When we see photos or even some video of Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, we typically only see her in her later years, frail, old, in her habit. But I recently found a photo of Sister Iggy from 1940 when she was just 19 years old. The photo appears in Sister Mary Bernadette Little’s massive book, You Did It Until Me: The Story of Alpha and the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica. The book is full of wonderful information, although very few of its more than 500 pages are devoted to the music program at Alpha. Instead, it is a book more on the Sisters, and rightly so, since Little herself was a member of the Sisters of Mercy and a principal at Alpha Academy for 30 years. She died last year.
I also included a photo of Sister Ignatius in my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music that pictured her in March, 1984 when she traveled to New York and saw snow for the first time. Here she is pictured on the right with Sister Mary Theresa, and this photo was graciously given to me by Charles Simpson, an Alpha Old Boy who is still very involved with the school.
Simpson was a student at Alpha Boys School from 1953 to 1960 and a trombonist in the band. Although we know Sister Iggy’s affinity for music and nurturing musical affinity in her boys, she also encouraged young athletes, says Simpson. “The ability about her, and maybe why she is loved by all the boys, is that if boxing is going on, she’ll be a part of it. She would put on her gloves while in her habit. She was never in any other thing but her habit. Earlier in the day it was black and white, full black all the way down to the ankles and shoes. They had a white breast plate that ran across the chest. She was always playing. She was a complete sports person. She was a fan of the great Sugar Ray Robinson and they were pen pals. She was a tremendous cricket fan. She loved Collie Smith and love Garry Sobers, but when it came to cricket, Collie Smith was her favorite,” says Simpson. He says that as a result, the school excelled at sports like cricket, boxing, soccer, and baseball, winning many national championships. She nurtured a number of Jamaican boxing champions that came from Alpha including Alan Harmon, Roy Lee, and Kid Bassey and soccer player Owen “Ital Stew” Stewart. She founded a baseball and cricket associations for the private school league. “The boys know me because I talk to them a lot about sports and other things,” said Sister Ignatius. She also had a love for world affairs, reading, and history and she was especially fond of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jomo Kenyatta.
I had the pleasure of attending the annual Chicago Architecture Foundation’s open house on October 17th and visited a number of fascinating sites, but none as incredible as the site of the former Sunset Cafe. According to the WBEZ website (that’s Chicago’s National Public Radio station), “The Sunset Cafe, also known as The Grand Terrace Cafe, was a jazz club in Chicago, Illinois operating during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It was one of the most important jazz clubs in America, especially during the period between 1917 and 1928 when Chicago became a creative capital of jazz innovation and again during the emergence of bebop in the early 1940s. From its inception, the club was a rarity as a haven from segregation, since the Sunset Cafe was an integrated or “Black and Tan” club where Afro- and Euro- Americans, along with other ethnicities, could mingle freely without much fear of reprisal. Owned by Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser, the venue played host to such performers as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Johnny Dodds, Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and, above all, Earl “Fatha” Hines and his orchestra’s members: Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan.”
As I stepped up into the area that is now the manager’s office at the Ace Hardware that inhabits the building, I realized that this was the stage, the exact same stage where Satchmo had performed, along with these other jazz heroes and heroines. Chills. Here are a few photos that show what it looks like today. The original artwork that appeared on the back of the stage wall is still there, although it has been covered in places with fixtures, like a vent and cabinetry.
There was also a large sign in the front of the store that they had removed from storage for the open house, a sign that advertised the brunch at the Grand Terrace, which was the second incarnation of the Sunset Cafe. My jaw dropped when I saw the musical performer advertised as Sun Ra. I asked the docents on duty at the site, but they had no idea who Sun Ra even was! Herman Poole “Sonny” Blount (he wasn’t known as Sun Ra until 1952), settled on Chicago’s South Side in 1946. He performed at “Chicago clubs such as Kirk’s Grand Terrace, the Vincennes Lounge, Parkway Ballroom and Budland,” according to the University of Chicago.
Anyway, back to Satchmo. Having just combed through Star Newspaper archives all summer long, and having written about Girl Satchmo (Kentris Fagan) for Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, I thought about Louis Armstrong in Jamaica. I knew he had performed on the stages in Kingston and throughout Jamaica, just as he had on this stage in Chicago, although in Chicago his manager owned this stage so Satchmo was more of a regular here instead of a visiting musician. I went back through some of my records and found that Satchmo indeed did visit Jamaica, a number of times, and because Satchmo was born in New Orleans, and Jamaicans were able to receive radio transmissions from New Orleans radio stations on a clear night, and because jazz was prevalent throughout Jamaican clubs, Satchmo was very popular in Jamaica. His films, like High Society, were screened at theaters like the Rialto.
