Archive for the ‘Calypso Craze’ Category
Posted by Michael Eldridge on April 8, 2015
Posted by Michael Eldridge on January 1, 2015
My family and I spent part of New Year’s morning watching the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on TV—largely because we have dear friends who help build some of the floats. (Go, Sierra Madre! Huzzah, Paradiso! In years past, we’ve been recruited to glue a flower or two, ourselves.) Sixty-two years ago today, the Rose Parade featured a float bedecked with Trinidadian dancers and singers who’d won a contest to represent the float’s sponsor, The March of Dimes, as ambassadors of its worldwide campaign to fight polio. On the DVD contained in our Calypso Craze box set, Ray Funk and I included a short film documenting the group’s trip (the singers were known for decades afterwards as the March of Dimes quartet), and this morning I was reminded that I’d meant to post some supplemental materials to the set’s “Extra-Illustrated” website.
Here, for example, are eight seconds of home-movie video of the March of Dimes float (don’t blink!):
Next, courtesy of the New York Public Radio archives, you can hear the Trinidadians performing five days later on the steps of Manhattan’s city hall as part of a longer program broadcast on municipal station WNYC. (WordPress still won’t let you embed many audio players, unfortunately, but you can navigate to WNYC’s site via the link above and stream the entire program there.)
And finally, a grainy photograph and newspaper story from the Trinidad Guardian marking the performers triumphant return (thanks to Ray Funk):
Speaking of Calypso Craze: the set has been out since August, and although we couldn’t organize a New York event in time for Brooklyn carnival, Ray will be down in Trinidad doing a carnival launch there in a few weeks. Meanwhile, New Year’s Day seems as good a time as any to toot our own horns. Here are some of the reviews and features available online.
- Planet Fruit (Johannes Paetzold, Radio Eins)
- WDR5 (Klaus Walter)
- Stefan Maelck includes Calypso Craze (along with my hero Jeff Tweedy!) in the week’s “Take 5,” a selection of five notable new releases, on MDR Figaro (audio)
- Brenda Nelson-Strauss in Black Grooves
- Nigel Campbell in Caribbean Beat
- Mitchell Hurley in Record Collector (scan | online)
- Johan Appel Rostlund in Sonic
- Mick Houghton in Uncut (scan | web)
- Charles de Ledesma in Songlines
And (added February 23, 2015)
- B. C. Pires in the Trinidad Guardian
We appreciate the attention and the kind words. Happy New Year!
Posted by Michael Eldridge on May 27, 2014
When Allied Artists recruited Herb Jeffries for Calypso Joe, its rush-release entry in the summer 1957 Calypso Craze derby, the former Ellington Orchestra crooner had no experience with the genre. But plenty of other would-be calypso stars had managed to surmount that obstacle, and besides, once Harry Belafonte refused to sign on to the project, how many other light-skinned African-American singers with sultry good looks were left? (Granted, the forty-something Jeffries was already a bit long in the tooth, and his sex appeal was more Rat-Pack than racy, but he could still strike a soulful pose and pull off a plunging neckline.)
As it turned out, the film wasn’t awful (by the standards of Calypso Craze films, anyway). It had a young Angie Dickinson, for one thing, and Jeffries brought a certain élan to his performance as a devil-may-care bandleader who helps his bland leading-man buddy pursue ex-girlfriend Dickinson to Trinidad in order to foil her impending marriage to a Latin lothario. (See the trailer at HistoricFilms.com.) Jeffries was pleased enough with his own vaguely Latin material to gather it onto an LP, puzzlingly titled Jamaica, that opened with the super-heated “Devil Is a Woman”:
His attenuated ethnicity may have been an asset in the studio’s eyes, but from his first film roles as the “Bronze Buckaroo,” black America’s answer to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, in the 1930s, the multi-racial Jeffries proudly identified with African Americans, even if he didn’t always identify as an African American. Active—and in good voice—well into old age, Jeffries still performed regularly as a nonagenarian and recorded his last album at age 95. He died yesterday at “about a hundred” (as Terry Gross delicately put it) in suburban Los Angeles. You can read accounts of his life in the Times (New York or Los Angeles).
Posted by Michael Eldridge on May 9, 2014
Earlier this week, Bear Family Records announced the imminent (July 25) release of Calypso Craze: 1956-57 and Beyond, a 6-CD + 1-DVD + 170-odd-page-book box set, compiled and written by Ray Funk and yours truly, with pristine transfers by Christian Zwarg and truly snazzy design by Mychael Gerstenberger of Malbuch Berlin. It’s got some well-worn tracks, together with scads of rarities and obscurities, plus the first-ever issue (that we know of) of the delightfully cheesy Calypso Joe, starring Herb Jeffries and Angie Dickinson.
You can pre-order from Bear Family (for the princely sum of €
162142—worth every cent!), and you can also preview the first ten pages of the lavishly illustrated coffee-table-style book. Oh—and we’ve started up a supplemental website, too.
In case you were wondering: the economics of this sort of project are such that Ray and I don’t stand to see a penny from it. But we certainly hope enough folks will shell out for the set to ensure that Bear Family recoup their production costs.
Go on: go crazy!