members of. They were influenced by the Big Bands that often performed at the hotels.
Eric, shortly thereafter, decided to return to school. He came to realize that there was so much that he needed to learn in order to compete in the world as it was. Eric shortly thereafter, signed up for classes offered by Bosfield Johnson in the after school hours. He studied English language and literature, general science, general knowledge, and Latin. Approximately one year later, Eric Cash along with a friend Eric Russell started piano lessons with Samuel O. Johnson, Bosfield’s brother.
In 1939 or thereabout, venues like the Silver Slipper, Zanzibar, and the People’s Theatre featured local entertainers. Eric was about 25 when his friend Maurice Harvey introduced him to Lou Adams Sr. Subsequently he was hired as saxophonist along-side Bruce Coakley for a few years before moving to the bass. From then on, he's been with the Lou Adams Orchestra.
The two Erics continued to work and successfully passed their grade 8 Trinity College of Music exams, music and theory. Shortly thereafter, Eric Cash passed the A.T.C.L. (Associate Teacher's Diploma) with the assistance of Harold Blanchard in 1960.
Later on in 1961, Eric went on to get a B.Mus (Bachelor of Music) from the Chicago University Extension Conservatory. He also received his Licentiate (L.T.C.L) in class music teaching from Trinity College of Music in 1970, and a diploma in French Language and Literature from the University of Paris in 1976. Additionally, Eric received a M.Sc.Ed (Master of Science Education) in 1980.
Professor Cash, as he is known today, made many valuable contributions to the growth and development of music education in the Bahamas, though often in an unassuming way, without much fanfare. He taught music for the Board of Education from 1959-1965, and French and music at Prince William High School from 1967-1993. "My greatest contribution to music has been my teaching. Many of my students are leading musicians in the church and community." (Cash, 2004).
As the acoustic bass player for the Lou Adams Orchestra, Eric traveled to places like Great Britain, Belgium, Holland, Iceland, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, and throughout the United States. The Lou Adams Orchestra has been performing at the exclusive Lyford Cay Club & Hotel for the past 35 years, good years according to Eric.
Eric is also a composer, he wrote songs like Pretty Boy, recorded by George Symonette and Blind Blake, One Bahamas, Nassau Nassau, and Belle (Mae). Eric also wrote many other less known pieces recorded by others and for which he never received credit. In addition, Eric has written a Mass for the Catholic Diocese of the Bahamas and a hymn for Our Lady's Church's 70th Anniversary. Mr. Eric Cash has been awarded The Bahamas Order of Merit Award. He was among the first to be awarded this prestigious award in 1996 as part of the country’s independence celebrations. Eric has also been recognized for his exemplary service by the Bahamas Musicians & Entertainers Union.
More recently, The College of The Bahamas honored Professor Cash at their annual Colour of Harmony visual and performing arts concert. He was recognized as one of our outstanding contributors to education and performance in the Country and awarded the Clement E. Bethel Award.
Mr. Eric Bertram Cash Sr. B.O.M., B.Mus., A.T.C.L., L.T.C.L., M.Sc.Ed. "A Great Bahamian".
Exuma (The Obeah Man)
Date of Birth: February 15, 1941
Place of birth: Cat Island, Bahamas
Genre(s): Fusion of - Goombay, Rake 'n' Scrape, reggae, Junkanoo, Jump 'n' Dance, and Blues
Principal Instrument: Voice/Guitar
McFarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey, better known as Tony McKay or Exuma, is said to have been inspired by the legendary Alphonso "Blind Blake" Higgs. Exuma’s songs reflect the pleasures of the simple life in the islands, and through them, he teaches us how to appreciate things Bahamian such as, fishing on the rock, ring play, junkanoo, and so many other things that we sometimes take for granted or even see as things to be forgotten.
An incredible rhythm master, Exuma embodied the Bahamian sound whenever he took to the stage. The foot stomping, stiff guitar rhythm, and that voice that both bellowed and screeched from his soul could never be mistaken for any other. His mother Ms Daisy Mackey sailed across the ocean with him at the age of two from their home in Cat Island. Canaan Lane, off Shirley Street near Hawkins Hill would be his new home. Exuma enjoyed going fishing on the rock and ring play during the bright sunny days.
"Brown girl in the ring", "Cat Island Rake 'n' Scrape Band", "Obeah", "Fishing On The Rock", Rushin' Through The Crowd", and "Bam Bam" are only a few titles that capture how we live and what we do as a people. Never have I met an individual with such love and appreciation for his fellow man. At times when we allow the pressures of daily living to get us down, Exuma always reminded us to love each other. His favorite words were, "Plenty Love", and he did live these words each and every day. Although he studied to be an architect, and spent some time with the Bahamas Audit Department, his call was to entertain and spread his love through song.
Not only was Exuma a performing artist, he was also a visual artist. In fact, many of his works are on display in various art galleries in the South Florida area. Some of his works are even displayed on his album covers. Adopting names such as "Exuma" and "The Obeah Man" added much mystery to his image. His onstage persona appeared to be a carefully developed one, and for many, it was difficult to reconcile Exuma the Obeah man onstage with Tony McKay the humble man.
At times, Exuma’s stage props included what Bahamians refer to as a fowl snake, and his style of dress was always eye-catching, large-brimmed straw hat adorned with feathers, sometime barebacked, always colorful, with ribbons fluttering and unusual neck trinkets jangling in rhythm with his the rolling back of his eyes and the tapping of his boots. Dating back as far as the early sixties, Exuma represented the Bahamas in grand style at many events.
His travels took him to places like Russia, Scandinavia, Brazil, Venezuela, and countless other countries. Whether it was Greenwich Village, where he made his debut at "Cafe Wha" around 1961, or in New Orleans where he appeared at the New Orleans Jazz Festival for twelve consecutive years becoming quite popular and establishing an almost cult-like following.
Exuma thrilled audiences as he propped up on a stool like a folk singer with his acoustic guitar, and filled the audience with love and the Bahamian rhythms of junkanoo, goombay, and rake 'n' scrape fused with country, reggae, blues, and any style that he could weave into his craft. Exuma was signed with Mercury Records for a time, and then Buddah Records. These contracts produced about eight albums over the years. Also, his music would be recorded by younger top Bahamian artists, with Exuma the Obeah Man a popular choice.
Although Exuma said that he got great vibes from living in the New Orleans area, he was always inspired to write about home. Whether it was in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, or Cat Island, Exuma's spirit was captivating and unique. A great human being! Having had the honor of working with him, I know firsthand that his music came from deep within; it was soul music, it was music from the heart.
Upon his death in January 1997 of a heart attack at his home on Canaan Lane, Exuma's memory was honored by thousands of friends and family. Junkanooers from all around rushed (paraded) from the church to the burial ground where he was laid to rest. His music will always be a yardstick for measuring and defining Bahamian music.
Exuma speaks his mind through this poem entitled "YOU" -
Your mouth shouts salvation
But your heart spouts damnation
You scream out correction
But your eyes show deception
You are so puffed up and filled
With false pride
Always hiding what you feel deep down inside
You always find a good excuse
For your verbal and physical abuse
Your God is a God of paper
You ain’t nothin’ but a religious faker
You preach false things about Jehovah God
While you're praising Satan your only Lord
You take away pride from a people so proud
And replace it with a burial shroud
Your life is built on sin and war
But soon big head you'll be no more
Freddie Munnings Sr.
Date of Birth: October 21, 1921
Place of birth: Pure Gold, Andros
Genre(s): Big Band, Goombay
Principal Instrument(s): Voice, Clarinet, Sax, Trumpet
The undisputed maestro of the Bahamian Big Band era is none other than FM Sr. as he was and still is affectionately called. Born at Pure Gold, Andros, FM migrated to the city of Nassau after the death of his father in the devastating hurricane that created havoc in The Bahama Islands in 1926. FM was cut out for show biz from the start. His tall captivating stature only helped his stage image. FM, who began on the trumpet, soon mastered many other instruments including the piano, clarinet, and saxophone. FM has truly left an indelible mark on the Bahamian musical landscape. He, and no other like him since, was host to some of the greatest days of entertainment in The Bahamas.
Although his show business career began at the Zanzibar, his heyday took flight at The Silver Slipper where his orchestra spent many years. FM could have settled for the level of success attained at that time, but chose to further his studies in the early 50's. He then went off to the New England Conservatory and there he studied composition and music theory. Not long after his return home, the Cat N' Fiddle night spot was his brainchild, and that club took off and became the pride and joy of all clubs in the Over-The-Hill area in Nassau. There on Nassau Street from 1955 well into the late 60's, he would feature some of the greatest stars of the Western Hemisphere including persons like Sammy Davis Jr. Paul Anka, Harry Belafonte, Perez Prado, Ben E. King, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole and Count Basie. It was not uncommon for FM to entertain movers and shakers like Prime Minister Macmillan, President Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. with whom he developed a great friendship.
