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West Indian
One of the most important early figures in ca-
lypso's spread outside of Trinidad was pianist,
composer, and bandleader
Lionel Belasco
. Belasco
was born in Barbados in 1881, the son of a tally-
man and a concert pianist. Raised in Trinidad, he
trained in European classical piano but was drawn
to Afro-Trinidadian music. By 1900 he led his own
band and in the mid-1910s he moved to New York
City, his base of operations for much of the rest of
his life. (He died there in 1967.) Belasco made his
first records in Trinidad in 1914 and recorded pro-
lifically in New York and elsewhere in subsequent decades.
By the late 1930s Belasco had also become well-versed in
the free-wheeling business customs of Tin Pan Alley. In
Trinidad there was no tradition of copyrighting popular music
and in that absence Belasco saw opportunity. With calypsonian
Wilmoth Houdini, New Orleans-born jazz musician and entre-
preneur Spencer Williams, and concert singers Leighla Whip-
per, Massie Patterson, and Gracitia Faulkner, Belasco jointly
published and/or copyrighted scores of lyrics and tunes adapted
from West Indian sources. One such melody, published in a 1943
song booklet, was
L'Année Passée
, the original tune to
Rum And
Coca Cola
(See pp. 17-22.)
Gerald Clark
, for his part, had come to the
United States to attend medical school but opted instead for a
life in music. A guitar and cuatro player, he formed his own
band in 1928. Three years later, with Wilmoth Houdini on vo-
cals, he first recorded as Gerald Clark & His Night Owls. The
Night Owls performed frequently around New York and it was
they who were chosen to back the calypsonians who came up an-
nually from Trinidad, recording first for ARC and later for D
(Indeed, under various names Clark's band played on the
majority of the calypso records made in the United States be-
fore World War Two.) Clark also appeared with Lion and Atilla
on 'The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour' (Rudy Vallee's popular radio
show), thereby playing an integral part in Americans' first real
exposure to calypso. His band had its own regular Sunday
afternoon radio show on WHN in New York in the 1930s, and
from 1939 to 1941 they played several long stints at the Village
Vanguard with singers like Sir Lancelot, The Duke Of Iron, and
MacBeth The Great. Finally, Clark orchestrated various Carnival
and "Dame Lorraine" celebrations in Harlem throughout the
1940s and was featured in the famous 'Calypso At Midnight'
concert at New York's Town Hall in 1946 (eventually
released on CD by R
). In 1957 he attended carni-
val in Trinidad, where he told the 'Guardian' that he was still
actively performing in New York, and that
“the present craze”
had inspired him
“to look for whatever was new in the calypso
and take it back with him”
('Bandleader Back')
. He died in 1976,
aged 86, after a long illness.
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 10,11
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