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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Archive for the ‘Gaby Moreno’ Category

The Immigrants

Posted by Michael Eldridge on July 5, 2018

I’ve always been in the “Patriotism Is the Last Refuge of Scoundrels” camp.  And nothing makes me fume more than the mandatory display of Loyalty-to-Murca that precedes the first pitch of every U.S. baseball game.  Still, I hate to surrender the Fourth of July to the flag-waving, know-nothing, nativist MAGA mob. (In the New York Times, Professor Holly Jackson reminds us that Independence Day was once an occasion for protesting against social injustice.)

Thankfully, there’s national treasure and long-time calypsophile Van Dyke Parks, who has teamed up with the Guatemalan-American singer Gaby Moreno to resurrect David Rudder’s twenty-year-old anthem, “The Immigrants.”  With the gang of “zero-tolerance” zealots running things in Washington these days, the lyrics penned by Rudder, himself a migrant to Canada, are tragically timely.  Moreno, who immigrated to the U.S. eighteen years ago, gives them a heartfelt, hard-nosed reading, while Parks’s arrangement imbues the tune with a touch of (Randy) Newman-esque Americana.

You can purchase “The Immigrants” from Nonesuch Records (and all the usual online music vendors); sales will benefit the Central American Resource Center of California (CARECEN).

Calypso actually has a history with this sort of thing. In the 1940s, when Popular Front leftists fought a previous generation of nativists over the meaning of “Americanism,” “I Am An American Day,” celebrated each May in towns and cities large and small, effectively became a nationwide celebration of newly naturalized citizens from all parts of the world.  Along with other initiatives—National Brotherhood Week, radio shows such as Americans…All, popular songs like “The House I Live In” and “Ballad for Americans”—I Am An American Day promoted ethnic harmony and celebrated the contributions of immigrant groups to U.S. history and culture, as one way of contrasting American liberal ideals against the chauvinism of Europe’s fascist regimes.  Sir Lancelot headed the British West Indies committee at the 1943 ceremony in Los Angeles, while the Duke of Iron appeared on an episode of the syndicated radio program This Is Our Cause marking the 1944 observation.[1] In New York, 1944 also saw the first I Am An American Day Folk Festival at the Golden Gate Ballroom, sponsored by Harlem’s George Washington Carver Community School, a new adult education center founded by radical writer, artist, activist and educator Gwendolyn Bennett. The Duke performed, along with a score of other entertainers and politicians, at the festival’s second and third iterations in 1945 and 46. (By 1947, sadly, the school had been hounded out of existence by the House Un-American Activities Committee.)

I-A-A-A Composite

Undated (1945) newspaper clipping and program, Cecil “Duke of Iron” Anderson Archives, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Cultures, New York Public Library

My friend and collaborator Ray Funk wrote a piece on “The Immigrants” for the Trinidad Guardian. You can also read what Felix Contreras has to say at NPR’s Alt.Latino, and revisit a 2009 profile of Van Dyke Parks for Crawdaddy by Denise Sullivan.


[1] “U.S. Treasury Fetes Singer,” Pittsburgh Courier 3 July 1943: 21; review of “This Is Our Cause,” Billboard 31 July 1943: 12-13.  WINS, which aired “This Is Our Cause” in New York, was the flagship station of the broadcast division of reactionary media magnate William Randolph Hearst’s Independent News Service.  The program was billed as a weekly wartime “patriotic revue,” and it’s possible that Hearst fingered the Duke because of his 1939 patriotic paean “U.S.A.,” recorded with Gerald Clark for Varsity records. Needless to say, Hearst’s “cause”—nativist assimilationism rather than progressive internationalism—was not necessarily the Duke’s.  The lyrics of Duke’s calypso, written by fellow Trini expatriate (and Harlem M.D.) Walter Merrick, extolled the United States not only as a place of freedom , democracy, and material bounty, but as a haven for refugees and the home of Roosevelt’s WPA.

Posted in Calypso, David Rudder, Gaby Moreno, Van Dyke Parks | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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