"Entertainers enjoyed a place of prominence in this country during this era." (Penn, 2004) The Cat 'n' Fiddle brought a sense of pride to black Bahamians all over. Politicians would scramble to place themselves alongside musicians for attention. Much like the rest of the world, the musicians were the voice of the people; they, at that time had the support and attention of the people. FM's influence trekked clear across the racial divide, which made him a well-respected individual to all. His concern for social justice placed him in the throes of frontline politics in the 1940's, in an effort to “break the back of racial discrimination” practiced in the islands. He’s credited with being instrumental in the successful struggle to bring about majority rule in the late 60’s.
As a member of the Kiwanis Club service organization, and founding member of the Bahamas Musicians & Entertainers Union, FM did his civic duty in the uplifting of his fellow Bahamians. Freddie was also a generous businessman, a socially conscious individual, and a consummate professional. These are but a few of his traits. His life's work was recognized by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Nassau in 1977. He was then made an Officer of The Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (OBE). His generosity continued long after he left the bright stage lights of the Cat 'n' Fiddle, and he practiced an open door policy which even the author had the opportunity to enjoy on occasion.
Freddie has left a legacy of professionalism, social consciousness and generosity that is most commendable and worthy of emulating. His great vision was realized, and did great favor to the music industry in the little Bahamas.
Date of Birth: August 19, 1941
Place of birth: Nassau, Bahamas
Principal Instrument(s): Voice
Frank Penn was born in Nassau and grew up on Burial Ground Corner with four brothers and three sisters. His father the late Simpson C. Penn was a well respected nation builder and along with his mother Florabelle Rose raised Frank to be a very disciplined young man. Frank has suffered the loss of two of his daughters, one of whom was Kristen Penn, a very talented recording artist in her own right. Frank sadly refers to her as a gift that will always be missed.
Frank’s musical journey began at an early age as a piano student and bugle player in the Boys Brigade Band in the early 50’s. Frank recalls crowds of people lining the streets of the city of Nassau to enjoy the parades featuring the band. He also states that the prominence that musicians enjoyed in past years was phenomenal; wherever musicians went, they were treated with the greatest of respect. In 1957, he graduated from Eastern Senior School and shortly thereafter in 1958 started his career as a songwriter with the song "Strike, Strike, Strike" documenting the events surrounding the Bahamas general strike in January of 1958.
In 1963, after a failed marriage, Frank took a trip to Freeport in order to get away and gather his thoughts. Amazed at the island’s tranquility and solemn beauty, he vowed to return, and so he did later that year. Having had the experience of being a barber among other things, Frank opened a barber shop in the city of Freeport which, at the time, was on the eve of being developed. However, the construction boom on that island did little for his business because the men were at work all day.
After months of shooting pool due to the lack of customers, Frank himself joined the men of that island on construction jobs in order to better utilize his time. Not able to stay away from music, he approached Eugene of the Bunting Studio to spearhead a live recording of the song entitled "Freeport". A friendship developed between the two men that led to them becoming partners in the Bunting Studio. Frank dealt with the recording aspects of the studio while Mr. Bunting retained his interest in filming. This period really was the beginning of Frank’s recording career.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bunting invented a sync motor that could be used for synchronizing film and audio. He then decided to leave the island and move the United States where he could market his product. Frank, concerned about his fate as a partner, asked for special consideration in buying out Eugene’s share of the studio, as he had no available cash. Mr. Bunting made arrangements with his bank to finance Frank’s purchase of total ownership interest in the studio. Although Frank admits that there were rough times, he managed to hold on to the business from that day to the present.
The studio was renamed GBI Recording Studio and was the only local recording studio in Grand Bahama for many years. Since its existence, many of our finest recording artists such as KB, Dry Bread, Wendell Stuart, T. Coakley, Kristen Penn, Willpower, Blind Blake, and just about any recording artist on that island took the opportunity to record there.
Frank waged a long-term campaign for the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (ZNS), the public and only radio station, to play more Bahamian music. For this, he paid dearly, he says, creating a lot of animosity towards him. Still, to give his campaign more worth, Frank turned out record after record at great expense to himself in order to provide local records for the station. This effort even expanded to him getting airplay on South Florida stations in order to gather the much needed exposure.
Frank served as the President of the Grand Bahama Musicians & Entertainers Union from 1976-1978. In that post he established the Bahamian Composition Month which in an agreement specified that 2 out of every 4 songs played on the radio should be Bahamian songs. His presidency also gave him the opportunity to assist local bands in gaining employment with local hotels and also to lead discos and clubs to a 50%/50% balance of Bahamian versus foreign music.
Interestingly, Frank did a stint at the El Casino as a comedian during his presidency of Grand Bahama Musicians & Entertainers Union. This all Bahamian Casino revue "Island Fever" that was produced by Lou Seiler and his wife Lois was short of a comedian and Frank successfully auditioned for the vacancy, to their surprise. Frank also noted the many contributions by the Seilers in the development of the Arts in the Freeport area.
Unfortunately, the musicians and entertainers’ lack of support and togetherness prevented much of Frank’s goals as President to be realized. Among the failures stand many great accomplishments, however, including the establishment of the Music Maker of the Year (MMOYA), one of the first music awards programs in the Bahamas, 1st place winner of the 2nd Independence Song Competition, guest appearances on television stations in London, Canada, and The Bahamas, appointment to the International Caribbean Music Awards (IMCA), Vice-President of The G.B. Musicians & Entertainers Union, recipient of the National Tourism Award, and countless other awards and completed special projects.
As a composer, Frank considers himself as an inspirational writer. He writes from the heart, and much like the calypsonians of Trinidad he writes about things that are going on in society. His disappointment in local recording artists not performing even their own recordings runs deep. The other concern that he shared was that of local artists neglecting their own culture in order to satisfy international record companies and producers. Deviation from what he terms as Bush Music came at a great cost to the industry. Frank holds the opinion that if only the musicians had taken the pop tunes and done them in the “Bush” style, this music could have been widely accepted much like it happened for our neighbors in Jamaica who did just that.
Frank's passion for Bahamian music and his courage to speak out through his songs against injustice earns him a special place in the history of Bahamian music. Although some artists felt as if they weren’t fairly dealt by Penn, many of them owe their start in the business to him. Although his accomplishments came with much sacrifice, Frank is convinced that “whatever I did was done with the best of intentions.” (Penn, 2004).
Date of Birth: 1913
Place of birth: Unknown
Principal Instrument(s): Piano/Voice
Genre(s): Goombay, Calypso
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.
KB (Kirk Bodie)
Date of Birth: Early 70's
Place of birth: Nassau, Bahamas
Principal Instrument(s): Voice
Genre(s): Rake 'n' Scrape, Calypso
Kirkland Bodie was born to businessman Ortland Bodie and Beatrice Outten in Nassau. The date? He discloses only as “the early seventies”. He received his primary education at the Martin Town Primary School in Grand Bahama and was later relocated to Miami, Florida at about the age of four. He said that one-day, his father picked up the entire family and just took off to Miami. This move introduced KB to a lot of what he calls "middle of the road white music". Among his favorite artists were Frankie Avalon, Elvis Presley, and pop stars Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. His dad, however, played the piano and organ and did read music quite well, according to KB.
Having no interest in playing music as a child, KB enjoyed riding around with his dad and listening to AM radio which featured some of his favorite artists. Upon his completion of high school, KB returned home to Grand Bahama where he held several odd jobs including being a bus boy at the Bahama Princess, and stock boy at AID (Industrial & Automotive Distributors). He also began singing in talent shows and other special events in Grand Bahama.
He was well into his teens when his childhood friend Sid Rolle approached him about starting a band. KB admits that he hadn't a clue as to what that entailed. He quickly found out that you had to set up equipment, practice for long hours and of course use a microphone, especially when the band is playing rock music. Along with two other friends Dave Cooper and George Delancy, the group "Ego Tripp" was born. They all decided to quit their jobs and try the music business. They performed at Family Island regattas, weddings, and just about anything that came up. Their repertoire consisted of mostly rock, R&B, and little Bahamian music. The band went on to win a song contest early in their career and began recording with GBI Recording Studio under the watchful eye of Frank Penn.
The band gradually bought into playing more Bahamian music with a bit of convincing from Penn. This proved to add to their growing popularity in Freeport. KB, being a lead singer, became interested in writing his own songs, which prompted him to learn the keyboards. That along with not being able to find a committed keyboardist forced him to advance quite rapidly on that instrument. Pretty soon songs like "Turn Her Loose And Let Her Go", and "You Winin'" gave the band national attention.
With Ego Tripp band going through difficulties of string jobs among other things, KB sought to pursue a solo career after much frustration. It was around that time in the early 90's that he moved to Nassau at the invitation of Rudy Grant and made his debut appearance at The Family Island Lounge, Soldier Road, Nassau. During this period, he achieved perhaps his greatest hit "She Fat” recorded by Fred Ferguson (formerly of High Voltage which later became Baha-Men) at his home studio. This was the beginning of a string of hits by this Bahamian renaissance man. Songs like "All The Meat", "Start Me Up", "Bush Mechanic" and "Annie" all told stories of island folk and folklore.
