Ska, Ska, Ska! Jamaica Ska!

world fair

Here they are! The Jamaican delegates to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, ready to head to Palisadoes Airport on April 16, 1964. From left to right in the front we have Jimmy Cliff, Eric “Monty” Morris, and Alphonso Castro. Standing from left to right is Prince Buster, Linda Jack, Roy Willis, Sonia Blake, Byron Lee, Janet Phillips, Carol Crawford, Ronnie Nasrala, Beverley Neath, and Ken Khouri.

The photo was taken at Issa’s, a high-end department store similar to Macy’s. The Issa family were a big business family in Jamaica with branches in not only retail, but real estate, hotel, and tourism industries. The Issa’s originally came to Jamaica in 1893 from Bethlehem, Palestine. The first two Issa’s to come to Jamaica were Elias Issa and his son Abraham Issa in 1893. The father and son team first visited the World Fair in Chicago, the Columbian Exposition, before coming to Jamaica on a ship named the Arabian Prince. They were a wealthy family from the start with the equivalent of $5 million dollars today in their pockets when they began on the island. They established the House of Issa in 1894, a company that specialized in dry goods and industrial goods, which later went on to purchase the famous Myrtle Bank Hotel in 1944, the site of many jazz and ska concerts. The family company then built Ocho Rios’ first modern hotel, Tower Isle, another site of many ska-era concerts. This hotel is now the Couples hotel, opened in 1978. They also opened Negril Beach Village, later known as Hedonism II. It is easy to see why the connection between the Issa family, involved in tourism, and Eddie Seaga, Minister of Culture, was important to spreading the word of ska.

The connection of the Issa family to ska was more than just the support of the World’s Fair crowd and Seaga’s endeavor. The Issa’s were also involved in the juke box industry, owning and operating the machines in rum bars all over the island. An article in the Daily Gleaner in 1958 says that a juke box owned by E.A. Issa in Montego Bay was damaged when a man punched it after it jammed and his record wouldn’t play. Juke boxes were critical for entertainment, for bringing money into drinking establishments, since virtually no one, except for the wealthy, owned their own phonograph. Vincent Chin, better known as Randy’s, got his start this way, through Issa’s. He worked for Issa’s, as many did during those days, including Ken Khouri of Federal Records, and he drove around from rum bar to rum bar, taking out old records and installing the new ones. After the old ones were of no use to Issa’s any more, he bought them from Mr. Issa at a cheap rate, set up shop, and then sold the American R&B tunes to the public who had slowly started to acquire their own phonographs from places like Times Store, or Issa’s.

Issa, Seaga, Khouri–say what you will about the monied families in Jamaica during the early years, but love them or hate them, without their support of the creativity coming from downtown, ska may not be where it is today, nor the music that followed. What are your thoughts?

 

9 Rusden Road

rusden

This is 9 Rusden Road, the house where Don Drummond lived with and murdered Anita Mahfood, Margarita in the Rockfort neighborhood at the foot of the Wareika Hills. I took this photo last February and it was my second time visiting the home which a lovely woman named Carmen still lives in. These are her grandchildren sitting on the front steps, the same steps that Margarita climbed early in the morning on January 2, 1965. Don Drummond had fallen asleep earlier in the night and missed his gig with the Skatalites at the La Parisienne Club in Harbour View, a club near the Palisadoes Airport in east Kingston. He never made it to that performance. It was not the first time he missed a gig. He frequently missed performances or was late for a gig. Tommy McCook has said that he went to pick up Don at 8 p.m., prior to the gig, and found him asleep so he left without him and returned after their first set during intermission to try again. Still, Don was asleep, a side effect of the medicine he took, said McCook.

I want to take a moment to logically think about an argument that has been made over the years blaming Margarita for giving him his medication late, causing him to fall asleep, and then slipping out to dance against his wishes. How would we know that Margarita did that? She was dead so she couldn’t tell. Could Don have claimed that Margarita gave him his medication late? Not likely as Don was despondent and what talking he did do at the Rockfort Police Station was a lie since he claimed that Margarita stabbed herself and that was proven untrue. It simply defies logic to argue that Margarita administered Don’s medication that night, but it does put the blame on her so it is interesting that those in disbelief over the incident would want to shift the blame.

Margarita’s best friend, Faye Chin, remembers the murder which was easily overheard by the other tenants of the house. That’s right, there were other tenants in this small home. It was split into four rooms with Don and Anita occupying one. It was furnished with two single beds and a desk that contained Don’s compositions on paper. Faye says, “Now this place was like a house and you rent a room and another person rent a room and another person rent a room. So this woman that her room was behind their room, she said she heard when Anita came in and she laid down on her bed, she heard a scream and said, ‘Oh God, Don what are you doing?’ She’s screaming, ‘Don, what are you doing?’ And he stabbed her so badly. There was no blood. The knife stabbed her in the chest. I got a call early in the morning and I phoned Conchita, her sister, I tell her, ‘Okay, I’m coming to pick you up,’ and I drove over to Conchita’s house, pick her up and we went down to identify the body. She had on her jeans (sobbing) and she had on a shirt with a stain in the front at her waist and she was just laying on her bed on her back (sobbing uncontrollably).”

You can read all about the murder from the recollections of many fellow family, friends, and musicians, as well as the trial that ensued in my book Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist (click the “skabooks” link above for more info). I would love to hear your thoughts on this event that literally changed the course of music in Jamaica forever, for it was after this event that the Skatalites broke up without their master composer and it was after this event that the heat wave that summer ushered in slower rocksteady and subsequent reggae. How important do you think Don Drummond was to ska?