When Satchmo first visited Jamaica in 1957, it was big news. The Daily Gleaner ran stories on his every move–when he came into Palisadoes Airport, where he would appear, etc. He stated in the article below, “I have met several Jamaican musicians in the United States and it’s a pleasure to be here.” One of the greeters at the airport was none other than Ken Khouri of Federal Records.
Satchmo and his wife Lucille were greeted by the mayors of Kingston and Montego Bay, gossip columnist Kitty Kingston revealed that he was serenaded at the airport by a calypso band and hounded by fans for autographs at the Myrtle Bank Hotel where he stayed, and after his last performance during his 1957 visit, the ambassadors to the American consulate on the island, gave him a private party at their Barbican Heights home.
That calypso band who regaled Satchmo with Caribbean tunes? None other than Lord Tanamo and Count Lasher!
Satchmo returned to Jamaica in 1960 to perform again, and he always remained popular.
When Louis Armstrong died, it was front page news in Jamaica.
It was in 1962 in London that Louis Armstrong met Girl Satchmo, Kentris Fagan, but it wasn’t the first time. A caption in the Star Newspaper on June 28m, 1962 beneath a photo of the two together states, “Satchmo and his girl imitator: In London last month for a Daily Mirror party, world-famous entertainer Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong meets for the second time the only known female imitator of his unique style of singing. Jamaican-born Kentris (Girl Satchmo) Fagan is all smiles as they pose for the camerman. First meeting was in Jamaica in 1957 when Kentris was emerging from Mr. and Mrs. Vere Johns “Opportunity Hour” and “Opportunity Knocks” shows. She has been very successful in England and on the Continent and her records have been smash hits. Kentris expects to be in Jamaica for the Independence Celebrations.”
You can read all about Girl Satchmo in my book. She was quite a phenomenon and after her career imitating Satchmo, she used her vocal abilities to record a number of gospel records. Here’s a small excerpt:
In the late 1960s, Girl Satchmo then turned to a different label for her recordings and she partnered with Tommy McCook and the Supersonics for producer Duke Reid on Treasure Isle in Jamaica, and Fab and Trojan in the U.K. The songs, “I’m Coming Home” and “Take You For a Ride,” still featured her gravely growl that punctuated her natural singing style. But Girl Satchmo was more than a novelty act—she had real talent, real business acumen, and a real conversion. In 1971 she founded her own record label, Kangaroo, and released her own single, “Crazy But Good” as Girl Satchmo and Reggae Kings. She produced the song as well. The same year she put out the song “I Found Out Pt. 1” with the B side, “I Found Out Pt. 2” as Girl Satchmo which she also produced. Girl Satchmo toured Germany and had immigrated to England by the end of the 1960s. She had been traveling there since the mid-1960s when Vere Johns paid her way to England since she was very close with Johns and his wife. She once wrote them a letter saying, “Thanks to you and Mrs. Johns for all I am today. You brought me up and made me an artiste.” Girl Satchmo traveled back and forth between England and Jamaica to perform. She performed in London at the St. Pancras Town Hall and numerous nightclubs, but she returned to Jamaica in the early 1970s as noted in a Daily Gleaner article on August 1, 1971 with the headline “Girl Satchmo for Independence jump up.”
Anita Mahfood, stage name Margarita, had aspirations of one day traveling to the United States to pursue a career in show business, according to her sister Conchita. Here is a photo from the Star Newspaper in 1961 that shows Margarita in her attempt to fulfill her dream of life on the stage. She was not only a rhumba dancer, but she was an actress as well and a performer extraordinaire. Here she rehearses for a performance with Vere Johns Jr., son of Vere Johns and Lucille Johns who were not only both impressarios of the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour (the talent show that launched so many musical and comedy careers on the island), but were actors themselves. This caption reads, “Money Talks Soldier–The curvesome Margarita (noted Jamaican dancer) and Vere Johns Jr., American-born son of Mr. and Mrs. Vere Johns, have teamed to form the latest dancing combination. They are here seen rehearsing the sequence entitled ‘The G.I. and the Girl.’ Junior served three years in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
It wasn’t the first time that Vere Johns Jr. and Margarita had teamed up for performances with a Vere Johns Production. The following advertisement ran in the Daily Gleaner on April 1, 1956 for the Vere Johns Production of “Easter Frolics” where Margarita is billed as the “shimmy-shaking bombshell” and Vere Johns Jr. appears in the same performance.