Approximately two years of success had gone by at The Family Island Lounge when KB met manager Gary Burnstein. Gary had heard some of KB's music while on vacation in the Bahamas and sought him out. At his invitation, KB made a move to Boston where he performed for audiences all over the New England area. It was quite an adventure to learn about the integration of so many West Indian & Caribbean people. This lasted for the best of four years before KB got homesick and returned home in the mid 90's. During those many years, KB attributes his success locally to Rudy Grant who continued to promote his music.
KB admits that although it's been challenging at times, his greatest contribution has been being able to stay focused, avoiding the use of drugs, and not giving up on his dream.
KB now has his own recording studio and just recently completed a project featuring the songs of some of the old Bahamian classics like "Eight Babies", “Delia Gone“, and "Honey Love". It is fair to say that KB started the rejuvenation of a movement which has led to many artists such as Geno D., Funky D., Stevie S., Sweet Emily, Ira Storr, and many others getting into the "Bahamian ting".
Local entertainers like Ronnie Butler, Eddie Minnis, Dr. Offff, and T-Connection influenced KB's music from the beginning. In particular Ronnie Butler was very instrumental in encouraging KB to continue on when he felt like giving it all up. Like Frank Penn says, there were times when local musicians had to wage war with the Government owned ZNS just to get our music played. Today however, with private radio stations in the mix, particularly 102.9 Island FM and Love 97, the future of Bahamian music seems a little brighter.
KB now dreams of going to a Family Island where he can live a life of serenity. He feels as if death came today, he would be satisfied with how his life turned out.
With all of the uncertainties facing the future of Bahamian music, KB is to be commended for committing himself to the preservation of his brand of the music of these Bahama Islands.
Date of Birth: August 3rd, 1910
Place of birth: Small Hope, Andros, Bahama
Principal Instrument(s): Guitar/Voice
Genre(s): Folk & Gospel
One of the best-known Bahamian musicians worldwide is Joseph Spence. Ironically, few in the Bahamas know of him. Even I only learned of him only about ten or so years ago. The reason will be mentioned shortly. Let's look at the man and his growl and guitar. Spence is spoken and written of as quite unassuming, humble and most of all gifted with the talent of self-expression. From the first time I heard his music I knew that he played from his heart, not worrying about what anyone thought of his gift, but only to express it. Many say that Spence had an invisible character playing along with him, thus all the extra parts simultaneously being heard in his music. Anyone who has the faintest idea of the technique of playing the guitar would know that what Spence did was pure genius. Born in Small Hope, Andros Island, the largest of the Bahama Islands, where his father was a Baptist minister. Spence over his lifetime did whatever he had to in order to care for his wife Louise.
In his teen years, Spence received his early music education from an uncle who was a professor of music. In the settlement of Fresh Creek, Andros, he, along with his uncle on the flute, a man beating the drum, and one hitting tambourine started playing for gatherings and dances once he became proficient on the guitar. In these dances he would play for the quadrille dance, waltz, heel and toe polka (or kapolka as it was referred to by Spence and others of certain parts of Andros and other Family Islands), and the calypso round dance. In short, they played just about any style imaginable. With an unusually heavy pick on his thumb, he would develop a style which placed a firm bass on the bottom of beautiful island and sacred melodies on top. Spence also was influenced by 19th century English music, an influence strong in The Bahamas, a former British colony.
Other influences would include jazz, blues, boogie woogie, and country. Additionally, “anthems”, and island songs made up the bulk of his repertoire along with work songs commonly used by sponge fishermen, a fraternity in which Spence participated on Andros. In fact, during the heyday of sponge fishing, Spence would spend weeks out “in the mud" working all day and sleeping on a skiff at night. On these trips, it is said that Spence would wrap his guitar in cloth and take it with him. Spence was a sponge fisherman from about the age of 16, which would have been around 1926 until around 1938 when blight wiped out a large percentage of the sponge in the Bahamas. He claimed that God did this in order to stop the exploitation of the fishermen most of whom were still broke after all that hard work.
During World War II, the United States contracted laborers from the Bahamas to fill the shortage on American farms, Spence along with his wife Louise signed up and picked crop for a time. These years would take him to Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, Delaware, and Tennessee where he would take the opportunity to expand his vast repertoire of popular and sacred songs. Just listening to his music will give you a clearer understanding of the joy that he shared through his music. Never leaving his guitar far behind, Spence came into possession of a hymnal "Crown And Glory" which further expanded his repertoire. His exposure to American folk and their songs greatly impacted his musical perspective during those years. Spence always tuned his guitar low E down to a D. This, he claimed gave him a fatter sound that served well for the contrapuntal bass lines that he had mastered. Interestingly, this pretty much locked him in the key of D.
An American folk recordist by the name of Alan Lomax first had an encounter with this cultural treasure in the 1930's followed by Sam Charters in 1958. Upon landing on Andros Island, Charters sought out the man famed as the best guitarist and engaged him in a three-hour recording session which resulted in the Folkways recordings. It is reported that after this session, Spence got up and walked away, never to be seen again by Charters. These two encounters would produce live recordings that are truly one of a kind. Another recordist by the name of Paul Rothchild in 1964 headed to Nassau where Blind Blake introduced him to Spence. The encounter resulted in yet another recording of his unique guitar and vocal styles.
Joseph Spence would go on to be respected by the likes of Rossy of Madagascar, Peter Lang, Ry Cooder, Martin Carthy, Fritz Richmond, Tai Mahal, Henry Kaiser, and countless folk, blues, and rock musicians. For a time, Spence traveled the US and would meet with some of these great musicians who were fans of his, but he found himself more comfortable at home with his wife Louise. There were times when he would receive calls from United States to make guest appearances at Carnegie Hall, and his response would trouble any musician who would only dream of being afforded that opportunity.
Spence made no efforts to gain esteem, or to consciously develop his unique approach to the technique he developed in playing the guitar. He plays only for his own pleasure. He plays what he wants to play when he wants to play it, and didn't worry about what it sounded like to others.
Spence was not only respected all over the world, but also here at home. Those who knew him revered his kindness and humility, although many did not fully appreciate the genius of his work during his lifetime. Riding about on his bike, he'd share a smile with all with whom he came into contact. One person who has fond memories of Mr. Spence as she refers to him is a fellow co-worker Carnetta Seymour, former Vice-Principal at the Oakes Field Primary School.
Spence has been featured on many albums, some of which are listed in the link listed below. It is however pleasing to see that the people of The Bahamas are now seeing fit to give Joe Spence the recognition and credit which the rest of the world gave a long time ago. If one were to do a search on the Internet alone, Joseph Spence would no doubt be the most famous Bahamian ever. This fame that equals some fortune (if only culturally) has no link to the people of this giant of a man. The work of Joe Spence belongs in the national archives and museum of The Bahamas; however, the work is owned by foreigners and until success is made in this regard it seems rather unfortunate that of one of our greatest treasures, we have no ownership. Who's to blame? Maybe that question is out of place or has no answer, but I feel that steps need to be taken to reclaim this lost treasure.
Date of Birth: December 8, 1945
Place of birth: Freeport, Grand Bahama
Principal Instrument(s): Voice
Genre(s): Junka, Soul
Born Rupert Jay Mitchell to Rupert and Iva Mitchell, Jay grew up between Grand Bahama and Nassau. It is hard to believe that he was once shy after witnessing his command of the stage. The United States have James Brown, we have Jay. That is the magnitude of his stage presence. I'm sitting in the garden of the historic British Colonial Hilton speaking with this icon on a beautiful sunny Bahamian day having a chat with this living legend. I believe this is the first time I heard that he is one of very few Reiki masters in the country. Reiki is one of the more widely known forms of energy healing practiced by the Chinese. This type of Energy Healing involves direct application of Chi (Chi is the term used by the Chinese mystics and martial artists for the underlying force the Universe is made of) for the purpose of strengthening ones energy system (aura). This may be the reason for his seeming so at peace at this stage of his career.
Jay grew up in in a church environment and claims to have had a close connection to music from the very start. In fact, he sang in church even before he knew how to read. "The strangest thing is that Jay heard sounds of the future long before synthesizers were widely used in the music of his early childhood. These sounds prompted him to create instruments and gather neighborhood kids to make music from the age of about six or so. Jay admits that even having a band with very competent musicians later on, the had difficulty understanding where he was going with his style of music. The amazing thing about this whole experience is that ever since learning the keyboard synthesizer, Jay is excited about the possibilities of finally bringing out these sounds that he heard as a child in his music.
