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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Archive for the ‘Hazel Scott’ Category

The Immigrants (update)

Posted by Michael Eldridge on July 31, 2019

A note from Nonesuch Records that Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks’s album ¡Spangled! (which will include last year’s single, a cover of David Rudder’s “The Immigrants”) would be out soon, together with a lucky score (on my annual visit to Portland, Oregon) of a mint copy of the reissue of Parks’s pan-and-calypso-ful Clang of the Yankee Reaper, prompt me to make my first post in over a year.  The unrelenting horror of the current administration’s treatment of immigrants of color—all people of color, really—should have been the real motivation, I suppose.  But it’s all too easy to lose sight of that particular horror against the backdrop of a thousand others, not to mention the steady thrum of poisonous rhetoric that aids and comforts Aryan nationalist terrorists with guns.

gaby-moreno-van-dyke-parks-spangled-450

I’ve written before about Parks’s cover of Tiger’s iconic “Money Is King,” and so has my friend and collaborator Ray Funk, who in his semi-retirement has become a regular (and prolific) correspondent for the T & T Guardian.  With his permission, and because the Guardian’s links tend to disappear capriciously, I’m sharing two of his recent pieces here.  The first was occasioned by former Carolina Chocolate Drop Leyla McCalla’s cover of “Money Is King” on her album Capitalist Blues:

Money is King TG 22 June 19 (click that link to view the pdf)

(Here’s the official video:)

The other concerns (take a deep breath) Carlos Santana’s cover of a Calypso Rose tune, “Abatina,” written by Kobo Town’s Drew Gonsalves in answer to Roaring Lion’s 1938 calypso “Tina.”  Santana’s version, retitled “Breaking Down the Door,” appears on his critically acclaimed comeback album Africa Speaks.

Here’s Santana, with vocalist Buika, performing “Breaking Down the Door” on the Jimmy Kimmel show:

Links to videos for Rose’s and Kobo Town’s versions are at the end of Ray’s feature (again, click the following link for a pdf):

Roaring Lion to Santana Trinidad Guardian 3 July 19

Two more bits of unrelated recent miscellany, in case another year goes by before I revisit this blog (!):

  1. Billboard reports that Smithsonian Folkways has completed its acquisition of the Stinson Records archives, which among other things will complement its collection of calypso recordings from Emory Cook and Moe Asch, with whom Stinson had a fraught relationship.  (Complicated story.)  Only a brief notice so far at the Smithsonian’s own website; we’ll hope to hear more soon.
  2. Documentarian Eve Goldberg has posted to YouTube her short film about Trinidadian-born piano virtuoso Hazel Scott, who was an enormous celebrity in the 1930s and 40s.  It’s entitled (appropriately) “What Ever Happened to Hazel Scott?

 

Posted in Calypso, Calypso Rose, Carlos Santana, David Rudder, Gaby Moreno, Growling Tiger, Hazel Scott, Kobo Town, Leyla McCalla, Moe Asch, Ray Funk, Smithsonian Folkways, Van Dyke Parks | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reblogging: Take Me, Take Me, Hazel Scott

Posted by Michael Eldridge on February 25, 2014

Hazel Scott testifying before HUAC, September 1950. Photofest, via University of Michigan Press (Media Kit for Karen Chilton’s Hazel Scott)

Over at WNYC’s website, guest blogger Karen Chilton, author of an excellent biography of pianist Hazel Scott, introduces a segment that Scott recorded for “What America Means to Me,” a program that aired on Philadephia radio station WFIL in the early 1950s, on which the era’s “big names” were invited to “wax patriotic for three or four minutes.”  A Juilliard-trained prodigy “of dizzying talent,” Scott was equally at home in the jazz and classical worlds: early in her career, her act was billed as “Swinging the Classics.”  Yet as Chilton emphasizes, Scott used her three-and-a-quarter minutes to speak “not about Bach or boogie, but about bigotry,” in language that “toes the line between cautious and candid.”

Not cautious enough.  Scott’s critical brand of patriotism, like that of so many left-leaning entertainers of the day, ran afoul of Senator Joe McCarthy.  The former “Darling of Cafe Society” and star of radio, concert stage, and screen had recently become the first African-American to host her own television show, four years before Nat King Cole—but an investigation by HUAC was enough to lose her the gig.  Politics and personal life eventually drove Scott to France, where she remained for a decade.  She released two fine trio albums before she left, one in 1953 with Red Callender and Lee Young and another in 1955 with Charles Mingus and Max Roach.  But her years away grew increasingly troubled, and even after she rebounded (and returned to the States), her career never fully recovered.

Though raised in Harlem, Scott was born in Trinidad, and she called herself “an immigrant by choice.”  (WNYC titled its blog post “Say It Loud: Black, Immigrant and Proud.”) Back in 1943 the Associated Press wondered why Scott, who was pulling in $4000 a week in Hollywood when she wasn’t wowing the New York nightclub set, had “never attempted to popularize” calypso, even though she was reputed to own “one of the largest collections of calypso musical recordings in the country” and, after all, “specialize[d] in mixing cayenne pepper with the classics to produce an ecstatic brand of rhythm.”  Scott, who doubtless would have cringed at such patronizing language, modestly demurred that “Americans probably wouldn’t go for that particular brand of music.”  By 1957, of course, it was abundantly clear that they would, after a fashion.  And so Scott finally put her own brand on calypso, releasing a 45 rpm single on Decca with “Carnaval”—her cover of “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” a road march associated with the Duke of Iron—on the A-side and “Take Me, Take Me”—recorded by the Keskidee Trio in 1935 as “Don’t Le’ Me Mother Know,” but also known as “Los Iros,” “Take Me,” and “Take Me Down to Los Iros”—on the B-side.  Sy Oliver led a raucous backup “carnival” band, and Scott herself handled the vocals (with help from an unidentified chorus).

You’ll find lots of Hazel Scott on YouTube, but not those tunes, sadly.  (Here, however, is one of the Duke of Iron’s recordings of “Don’t Stop the Carnival” and the Keskidee Trio’s original of “Take Me.”)  What else is on the interwebs, Hazel-wise—or on public radio’s share of the bandwidth, anyway?  Well:

Posted in Hazel Scott, Uncategorized, WNYC | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

 
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