That Christmas season, Margarita also performed during a Vere Johns Production with Vere Johns Jr. in “Xmas Morning Revels” and the two performed a “Rock and Roll” scene.
In fact, Margarita was so much a part of the Vere Johns Production team, she played the role of a dance club dancer in the documentary, “It Can Happen to You,” which was filmed by the Jamaica Film Unit in the 1950s. In the film, which I was finally able to find last year after many years of searching, Margarita tastefully dances the rhumba in a costume full of ruffles that she herself designed and sewed, and among her are bar patrons enjoying the band and dance. One of the main extras in the film is none other than Lucille Johns herself. Below is a photo of Vere and Lucille Johns, who is wearing the same dress in which she appears in the film.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist: [Margarita] began dancing at clubs all over Kingston and she made her own costumes since she was skilled at sewing. Faye Chin says, “We danced together. We were in a group on stage. She used to do rumba; I do creative dancing, limbo dancing. It’s Alan Ivanhoe Dance Troupe I was in. She was an individual dancer and whenever they’re having performance like pantomimes or the theater used to have opportunity hour, she would dance there. She was a terrific dancer and she taught herself to dance. We became friends and we really became close and we were friends for a long long time until she passed.” Saxophonist Herman “Woody” King knew Margarita in those early days and says the clubs were her calling. “She was a great rumba dancer. The clubs would want her. Of course she had to go. That’s how she earned her living and she enjoyed it too,” King says. Margarita always began her dance the same way with the same air of anticipation, the ultimate show-woman. As the spotlight hits one spot on the center of the dance floor, the music begins and Margarita is in the corner of the room, out of view. She saunters to the center, ruffles rushing through the tables of men, women, who turn their heads to see her passage to the light. When she comes into full view, the rhythms of the drums at their height, the audience is captivated, fully immersed in her powerful magic. She was auditioning for her dream. One day she wanted to dance on the stages in the United States, but she had to make a name for herself.
Margarita performed with the same circuit of performers, as did most Kingston entertainers of the day. She first met Don Drummond in the 1950s at the Bournemouth Club when they appeared on the same bill together. Ads appear in the Daily Gleaner in June, 1955 for Drummond and “Marguerita (Rhumba Dancer)” together on the same bill with others, including Pam Pam & Gloria, jitterbug dancers, with whom Margarita frequently performed. Margarita performed at the Ward Theatre, Club Havana, Club Baby Grand, Club Adastra, Carib Theatre, Glass Bucket, Rialto Theatre, Ritz Theater, and Queens Theatre, among others where she frequently received top billing. She played the role of a dance club dancer in the documentary, “It Can Happen to You,” which was filmed by the Jamaica Film Unit in the 1950s. On November 23, 1955 she performed in a show called the “Sundown Serenade” at the Ritz Theater with Bim & Bam, Danny Hyacinth Clover, Wonder Brothers and Did & Don’t. This type of billing with a theme for the show was a common feature for clubs in an attempt to attract tourists. Another was at the Ward Theatre on Christmas morning 1959 for a show called “Chrismania” which featured, among others, The Jiving Juniors, Lascelles Perkins, and music by Ken Williams and his Club Havana Orchestra. She also performed that same morning at the Carib Theatre for a show called “Xmas Morning Revels” featuring a similar line up with the addition of Vere Johns and Mrs. Vere Johns, music by Frankie Bonitto and his Orchestra. Artists frequently performed in multiple shows all over the city for Christmas. The clubs themselves also tried to capture themes, and Club Havana, where Margarita frequently performed, advertised itself as “Jamaica’s Latin Quarter.”
Before the dance known as The Ska, there was The Hully Gully. It was a time of dances, Land of 1000 Dances, dances like the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Pony, the Frug, the Jerk, and others. It was in this era that The Ska was created by Ronnie Nasralla, of which I have extensively written on this blog. But the Hully Gully got plenty of attention in Jamaica newspapers, including this article from the Star Newspaper, April 6, 1962.
The article reads: “Not since the gay Twenties of the Charleston have there been so many new dance steps. The twist is still raining supreme in popularity, but now somebody has come up with the new dance craze the Holly Gully, also known as the continental. Reason for the name nobody knows, but the dance is just zany. Like the twist, partners don’t touch each other, unlike the twist the Holly Gully requires group dancing and its followers say much much more coordination than the twist. A group of Hully Gullists as they are called form a line facing in the same direction and to the shouts of a caller goes through the movements – strange movements with equally strange names. They dance to such shouts as “Spank the Baby,” “Marilyn Monroe,” “Fidel Castro,” “Slop,” etc. etc. etc.