Jay got his professional start from his Godfather Gil Robinson who also was the pianist at his church. Gil was one of the pioneers in terms of live bands working in the Freeport area in the early stages of the City's development. Gil's band was comprised of five members. One evening, one of his members didn't show up for work and he then asked Jay to fill in shaking maracas. At first Jay wasn't very good, but he quickly developed his skills and oftentimes accompanied Gil Robinson's group on weekends. His mother objected to his performing in clubs, but quickly gave in when she found out that there was a living to be made from these evenings out on the town.
Due to the poor broadcast quality of Radio Bahamas in its infancy, the stations that were listened to in Freeport were mostly American. Stations out of Cincinnati, Ohio and WGBS out of Florida attracted listeners due to their superior broadcast quality. This no doubt created a disconnect between the musicians and music being developed in the capitol City, Nassau. A similar scenario was going on in other Family Islands. Jay recalls the first he heard calypso, it was a song by Eloise Lewis entitled 'Chi Chi Merengue'. "I turned the radio up like a tourist, that was so sweet to me I danced all around the house" (Mitchell, 2004).
Foxy Dean out of Nassau, and Junior Wish were among the local entertainers that influenced Jay's singing style."When these fellas sing, tears would to come to my eyes" (Mitchell, 2004). Jay recalls Junior Wish, who traveled quite often worked at The Diamond Head Club in West End Grand Bahama in particular, having outstanding vocal ability.
The years that caught Jay at his best placed him in clubs such as The Tropicana, Junkanoo Club, Bamboo East, Jokers Wild, Sultans Tent, House of Lords, Rum Runner, Kiki Rouge, and even his own club The New Dimension on the premises of The House of Lords. Although the club was successful, the lack of his business skills coupled with the cost of keeping a nine piece band employed brought it to an end. Jay admits, his heart got in the way in making sound business decision during slow periods.
Jay developed a great following in the Family Islands once he started performing regularly. Along with his cousin Smoky 007, they pretty much owned the young nightclub patrons. They even had the opportunity to perform together at the Imperial Hotel in Nassau.
Names like Sonny Johnson, Frank Ash & The Ashes, Buster Morley & The Moralites, and Swain & The Citations are only a few of the entertainers that performed locally. Frank Penn, proprietor of GBI recording studio managed Jay for a time and assisted in the development of many recording artists in the Freeport area. 'Willpower', a group that started out in West End by Gladstone McEwan was responsible for me getting a start in the business and T-Connection, one of our al-time finest groups would add to the musical mix that made their mark in the Freeport area.
These days, Jay is working on a book he refers to as the key that promises to reveals the true meaning behind many of his songs. Jay is quite pleased with his life's journey, and says he wouldn't change a thing if given the chance. In a line from his song 'The Recipe' Jay recites to me, "If I had a chance to do it again, I'll do it all the same I have no regrets" (Mitchell, 2004). He further states, "If I had done something slightly different, I might have missed you" (Mitchell, 2004).
For the past few years, Jay has been appearing at The British Colonial Hilton, Downtown Nassau. He is still as exciting as he was years ago, and he says, this only the beginning.
King Eric & His Knights
Date of Established: 1955
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Genre(s): Calypso, Junkanoo & Rake 'n' Scrape Fusion
Eric Gibson (M.B.E.), the leader of the band had no interest in music as a child, although he came from a very musical family. As a young man, he went on contract as a farm laborer in the southern United States like many of the men during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Eric recalls being called on to provide musical accompaniment for his co-workers, simply because of his Gibson name which had become synonymous with music. In fact, the island of Acklins where he was born is well known for its strong musical heritage and has produced many of the finest musicians in the Bahamas.
In the early days, small combos were formed to perform at lodge halls for special events. One such band consisted of Eric Gibson, Leroy 'Duke' Hanna, Carl 'Flash' Rogers, Lord Cody, and Charlie Smith. The name commonly used for these combos was 'Eric & The Boys'.
In 1957, Hubert Pinder invited Eric to perform in the evenings at the Captain Kid club on Bay Street. There Everett Henfield and Bahamian great Ronnie Butler would join him and they would come to be known as the Captain Kid Trio. Ronnie would spend six years under Eric’s leadership before forming his own group 'Ronnie and The Ramblers'. It was not until Eric's band moved to the BAMA club that they would adopt the name "King Eric & His Knights".
In 1966, King Eric opened the doors of the Elite Recording Studio. This studio became the place for local entertainers to “lay their tracks”. But the attractiveness of the studio extended further than the pool of entertainers residing in The Bahamas. Among the internationally acclaimed artists drawn to the studio was Keith Emerson who is said to have found it very appealing for much of his work during the seventies and eighties.
Over the years, King Eric had many prominent Bahamian musicians play in his band. Names like 'Duke' Errol Strachan, Paul Hanna, Ronnie Butler, Flash, Prince Charles of 'The Royal Cats', Howard Melbourne and Lord Cody all in some way made their contribution to the King & Knights Band.
In the early seventies, the group got the opportunity to perform at the Tradewinds lounge on Paradise Island, a club that was catering mostly to foreign bands. With the assistance of the Musicians & Entertainers Union, Sir Clifford Darling, then Minister of Labor, and A.D. Hanna, then Minister of Immigration, the band was awarded the contract to appear at this brand new resort. But it was not until 1973 that the band really came into its own, when they moved into their own club on West Bay Street.
There the King & Knights became one of the hottest nightspots in Nassau catering to locals and tourists alike. One unique feature of the club was that it had two clubs under one roof. The entrance on Bay Street (King & Knights) led into a dinner and show club where a native variety show was staged nightly, while the "Back Side" featured dance bands and popular DJ's. King Eric's musicians during the later years would consist of his brother John Gibson on the saxophone, Jim Duncombe vocals, Frankie Adams vocals, and Stuart Halbert keyboards.
"King" Eric Gibson (M.B.E.)- Most Excellent
Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) as
part of the Queen's New Year Honors for 2004
Not only did King Eric & His Knights entertain locally, they frequently traveled to places like Canada, Australia, and many cities in the United States including New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Always promoting the music of the Bahamas, King Eric took advantage of recording songs by many Bahamian composers, especially those of Eric Minns. Songs like Fox Hill Gal, Thank Goodness It's Friday, and Once Is Not Enough are only a few that would turn out to be some of Eric Minns' greatest contribution to The King & Knights band.
In 1979, The King & Knights club was in full swing. The band with which this author performed (Willpower) entertained at the Backside while King & His Knights mesmerized tourists and locals alike with fire dancing, limbo dancing, glass bottle eating, flame throwing, and swinging island songs. In retrospect, these days may be seen as the beginning of the end of the best days in the live music industry in the Bahamas.
A brief decade following these exciting years, it was difficult to find live entertainment in the City of Nassau. Today, King Eric keeps in touch with his colleagues and still actively promotes Bahamian entertainment. His last effort with The New King & Knights Club hosts one of the last surviving native revues in Nassau.
These days, King Eric is actively involved in the Bahamian regatta, both making sails, and running his own sloop. He has become quite popular and competitive in these sloop races, which take place on the Family islands of the Bahamas. These events bring together the communities of the various islands through music, dancing, and Bahamian cuisine.
Lou Adams Orchestra
Date of Established: Late 1930's
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Genre(s): Goombay, Calypso, Jazz
Mr. Lou Adams, a suave, well-spoken and sharp-witted gentleman of great talent and tremendous recall, is without doubt one of the elder statesmen in the music industry in The Bahamas. In an interview, he not only gave a clear picture of the music industry during the early days in the city of Nassau, but also great insight as to what was happening socially at the time.
Adams was born in 1922 in Nassau and has been in the music business for over 65 years. His early childhood was spent on Fowler Street where he was born, and later, for most of his youth, on Shirley Street. Around 1927, he attended The Victoria School, which was later named the Curry School and subsequently the Worrel School, and is now referred to as Eastern Junior. After completion of lower school, he went on to Eastern Senior on Shirley Street which was headed by Mr. Mansfield, an Englishman, and following that, Mr. C.I. Gibson, a prominent educator after whom a public school is named. Adams recalls that many of the prominent members of society also attended Eastern Senior.
As a child, live bands were not common at all. In fact, Adams was about fourteen when he heard about "The Chocolate Dandies", a group which he believes had been in existence for about five to six years prior. That would place the band’s formation in the early thirties. The Chocolate Dandies were heavily influenced by big band music of the time.
In the early 1930's, Lou was impressed by a gentleman by the name of Bill Moore, the first “colored” (the term then used for Blacks) trumpet player to play with the many white foreign bands that frequently played in New Providence. As early as he could recall, The Royal Victoria, Fort Montague, and The British Colonial hotels all hired these bands to perform for all of their special functions. These bands greatly influenced the local musicians, exposing them to the sound of big band, jazz, Broadway, and other popular music from the United States and the United Kingdom.
Lou's first encounter with Bill Moore happened as Lou was riding his bicycle on the Eastern Fort. This young man was attracted to the English bicycle that Lou rode; it prompted a conversation that led to their becoming friends. During the course of their friendship, he offered Lou music lessons, which were accepted. As the trumpet was this gentleman’s principal instrument, he impressed upon Lou to take up the trumpet.
