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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ Category

You say “Columbus Day,” Canada says “Thanksgiving”

Posted by Michael Eldridge on October 14, 2013

Claude McKay

That excellent web-aggregator of all things Caribbean, Repeating Islands, (re-)posted Claude McKay’s “America” today, presumably as a kind of sideways acknowledgement of Columbus Day.  Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere have special reason to be dubious about the U.S. national holiday, but the Mighty Shadow wasn’t the first West Indian wordsmith to note that the voyage that inaugurated the European invasion of the Americas also led to the enslavement and scattering of Africans.  McKay’s ambivalent sonnet conveys both pride and chagrin about the dread history—and future—to which he belongs as a Jamaican émigré in New York:

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!

Meanwhile, north of the border, our Canadian cousins choose to give generic thanks rather than lionize the original Illegal Alien.  (Columbus’s “authority was a cocked hat,” sings Shadow, “and his passport was violence.”)  Although Canada has its own shameful history vis-à-vis First Nations people, at least its Thanksgiving holiday isn’t whitewashed in a mendacious myth of inter-ethnic amity.  A few years back, I quoted a snippet of Lord Caresser’s “Thanksgiving Day,” composed when he himself was a fresh immigrant to Canada.  Here it is in full.  Caresser’s congratulations to his hosts on their talent for epicurean excess are perhaps only slightly ironic:

Lord Caresser, "I Dream of Lena Horne" (1947). Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

Lord Caresser, “Thanksgiving Day” (1947). Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

Posted in Canada, Claude McKay, Columbus Day, Lord Caresser, Shadow, Thanksgiving | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Giving Thanks for an American Calypso Pioneer

Posted by Michael Eldridge on November 26, 2010

Wilmouth Houdini, "Harlem Seen Through Calypso Eyes"

The first anniversary of this blog came and went unmarked, and I blame it on Ray Funk, who’s been cracking the whip to get me to finish editing his manuscript for the book portion of a planned “Calypso Craze” box set for Bear Family records.  (I’m working as fast as I can, Ray!)  On a wee-hours-of-the-morning break from these labors—my way of making lemonade from the lemons of post-Thanksgiving Day insomnia—I discovered, courtesy of the “On This Day in Jazz Age Music” blog, that I’d just missed another anniversary:  the birthday of Wilmoth Houdini, who was supposedly born on November 25th, 1895 in Port of Spain.  (He rests in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.)

Houdini himself wrote some fine calypsos about food (cf. “Hot Dogs Made Their Name”), but I’ll commemorate his birthday with an excerpt from Caresser’s calypso “Thanksgiving,” written in Canada in the late 1940s:

From early morn till evening
It was real rejoicing and feasting
[…]
I couldn’t even walk talk nor dance
I ate until I fell into a trance.

CHORUS: So much to drink so much to eat
I wish they keep it three times a week

I love my food-centered holidays, but once a year’s enough for me, thanks.  Now if you’ll excuse me: I’m going to take some Alka-Seltzer and get back to work.  (Soon come, Ray!)

Posted in Canada, Lord Caresser, Ray Funk, Thanksgiving, Wilmouth Houdini | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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