In the Marilyn Monroe the dancers really get into an imitation of the famed body shaker, complete with throwing the head back and twisting the hips. For the Fidel Castro dancers do an imitation of carrying a gun and plucking a chicken at the same time; don’t ask me why.
It makes for a lot of gyration, and those who like it say a lot of fun too.
Historians of the Hully Gully say it all started at a New York nightspot called Small’s Paradise; and the dance has been getting the place some priceless publicity. It has been the subject of a feature spread in the noted London publication, the Sunday Telegraph, and the television crew of the British Broadcasting Corporation filmed the dance for showing to audiences in Britain. Followers of the Hully Gully say that like the Twist the dance is not only catching on all over these United States but has gone abroad to the Caribbean and Europe. One good thing about the Hully Gully, they say, is that you can learn it in no time. It is danced to the usual rock ‘n roll music; and all you have to do is follow the leader. Hully Gullists predict that because the dance requires more discipline and skill than the Twist it will eventually appeal to the more sophisticated and that they predict will certainly get it on the road to surpassing the Twist. Twist fans on the other hand are saying the “Twist is here to stay.” But we’ll see! The dance originators seem to be thinking up new steps and new dances every day – or rather every night.”
The Star newspaper on November 9, 1961 ran a full-page spread on the Hully Gully in Jamaica, with Alphanso Castro, better known as Boysie, photographed doing the dance. He still dances today, of course, and can really cut a rug! Text from the article’s captions are below.
The Hully Gully, latest dance craze in Jamaica, is danced in a line – somewhat like the Madison. Jazz trumpeter Sonny Bradshaw, who runs JBC’s Teenage Dance Party, says that the Hully Gully originated in the U.S.A. but that Jamaicans have given their own names to the various steps of the dance as performed here. A caller is used for the dance steps of which are named Frank Sinatra, Madison, Yankee Doodle, Billy the Kid, Marilyn Monroe, Baseball, Skittles, and Freeze (end of dance.) Bradshaw says music for the Hully Gully is two-beat and that it is danced to slower blues numbers. Most of the steps are a sort of drag-shuffle. Illustrating positions of the dance on this page are five members of JBC’s Teenage Dance Party.
The Frank Sinatra: weight on right foot which is turned out; left foot forward, heel slightly touching the ground. Lennie puts his clenched right fist in front of the body and the left fist slightly to the left and forward above his head.
Castro, another member of teenage dance party, shows the position called the Marilyn Monroe: legs apart and toes turned out, left hand on hip and raised right arm parallel with the body and bent 45° at the elbow.
The dance ends with the Freeze, performed here by Pat and Trevor. Trevor’s position is almost the same as Castro’s in the Monroe movement.
Sandy, Pat and Lennie from left demonstrate the Yankee Doodle in which all the weight is thrown on the left foot as the hands are clapped under the upraised right leg.
I have long continued the argument that Margarita was a champion, an ambassador, of the Rasta drumming that would go on to become the foundation for the reggae rhythm, and without her, it is possible that reggae would not be the same today. I have found now evidence in the Star Newspaper that furthers this argument.
In my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the Greatest Trombonist, I write: Her relationship with the brothers and sisters in the hills was strong, and so when she performed one time on stage, she refused to dance without the accompaniment of Count Ossie and his group, which were once known as the Rastafarian Repatriation Association of Adastra Road in Eastern Kingston and later became known as The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Verena Reckord writes, “The group got its first legitimate stage break in the late fifties. It was an occasion when the late, famous rhumba queen Marguerita (Mahfood) insisted that she would not appear on a Vere Johns variety show (Opportunity Knocks) at the Ward Theatre on Christmas morning unless Ossie’s group was on the bill. Johns was wary then about using Rastas on his show, but Marguerita was his star attraction. He had no choice. Count Ossie and his drummers were hired. They were a hit. They soon became regulars on Vere Johns’ show and other functions.” Margarita was the one who introduced Rasta music into mainstream culture, as well as the jazz musicians who accompanied them which is why Miller calls her a “seminal figure in the island’s musical and cultural growth.” In Helene Lee’s work The First Rasta, Brother Royer, a member of Count Ossie’s camp, credits Margarita with helping Rasta music come to the mainstream through her tenacity. Despite Norman Manley’s demand that “Anywhere you see Rastaman, you have to lock them up,” Margarita refused to perform unless Count Ossie and his drummers performed, and it was only after the “people got crazy about the new sound,” says Royer, that Rastas were from then on welcomed onto stages. “Great girl! Our Helen of Troy!” said Royer of Margarita. She was more like the Josephine Baker of Jamaica.