"He would take the trumpet and make so many different sounds. Bill made the trumpet cackle like a hen, he made it laugh, and showed great music ability.” (Adams, 2004)
After about a year of tutoring Lou, Bill would leave the Bahamas. Upon his departure, he left with Lou a music course from the US School of Music. Lou recalls parting words left with him, “Before you lies a great future, if you continue to work as you have been. Great things lie ahead.” In these words, Lou took comfort.
Lou practiced religiously and some time thereafter was introduced to Leonard White by good friend George Symonette who was the pianist for the Chocolate Dandies. Leonard, impressed with Lou's sound, invited him to join the group and continued Lou’s music studies. At the time, piano lessons and violin lessons were becoming increasingly popular in the capital. "The Catholic Diocese, they brought musicians who taught the students music." (Adams, 2004)
Many of the prominent musicians today would have benefited from the contribution made by the Catholic Church in The Bahamas. Boy Scout bands, in particular, that popped up in various communities in New Providence sparked the musical interest in young people throughout the city.
Shortly after the Chocolate Dandies disbanded, Lou went on to work with Cleveland Peterson & The Melody Makers, a group in which Levi Gibson played the violin. Around that time, many other fine orchestras were beginning to play around town in lodge halls and various social events. Among the bands were The Noel Mallet Orchestra, The Rudy Williams Orchestra in which Freddie Munnings Sr. got his start playing the trumpet, Charles Ramsey Orchestra, and The Bert Cambridge Orchestra, in which saxophonist Maxwell Thompson who recently died was a member. While the word orchestra was used in many of the groups’ names, they rarely consisted of the standard requirements for an orchestra, and were in fact generally jazz combos.
Lou’s recall of the racial climate is that it was “very relaxed”. According to Lou, "Everybody years ago were friendly, every color went to school together, they associated as one. Racism came about, I think, when politics came on the scene, that's when everybody got divided." (Adams, 2004) His personal feeling is that politicians used the old tactic of dividing the people in order to gain votes. Although the businesses were controlled by the white minority, he feels that everyone got along much better.
Lou acknowledges, however, that on the music scene, all of the serious work was being given to foreign bands, whereas local bands were relegated to poolside engagements until Sidney Oakes, son of Sir Harry Oakes used his influence and secured a job for The Lou Adams Orchestra at The Prince George Hotel. This was during the years of World War II, which would have been in the late thirties into the early forties. Before him, the band that played at the hotel was a trio under the leadership of George Keener. The original members of the Lou Adams Orchestra were Morris Harvey (piano), Bruce Coakley (saxophone), Eric Cash (saxophone), Leonard Perpall (Drums), Fred Henfield (bass), and of course Lou Sr. on trumpet. They catered mostly to a tourist audience, as it was rare to have blacks socializing in a Bay Street establishment during the early years.
For that particular era, this ensemble would have been considered quite large in comparison to the other bands that played in the “Over The Hill” area in Nassau. As a matter of fact, Lou credits the church for keeping the musicians working. Dances and concerts were frequently sponsored by most of the churches in their halls and schoolrooms. The St. Matthew’s Schoolroom would have been one of the more popular venues of the day.
One advantage of having the many foreign bands, according to Lou, was that after completing their hotel engagements, they would always flock to the "Over The Hill" dances and perform with the local musicians. This exposed the locals to many styles and the high standard of performance needed to be in the business. The Silver Slipper would also be one of the favorite night spots for musicians to gather during the after hours. This time was a glorious time, recalls Lou, as it was safe, the music was great and everyone got along.
Sir Oliver Simmons, a wealthy landowner would later help The Lou Adams Orchestra to become the first Bahamian band to perform in the dining room of the British Colonial Hotel, at a time when it was unheard of for local bands to perform in the dining room of any hotel in The Bahamas. Make no mistake, Bahamian bands could play by the pool areas and maybe the bars, but the dining halls were off limits to local artists. These dining rooms would have Broadway shows that would change each week when the cruise ships arrived at the seaport in Nassau.
The fact that Lou and his band members knew how to read music would work strongly in their favor. A retired journalist by the name of "Snake Aames" from Chicago would introduce them to all of the latest show tunes. This would happen when "Snake" had the band perform privately for him after their evening engagements at the hotel. Having the means, Aames would go so far as to charter a jet to bring in friends and on occasion, sheet music for Lou and his band to entertain at his home.
Lou Adams, Sr. opened many doors for Bahamian musicians. When the Zanzibar (an Over the Hill establishment which stands to this day on Blue Hill Road) opened in 1940, Lou and his band which included Eloise Lewis at the time were the entertainment for that establishment. The opening of the Balmoral Hotel (now the site of Sandals Royal Bahamian) in 1949 saw the first black Bahamian band, Lou's orchestra. Worth reiterating is the fact that the British Colonial was indeed a major breakthrough for any Bahamian band, with the way paved by Lou Adams himself.
These early years were not without hardship. Many workers, even those employed by the government, oftentimes left the Bahamas and went to the United States on contract to work on farms in order to survive. The tourism season lasted only three months thus leaving families in financial difficulties for the remainder of the year.
Music, however, was good to The Adams Lou Orchestra, especially during their years at the Zanzibar. Lou and his band also shared the stage with many international celebrities including James Brown and B.B. King while on tour in America. Nowadays, The Lou Adams Orchestra performs at The Lyford Cay Club, an exclusive hotel in a gated community in the Western district of New Providence. The many years of quality music provided are credited with bringing many tourists back to that resort time and time again.
The interview with Lou revealed the life of a fine gentleman. Just a few short months ago, while on my way to work, a young lady called in on the radio and thanked him for the promise he made to her father at her birth. The promise kept was Lou and his orchestra performing at her wedding. Nearly twenty years had passed and he made good on his promise. When one considers his involvement in the Bahamas Musicians & Entertainers Union, and his consummate professionalism, one has to be convinced that some of the greatest contributions to this industry in some way or the other can be attributed to the efforts made my Lou Adams, Sr.
Date of Birth: May 14, 1926 (noon)
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Principal Instrument(s): Voice
Genre(s): Goombay, Calypso
Maureen DuV-alier (MBE) is the original Bahama Mama. That means, for years, this outstanding lady has been entertaining and leading the way as one of the premier female icons in The Bahamas.
It was the 14th day of May in 1926 when a siren went off to signal that it was noon, and the baby who would come to be Bahama Mama had made her entry on earth. Burial Ground Corner off East Street produced a child that would make her mark on the music industry in The Bahamas in so many ways.
Her father Eustace Edward DuValier was born in Inagua, but was the second brother of Francois “Papa Doc” DuValier, past president of Haiti. Maureen recalls visiting Haiti as a child during the summers. She got to know her family quite well during these visits. Later on in life, while performing on a cruise ship, Maureen received the royal treatment with full private escorts, at the invitation of her uncle Papa Doc DuValier.
Maureen grew up mainly with her godparents Bert Cambridge and his wife Dorris. Her early childhood education began at the Sands School, which was located opposite the now Ministry of Education building on Shirley Street. There her contralto voice was favored and was oftentimes utilized by her teacher for reciting poems to her classmates. The church also played an important part in her development and appreciation of music. Godfather Bert Cambridge would help to mold her talents as a young vocalist.
Bert, a prominent musician and recipient of many awards was a member of the Chocolate Dandies group and also headed his own orchestra for a time. Regular rehearsals held at his home provided Maureen the opportunity to learn songs from lead sheets lying around the practice area. In picking up these lead sheets, Maureen sharpened her sol-fa skills, and on occasion was invited to rehearse with the band. Big band and other popular music of the day would permeate the home during these early years.
Maureen enjoyed this time in her childhood, and was kept very busy with singing, sewing, and her schoolwork. Her time of worship was shared between Salem Baptist Church, where her godmother was a member, and St. Agnes Anglican Church, where her godfather was a member.
When Maureen was about eleven, her godfather took her to the Jungle Club where he was performing at the time. This huge thatch structure opened the eyes of this star-to-be to the world of entertainment. Although Maureen was young, she had already developed a repertoire that Bert Cambridge couldn't resist exposing to the public. Peanuts Taylor(propped up on a chair) and a lady by the name of Big Biner (Ms. Lewis) would be among the entertainers featured at the Jungle Club at that time. Maureen’s debut on stage is a bit vague in her mind, but she recalls subsequently performing at the Silver Slipper in a duet with Freddie Munnings Sr.
Bert Cambridge had developed quite a reputation, being one of the few trained musicians on the island. This afforded Maureen the opportunity to move about with him when he would assist other bands during their rehearsals. Among the bands that Bert would help was the Ramsey Orchestra, one of the earlier bands that played jazz and Broadway tunes among other styles.
Maureen also recalls that socially, women in nightclubs were frowned upon. To add to this, she headed the first female dance performance group in Junkanoo, the national street festival of The Bahamas. "First woman to take women to perform for Bay Street junkanoo, they say: good Lord, what else she gon do!" (DuV-alier, 2004). Although the date is a bit uncertain, she is sure that this happened when junkanoo returned to Bay Street after being moved to the "Over The Hill" area of Nassau during the late forties.
As this project was being finalized, it was announced that the Boxing Day Junkanoo Festival for 2004 would be named in Maureen’s honor, a most fitting tribute to the junkanoo pacesetter.
Similar to what a few musicians of her time have said, yet quite in opposition to what others also of her time recall, Maureen has little recollection of racial tension, recounting that the only time she experienced any form of racial discrimination was at the local banks. There was no difficulty in depositing money, but when it was time to withdraw, one had to be known to employees of the bank, who were all white at the time. Places like the Savoy Theater and The British Colonial, although having a reputation for practicing discrimination, never prohibited her from entering. “I just went in and sat down, and no one ever asked me to leave, I know if they asked me to leave, I would leave, but no one ever asked.” (DuV-alier, 2004)
The development Board, tourism arm of the then UBP Government took full advantage of musicians during the forties and fifties. Maureen was afforded the opportunity to represent the Bahamas on many occasions. Songs like "Brown Skin Gal" with Freddie Munnings Sr. and his small combo in the background, brought audiences to their feet.
Recordings done by Maureen were accompanied by a band from the Virgin Islands, The Ladd Richards orchestra which, in Maureen's opinion, had the same feel as the Bahamian bands of the time. She really enjoyed working with them on the cruise ships and in the recording studio.
Maureen’s memories of her career are almost all good. For that reason, she says that the only bad experience, which happened in the Midwest USA when a promoter left them stranded, stands out in her mind. This experience however still turned out to be a partly good memory, due to the assistance of a police officer who rescued them, providing transportation, room and board until the group returned home.
Maureen also recalls one of her most moving experiences, in Canada during a performance with King Eric & His Knights. The audience’s appreciation of the performing Bahamian musicians was overwhelming.
Looking back and thinking about what she would have done differently, Maureen says her only wish would have been to complete her college education at New York University, as this would have pleased her dear mother greatly.
In 1992, Maureen surrendered her life to Christ. At the age of 77, she feels like luckiest woman in the world. Friends, extended family, the community, all shower her with love and affection. For this she's eternally grateful.
Pictured with friends - Alice Simms & "Duke" Errol Strachan at The British Colonial 1968
Maureen recently was included in the list of persons to be awarded Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), by Queen Elizabeth II for her outstanding contribution to The Bahamas.
Maureen makes regular appearances at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas and is still going strong.
Date of Birth: 20 June, 1935
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Principal Instrument(s): Voice
For over seventy years, John Berkely "Peanuts" Taylor has been entertaining locals and tourists the world over. It all started at the age of four, when John was walking past the Paul Meeres club and saw Paul himself practicing at the front of his famous club on Market and Fleming Streets minutes away from downtown Nassau. He mischievously shouted out, "I can sing and dance better than you", to which Paul Meeres replied, "A little peanut like you?" That answer prompted John to show off his stuff, and the name "Peanuts" stuck from that very day.
At an early age, Peanuts suffered the loss of his mother, and around that same time, his father left The Bahamas to work on contract in the southern United States as most men did during those years. His grandmother, Ethel Stubbs stepped in and showered Peanuts with the love and care that he needed. As a student of the Our Lady's Catholic School, he would spend his afternoons hanging around the neighborhood enjoying the music played by musicians who lived in the area. The "Paul Meeres" was a club located just around the corner from the school and became a favorite hangout.
Peanuts started singing and dancing at the "Paul Meeres" at the age of four, and around 1940, had the good fortune to perform for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor during their stay at Government House, downtown Nassau. His first big break came when George Symonette asked him to sit in for his drummer who was ill. For the fifteen years or so prior, Peanuts was not aware of his drumming talents for which he has now become so well known the world over. He, up to that point had sung and danced at clubs like Jungle Club, Confidential, Junkanoo Club, and Spider Web to name a few. The encounter with George Symonette, however, introduced Peanuts to the world of drumming and as a result, to the world.
In 1956, he opened for Nat King Cole and the Mills Brothers in California. He also appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Jack Parr Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show to name a few. Peanuts also composed the theme song for the movie "Calypso Island" during the late fifties. Major networks like CBC. and the BBC all featured Peanuts on television programs aired between the late fifties up to the early eighties.
The local and international print media, among them Newsweek, The Telegram (Canada), and The New Yorker, also ran many feature articles on Peanuts..
Peanuts made perhaps his greatest contribution as a show club owner, however. His first club, "The Tropicana", opened in 1957 followed by "Goombay" in 1960 then "Drumbeat Club" in 1964. Years after the closing of these clubs, he would re-open "The Drumbeat" again at The Nassau Beach Hotel in 1975 and subsequently at its final location near the British Colonial Hotel downtown Nassau. All of his clubs would feature artists like Eloise Lewis, Ritchie Delamore, Chickie Horne, Veronica Bishop, Jim Duncombe, King Pedro, Wendell Stuart, and countless other Bahamian stars. In addition, fire dancers, limbo dancers, and other local show dancers made up for an exciting native revue. He along with King Eric & His Knights ruled the show club industry in Nassau for many years.
Many honors have been bestowed upon this most distinguished entertainer/entrepreneur. Amidst them is that of (MBE) Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an award granted by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II; the Cacique Award by the Ministry of Tourism, the Legend Award, and the Merit of Honor Award. The most recent award, "Laureate Seal of Honor" was presented to him by the National Trade Union of Cuban Culture in conjunction with the agency, TURARTE. Peanuts, indeed, has earned his long list of awards. As a well respected citizen he was also made a Justice of the Peace in 1999.
Peanuts got involved in the recording business for a time and produced many local artists and himself. But by far, his fame came about as a result of his musicianship and showmanship. In 1999, Peanuts appeared at the "Rain Forest Theatre". That show was the last in that show room to feature local entertainers.
The seaport in downtown Nassau, on occasion, features Peanuts as tourists arrive for their vacation. Peanuts continue to perform whenever the opportunity arises. Each performance gives a snapshot of the young, tiny peanut that danced his way into hearts over seventy years ago.
Date of Birth: 17 August 1937
Island of Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Principal Instrument(s): Voice/Guitar
Genre(s): Calypso, rake 'n' scrape/junkanoo fusion
Ronnie Butler loved music from his early childhood. He started out playing the maracas at the age of sixteen with a neighbor from Trinidad by the name of Alexander who played the Hawaiian guitar and Nattie, one of the premier conga drummers in The Bahamas. His job as a construction worker did not get in the way of him taking his first job playing music at the Carlton House Hotel on East Street. This all started though with them getting together in the evenings after work and just practising. Two months or so later, Alexander secured the job for them.
From nine to five o'clock during the day, Ronnie would work on construction sites, and then play music from seven to ten in the evening. This job, however, lasted only about two months. Following that, they were hired by the Buena Vista and remained there for four months after which he went on to work with Eric Gibson of "King Eric & His Knights" in 1958.
Ronnie further developed his musical talents while working with King Eric and according to King, he became one of his most outstanding sidemen, “always on time, always properly dressed, just a good man to work with”. They would work in clubs like "The Skylark Club", Captain Kidd", and "The Bar Mar".
In 1962, it seemed inevitable that Ronnie was destined to lead his own band, and so he formed "Ronnie & The Ramblers", consisting of Charlie Dean - drums, Sidney Darling - bass, and Carl "Flash" Rodgers - guitar. They became a household name for some seventeen years thereafter. Their first job was at "The Big Bamboo" club, and subsequently they performed at the British Colonial, and at "Rum Keg" at the Nassau Beach Hotel.
Carl "Flash" Rodgers
(legendary guitarist that helped in defining Ronnie's sound)
During this period, Ronnie recalls the existence of about 39 clubs in Nassau alone, with nine on Bay Street, and the remainder scattered in the "Over The Hill' areas. Historically, hotels closed their dining rooms around eleven o'clock which left a void for entertainment for their guests. Tourists would find themselves "over the hill", all the way to Fox Hill in the southeast?, in search of live entertainment. Clubs like the Zanzibar, Conch Shell, and Cat 'n' Fiddle, and the Banana Boat were only a few of the clubs that kept the city awake at night.
The bands were very busy developing their craft. Ezra & The Polka Dots, Sonny Johnson & The Sunglows, Tony Seymour, Smoky 007, are but a few entertainers who made nightlife vibrant in the city of Nassau. Additionally, Ronnie recalls that hotels were beginning to employ bands to entertain their guests on their properties.
Ronnie would take some time off and spend about one year in Washington D.C. where he performed at Alfio's. This also was an important time in history, as civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot while he was in Washington. Ronnie witnessed first hand the looting and rioting as a result. Additionally, Ronnie recalls the attitude towards blacks all over the South during his travel. The amazing thing to him was the change of attitudes displayed by whites once they found out he was from The Bahamas.