So imagine my delight when I found an article in the Star Newspaper, August 22, 1961 that mentioned the exact performance that Reckord referenced! The article reads: African Drums at Palace Hour. Fans who attend the Palace Theatre tomorrow night will see and hear for the first time on a stage Count Ossie and his African Drums, the band whose sounds have taken Jamaica by storm. They will also hear the famous “Carolina” which held the Number One spot on the Hit Parade for son long. Featured in the fast moving “Swingaree” which will be presented between two full length films at regular prices will be: The renowned Blues Busters fresh from the North Coast, the famous Wilfred Edwards, golden-voiced Lascelles Perkins and top favourite Hortense Ellis. Coming in from Montego Bay will be Phonso the Great. For variety there will also be Creative Dancer Margarita, Caribbean Rhumba Queen Yvonne Davis 9Just back from Nassau), whirlwind dancers Pam Pam and Colleen and Jamaica’s leading comedian, the inimitable Bam. The Drum sounds will also feature songs by Skitter and Winston and trombone selections by Rico Rodriques. All roads will lead to the Palace tomorrow night. –C.A.T.
The performances were a hit with crowds of the Palace Theatre, according to a Star Newspaper article on Monday, August 28, 1961. The article entitled “‘Swingeree’–A Big Hit,” reads: Upwards of 2,000eager fans thronged the Palace Theatre last Wednesday night to witness the first appearance of Count Ossie and His African Drums, with some of the island’s top entertainers. Scores had to stand and hundreds were turned away. The show was good to the last drop and every item was a winner from Compere Vere John introduced the opening number to Wilfred Edwards’ last song. First came Lascelles Perkins with two numbers and he was followed by Pam Pam & Colleen in a whirlwind dance number. Then Hortense Ellis gave out with “I am not a know it all” and got two encores, after which Count Ossie and the Sounds took over. The fans rocked to the favourite ‘Carolina’ sung by Skitter & Winston, swayed with Rico and his soulful trombone, moaned with Bobby Gaynair and his golden sax and enjoyed “Babylon gone.” Comedian Bam kept the audience in stitches for about eight minutes. Hit of the evening was the dance done to the curvesome Margarita to the beat of the African drums in colourful costume. She received an ovation. Then came the Blues Busters and the audience just wouldn’t let them go even after three numbers. Caribbean Rhumba Queen Yvonne (Electric Eel) Davis also made a tremendous hit with the fans as she gyrated in superb rhythm. Finally Wilfred Edwards closed the show with three favourite selections. ‘Swingeree’ featuring Count Ossie & His African Drums will be seen at the Odeon Theatre, Half Way Tree, tomorrow night at 8.40 o’clock between two great films. It will also be presented at the Gaiety Theatre on Thursday night at the same hour. Supporting stars for these two shows will be The Blues Busters, Margarita, Hortense Ellis, Pam Pam & Colleen and top Comedian Bam. –C.A.T.”
Credit is due to Prince Buster for first recording the drums of Count Ossie that formed the backbone for reggae, but credit is also due to Margarita, Anita Mahfood, for bringing these drums to the stage, where their sounds mixed in the air, knowing no boundary between upper and lower classes. Until this time, and long after this time, the Rastafari were persecuted and considered the outcasts of society. But Margarita championed their cause and their creativity. She used her status as a headlining dancer, a woman from a wealthy family, and her talent to help bridge the class divide by introducing their sounds to the stage. Just a few days later, on September 8, 1961, a photo of Count Ossie and his drummers appear with the caption “Bearded Sounds.” The following month an advertisement for a show at Adastra Gardens appears for Count Ossie, calling his sound “Strange Music from Africa.” All of this was amid article after article of horrible treatment of the Rastafari, headlines claiming they burned babies as a sacrifice, were lunatics, and were murdered, were common during these years. Here are a few of them, and only a few, from 1961 and 1962:
I post these to put into context what Margarita did by supporting the drums of Count Ossie. She took a great risk. Prince Buster may have brought the drums to the studio, but Margarita brought them beyond the hills, beyond Orange Street, to the audiences that viewed the Rastafari as these articles present them. She was a true renegade and a heroine and we owe her a great debt.