Ronnie returned home in 1971 to begin a stint at the "Out Island Bar" in the Nassau Beach Hotel. It was during this time that he recorded his some of his greatest Bahamian hits, classics like "Burma Road", "Bahama Rock", and "Crow Calypso". In the latter part of 1973, Ronnie recalls beginning a ten-year run at "Ronnie's Rebel Room" at the Anchorage Hotel. Locals and tourists alike flocked to the club to be entertained by Ronnie and his Ramblers. These years would strongly impact the music of The Bahamas forever.
The rhythms that Ronnie developed during these years were based on Latin rhythms that he'd heard on the radio during that time. The fusing of those rhythms and the goombay rhythms has become a style that has further defined the Bahamian sound. The stress points in goombay music were played predominantly on the strong beats, much like the walking bass line in jazz. Ronnie then adopted the salsa and samba style of bass which emphasized the weak beats and fused it with the goombay rhythms, in turn creating a new style of playing Bahamian music.
Composer Eddie Minnis (one of my featured artist) during this time formed an alliance with Ronnie & The Ramblers and recorded most of his songs about island life. The Ronnie Butler sound mixed with the humor and story telling songs composed by Minnis were a great and successful combination.
Another contributing factor in Ronnie's sound was the introduction of electric instruments. The bands before played acoustically. The softer more mellow sound was very different from the sound created by the use of the electric bass, electric guitar, and the introduction of microphones for vocalists. The volume of the music drastically increased and was quite attractive to the younger generation of Bahamians.
Following his years at the "Rebel Room", Ronnie & The Ramblers would disband. His new group Ronnie Butler & Fire came about in the late eighties and would perform at the "Tradewinds Lounge" on Paradise Island for eight years before the industry took a downward turn in 1990.
For three years following that, Ronnie had difficulty finding work in Nassau. These were challenging times. Ever since that time, the industry has continued to deteriorate, according to Ronnie. The blame for the downward spiral, according to Ronnie, must be equally shared between the artists themselves, and management of hotels and entertainment venues. When the disco era rolled in, if musicians were more disciplined and responsible, management would have had no reason to displace them with the DJ's that accompanied the disco craze. The related problems like tardiness, drinking on the job, and other irresponsible behaviors are said to have greatly diminished the appeal for management to deal with live entertainment all over the Bahamas.
Looking back at Ronnie's career, although filled with many challenges, his contribution has left an indelible mark on the Bahamian music industry. To date, has recorded fifteen albums and shows no sign of slowing down. Millions all over the world have enjoyed his music over the years. Audiences in Boston, Toronto, France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium would all agree that Ronnie is indeed one of our finest entertainers of all time.
Even today, Ronnie continues to re-invent himself. His alliance with producer/musician/composer Fred Ferguson re-introduced Ronnie to the new generation of Bahamians. Songs like that sung with Sweet Emily, "Look What You Do", and "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number" with Count Bernadino brought to the fore once again the talent of this Bahamian giant.
Ronnie Butler has been given many awards for his contribution ti the growth and development of his community. The Cacique Award, Lifetime Achievement Award, and “Member of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (MBE) are but a few of the many awards bestowed upon Ronnie. When asked about them, he simply replies, “these are the people awards, if it weren’t for the everyday people who supported over the years, there’s be no Ronnie”.
After all these years, Ronnie continues to mesmerize his fans and keep Bahamian music alive. Ronnie Butler, a true national treasure.
Swain & The Citations
Date Established: 1974
Island of Residence: Grand Bahama, Bahamas
Genre(s): Calypso, Sixties Oldies
Wendell Armbrister aka Swain, of Abaco, Bahamas grew up in Nassau and did not find his way back to Freeport to reside until 1974. "When I first came to Freeport playing music with Ezra of Ezra and The Polkadots in the late sixties, I did not like it. Couldn't wait to get out of there. " (Armbrister, 2004)
After a visit with his sister for two weeks in 1974, he decided to stay. This marked the beginning of a long and successful musical career in Freeport, known as The Bahamas’ second capital. Swain joined the group "Skinner & Company" that played the local clubs in Freeport, playing drums. Shortly thereafter, Skinner decided to leave the group and Swain took over. This brought about the birth of "Swain & The Citations". Swain had never received any formal training on the drum set but says that it came naturally for him.
During those years, entertainers such as Ezra, Chris Finlayson, and Basil Leslie were all employed within the city of Freeport in clubs like "The Conch Shell", "Sand Piper", and "Kiki Rouge" where popular group T-Connection first performed upon their arrival from Nassau. Swain and his band were kept very busy also. They would begin their musical journey at "The Lobster House", and from 1977 to 1982, they performed in the West End area of Grand Bahama. While there, they worked at "The Inner Circle” and then a small nightclub owned by a Mr. Neely, and following that, a club owned by Pete DeGregory. At the culmination of Swain's time in West End, he and his group would spend some time employed at the "Jack Tar Hotel".
After leaving West End, "The Back Room" would host Swain's group for about one year after which they appeared at the "Safari Lounge". Swain, by this time had already developed quite a reputation for his brand of "Bush" (calypso) music. "We were well known for calypso music and golden oldies songs. They tried to get us to change but we wouldn't do that." (Armbrister, 2004)
Swain attributes his love and appreciation for calypso music to "The Mighty Sparrow", the unequalled Caribbean calypsonian from Trinidad. “In fact,” he mused, “one of the first recordings that I did entitled Sandra, and people thought that I composed the song. It really was a Sparrow song.” (Armbrister, 2004) Still, Swain’s version of the song was a hit in The Bahamas, and to this day, many think it is an original work.
The golden oldies were also a big part of Swain’s repertoire. This also stemmed from his past as part of "The Mighty Makers" in Nassau before moving to Freeport. As one of the group’s vocalists, he often sang songs recorded by Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and other popular American singers from the golden oldies era.
One local singer that influenced him was childhood friend Tony Seymour. He and Tony attended St. Joseph’ School together and remained very close friends throughout their lives.
The author of this project recalls many enjoyable evenings working at "The Connection Room" between 1978 and 1981, as a member of one of two bands (Swain & The Citations and a band called Willpower) alternating throughout each evening. Of course, Swain’s repertoire would consist mostly of calypso, reggae, and other island rhythms while Willpower played a wider mix of popular music which included the same. This would have happened shortly after T-Connection went on tour and moved to the United States.
Swain completed many recordings over the years, a few at GBI Recording Studio with Frank Penn, and others at Jay Mitchell's recording studio. His band was also featured at many Family Island Regattas. In fact, their last performance as a band took place at the Long Island Regatta in 1990. Tragically, following that performance, his guitarist Henry Garland, anxious to return to Freeport, got on a chartered flight and departed before the rest of the band. The following day, Swain went on to Nassau and while there, received the bad news that Garland, his guitarist, had been murdered during a robbery at his home. This was devastating news to Swain. "I ended up in hospital due to a mild heart attack." (Armbrister, 2004) Sadly, this case has not been solved to date.
This event also prompted Swain to give his life to the Lord in March of 2003. The remainder of the group never played together again following that tragic loss. Swain confesses to missing playing with his group. “Those were great times, and we did well! he exclaimed. However, he now performs at his church and recently released his first gospel album. His intended focus now is on recording and performing traditional gospel songs. Much like the old days, he prefers the old songs from the hymnals.
Swain encourages young people to get into their own Bahamian music. “We have lost a whole lot of our musical heritage since the early eighties,” he states, submitting his recommendation that the Government needs to step in and make it mandatory that multi million dollar hotel projects provide live entertainment for their guests. “If these things could happen, maybe the future of music in our Bahamas would look brighter. This of course has been the talk for decades. In fact, most of them do upon their arrival to The Bahamas. But slowly, and surely, entertainment is the first thing to get cut as time goes by. Huge properties all over the Bahamas make little contribution by way of hiring bands on a week to week basis,” explains Swain.
Swain & The Citations have made their contribution to the development of music in Grand Bahama However, it is sad that at this time all over our country there are not many young bands coming up to continue this legacy. Maybe after reading about the many opportunities that can be gained through music, some of our youth will follow the footsteps of "Swain & The Citations".
Date Established: 1977
Residence: Nassau/Freeport, Bahamas & Miami Florida.
Genre(s): Funk, Goombay/Fusion, Pop, Rock, R&B, Disco
T-Connection really got started with the vision of its leader Theophilus Coakley who grew up on the music of Tony McKay, Freddie Munnings Sr., Beginning Of The End and funk music of the seventies in America. The fusion that resulted in the music of T-Connection began to take shape in Nassau at the Out Island Bar of the Nassau Beach Hotel. Although they drew record crowds on the local Nassau music scene, the group found its claim to fame in the city of Freeport in the mid-seventies.
At the invitation of Thomas Mailis, T (as he is affectionately called by all) moved to the Kiki Rouge, later renamed the Connection Room, right in the heart of downtown Freeport. Marco City, (the political boundary in which Freeport is located) was a quiet city with little entertainment during those years. Jay Mitchell would have been the most popular musician at that time.
While Nassau was enjoying a buzzing night life during the seventies with groups like Ronnie Butler & The Ramblers, Kenny & The Beach Boys, King Eric & His Knights, Soulful Groovers, Sweet Exorcist, Mighty Makers, and Rupert & The Rolling Coins, T-Connection would develop themselves and become the custodians of the nightlife in Freeport.
Meanwhile, groups like Earth Wind & Fire, Parliament Funkadelics, Ohio Players, Brass Construction, Bee Gees, Slave, and so many other American bands were enjoying great success in the South Florida area. Of course being right next door, their music greatly influenced what was being done in the Bahamas.
T.K. Records, the label on which T-Connection would be signed, came about as a result of success which the group The Beginning Of The End had with "Funky Nassau". It is said that Henry Stone, who was in the business of distributing records made so much money from Funky Nassau, he decided to form a record company.
Around that same time, the mid seventies, Gary Davis created his international hit "Funk Machine", and Freeport began to develop quite a unique sound that would even influence many of the popular groups from South Florida. In particular, the influences are quite evident in the work of K.C. & The Sunshine Band and other artists who signed with T.K. Records.
T would use the sound of goombay and junkanoo as the foundation for the fusion with the disco and funk music that he played so well. Monty Brown recalls, "T didn't want to be the best in the Bahamas, he wanted to prove to the critics that we were just as good or even better than all of these bands that were recording during that period." (Brown, 2004) With that attitude, T got Gladstone Adderley to assist them as a vocal coach for a time in order to improve even their vocal skills as a group.
T-Connection got their first major hit with the song "Disco Magic" and then achieved a great follow-up with "Do What You Wanna Do" which became #1 and set a record in the Billboard charts for maintaining that position for eight straight weeks. These two songs in particular would propel the group to international stardom. The author was in school in Miami at the time, and attended dances and parties, which rocked with this music, totally unaware that the artists were Bahamians. The sound was different from the other groups of the day, and only later did I realize that I was so attracted to the beat because of the ever so subtle fusion of disco with goombay and junkanoo rhythms, creating a mix for great dance music.
These hits afforded these Bahamians the opportunity to travel throughout America. "The experience was mind blowing, I never saw so many people in my life" (Brown, 2004). Touring mainly the Eastern Seaboard and the Mid-West was an unforgettable time according to T. He described this whole experience as going to heaven. Cargill Creek, Andros would certainly have been proud of its native son at that point. In an interview with Charles Carter, T credits Leroy 'Duke' Hanna who gave him his start in the music business at the age of 16 back in Small Hope, Andros. His first recording was done with Duke on his album entitled 'Small Hope'. George Symonette also greatly influenced the playing style adopted by T.
T also recalls that Berkley was always the life of the band. In fact, wherever he goes, people still ask, where's Berkley? probably due in part to his outrageous stage personality - colored wigs, high heeled boots, star studded shades, and brightly colored wide legged pants (similar to funk bassist Bootsy Collins).
In listening to the T-Connection band, the classical training received by T as a child clearly shines through. Others in the band, who included his brother Kirk Coakley, Monty Brown, Dave Mackey, Berkley VanByrd, and Anthony Flowers (presently performing with Baha Men), would follow the lead of T's discipline and musicianship.
The author had the pleasure meeting T at the age of seventeen, having recently graduated high school in Miami, Florida and invited to play with a band called Willpower which also appeared at The Connection Room. At the suggestion of the bandleader Gladstone McEwan, I went to T for assistance in purchasing a valve trombone in order to accept Willpower’s invitation. He also remembers walking into their condo at Casa Bahama and hearing them live for the first time. The synthesizers stacked on top of one another, drum practice pads, pig nose mini amps, and all the toys that musicians dream about were set up in the main living area. They were preparing to go back into the recording studio and sounded absolutely wonderful. At the end of the rehearsal, I had a chat with T, and without hesitation, he provided the funds for my first instrument. To this day, T. Coakley remains a very giving and fine gentleman.
T went on to become perhaps The Bahamas's most prolific composer/arranger of all time. His orchestrations in the many albums that he recorded, clearly demonstrate the wealth of his musical knowledge. The bar set by the T-Connection is unsurpassed by any Bahamian band then and now, in my humble opinion.
T's frustration with the recording industry came when Capitol Records assigned a producer that really didn't understand the philosophy and desired direction of the band. The contract obliged T-Connection to do one more recording, after which T exercised the option to get out of the contract.
Sadly, our radio stations are only now starting to recognize the invaluable contribution made by this great composer and his fine band. With stations like Island FM and Love 97 playing more Bahamian music, the author looks forward to the day when all stations, as influencers of public taste, would dedicate a greater proportion of their air time to the promotion of our very own great musicians, like T-Connection.
Date Established: 1981
Residence: Nassau, Bahamas
Genre(s): Soca, Caribbean/junkanoo fusion
"The Parkays" was the name of the group that Obie Pindling and other childhood friends started at the age of twelve while he was a student at The Government High School. And yes, the name Pindling does indicate that he is the son of one of the greatest Bahamians of all time, the first Prime Minister of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling.
The Pindling family had made their home at the time in the Regency Park / Soldier Road area. With a passion for music, he continued to pursue his interest in that area. The next musical stepping stone was the band "Misty Blue" which was formed around 1973. They participated in inter-school music festivals and won for the three years that Obie played in the band before graduating.
In 1975, Obie went on to continue his studies in Canada after which he moved on to England to pursue a degree in Law. Obie completed his law studies in 1981 but could not stay away from music. It was then that he formed the band Visage in August of that year.
In the early seventies, Obie recalls Ray Munnings and his brothers of the group "The Beginning Of The End" coming to see the Prime Minister after completing their song "Funky Nassau". "He called me, he said, son, what you think about this?" (Pindling, 2004). Obie thought it was a smash Bahamian hit, but was pleasantly surprised that "Funky Nassau" would become an international hit.
Indeed, Obie attributes his love of music to his father. The late Sir L.O. Pindling came from a very musical family and would play the piano at many recitals in Savannah Sound on the island of Eleuthera as a child. "My father had an uncle, Uncle Luther. We called him the Acklins Joseph Spence, he was masterful on the guitar." (Pindling, 2004) Obie also discovered that T. Coakley's mother and his grandmother were two sisters. Maybe this love for music has something to do with genetics, he quipped.
"The first time I ever went to junkanoo, he took me on his shoulders. The first time I went to carnival in Trinidad, he took me. My dad loved music, he basically introduced me to the world of good music" (Pindling, 2004).
Obie grew up in the seventies, an era when artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles were dynamic acts. The local groups of that era were also extremely talented. The band that stood out according to Obie was "Biosis Now", which included the Richardson brothers. They were like the Earth, Wind, & Fire of the Bahamas, and just simply awesome, Obie exclaims. Another influential artist was Gary Davis of Bimini who at the time was signed to the same label as "The Beginning Of The End" and recorded "Going Down To Raysha" and "Funk Machine".
T-Connection, Leon Taylor & The Roosters, Ronnie Butler, Ezra & The Polkadots, Sweet Exorcist, and one that this author is hearing about for the first time; Lorne Smith & The Jet Streamers were all part of the extensive collection of Bahamian records that could be found in the Pindlings’ home. As Prime Minister of the country, his father was presented with the records of many Bahamian artists, and Obie benefited from these many gifts of music.
Obie has set a course for Visage that is very focused. His love for the music of this region has pointed him to promoting Visage within the region. When most bands are going to the United States and European market, Obie is of the opinion that success for our music lies right here in the region. Actively participating in Trinidad carnival, Obie sees this as a way in for the band. The exposure gained from their performance at Carnival in 2004 has been the band's greatest achievement thus far. Visage truly made a great impression at this festival.
Locally, Visage has developed a great reputation as being the premier party band, providing boundless energy and music at private parties, in concerts, at varied private venues at the luxurious Atlantis resort, and regularly at Club 601 on Bay Street. Visage can boast of being one of the few bands with a brass section as opposed to synthesized brass sounds. Although they've adopted soca music as their style, their strategy has been to fuse it with some of our local rhythms, and they have produced quite a number of catchy original recordings doing just that.
Obie continues to practice law in the Bahamas, but his love for music and his band shines through in Visage’s steady development over the years.
The members of Visage are – Obie Pindling (keyboards, vocals), Drexel Munroe (keyboards), Shawn Ferguson (vocals, keyboards), Colyn McDonald (vocals, keyboards), Ian Young (bass), Erica Symonette (vocals), Sonovia Pierre (lead vocals), Ricardo Jolly (guitar, vocals), Carlos Dean (drums), Jason Ferguson (trumpet), and David Bain (Trombone).
Visit Visage's Website at - http://www.visagebahamas.com/