 

Maypen Cemetery

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This is the sepulchre of the great Lloyd Brevett, bass player for the Skatalites. He was always one of my favorites with his little jump to the rhythm as he played, his dreads long and thin like him, like his bass. What a master. His resting place here is located at Maypen Cemetery off of Spanish Town Road and I was able to visit it last February, escorted by the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. Cornwell. Why I had to be escorted is no surprise, if anyone knows this location. Maypen Cemetery is located in West Kingston near the yards of warring factions of the garrisons, the Jamaican term for housing project which then spread to include neighborhoods. Aligned with their political parties, the PNP and JLP, the gangs and their dons rule the nearby garrisons which include Tivoli Gardens (scene of the 2010 raid involving Dudus Coke–see this wonderful article for more info: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz), Olympic Gardens, Denham Town, Tower Hill, Trench Town, Cockburn Pen, Brownsland, and more. Dons rule their garrisons and dictate elections and their micro-economies through the sale of drugs and weapons.

When I visited, Mr. Cornwell was certain to taut the benefits of former prime minister Edward Seaga for his people. He asked me if I had met him and said he was a “very good man.” Cornwell wore a green shirt, an affiliation with the JLP. It was evident which gang ruled the area. Cornwell told me that we could not go into an area of the cemetery I wished to visit, the area where Don Drummond is buried, although it is unknown exactly where because he was buried in an unmarked grave in a section reserved for paupers, criminals, and lunatics. The number of his grave is known, but the numbering system is long abandoned and without record, I am told. Why can’t I visit the area I wish to see? Not only is it covered in bush, graves and tombs destroyed exposing human remains, as I witnessed, but it is also ruled by the gangs. When a “flare up” occurs in a nearby garrison, members of the gangs flood out from the cemetery to clash with their opposition. They are lying in wait. They rule the cemetery like their garrisons so that even the superintendent of the cemetery is not safe to visit, to maintain.

Ska greats are interred here–Lloyd Brevett, Don Drummond, others perhaps–among the violence of the gangs, among the rotting bodies that are dumped here after a “flare up,” among the areas no longer touched for fear that those buried during outbreaks of cholera and typhoid will release their toxins like zombies. Instead of monuments to honor the legacy of these heroes, this is what remains. I say, let’s honor them by celebrating their life, their music, their genius by continuing to carry the torch of their creation. Roll on!

Mama Drummond

doris

 

This is the birth record for Doris Maud Munroe, Don Drummond’s mother. She was born on January 7, 1913 in Flower Hill, a tiny village in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica. Today this town only has a population of 2,000 so it is likely that it was much smaller a century ago. It is likely that Munroe was the surname given to the family by their slave masters. The surname Munroe is of Scottish origin so it is likely that the Munroe family was once owned by Scottish landowners. As indicated on this records, Doris’s mother, Hannah Lee Munroe, was a laborer. The person who signs the birth record is Leonard Munroe, but it is not known if he was a husband, father, or brother. What is evident is that the record is signed with an “X the mark of” which means that Leonard was not literate, not uncommon in rural Jamaica in these early days. It was signed in the presence of Iphigenia McKenzie, the registrar of births and deaths for the St. Peters district. Don’s father, Uriah Adolphus Drummond, was born in Westmoreland in a village called Broughton on May 4, 1908. Uriah’s mother, Rhoda, was a labourer. No more is known of Uriah. By the time Doris was to give birth to Don Drummond at age 19, she had moved to Kingston, perhaps to provide for a more modern birth for her son at Victoria Jubilee Hospital and perhaps to seek more job opportunities to provide for her son.

 

 

Ska Takes Center Stage at the Palace Theater

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This is the interior of the Palace Theatre today in downtown Kingston. It’s hard to imagine that this outdoor movie theater was once not only host to some of the most legendary Jamaican ska and music artists, but this is the very stage that launched their careers. The Palace Theatre was home of the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, a talent show akin to American Idol or The Voice.

Vere Johns was a theater manager. After serving for many years in the newspaper industry, Johns turned to offering crowds a variety show on nights when the spaghetti westerns and musicals weren’t flickering through the tropical nighttime air. The idea for a variety show came from Vere Johns’ second wife, Lillian Margaret May Johns, who thought that entertainment competitions would bring in extra money on off nights. The competitions took place here at the Palace Theatre and because the show was so successful, it was then replicated at the other theaters Johns managed, the Majestic, Ward, Carib, Queens, Gaiety, Ambassador and others.

The Vere Johns Opportunity Hour featured dancers, instrumentalists, vocalists, comedians, and even performers on bicycles as well. Ten acts appeared on each bill and admission was less than a shilling. Vere Johns auditioned performers each Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. Winners were selected based solely on audience approval—who received the loudest applause at the end of the night won the show. Needless to say, this form of selection allowed plenty of opportunity for corruption, such as packing the house with one’s own friends or supporters, or paying off people to clap for a chosen artist. After the artists performed, Vere Johns stepped onto stage and held the cash prize of two pounds over each person’s head until the audience responded with the appropriate level of applause. Sometimes after a performer won, audience members approached the winner in a threatening manner to demand part of the spoils. If a performer won or came in second place, they returned the next week to perform again, so the corruption continued. Winning the popular talent contests assured success in the musical circuit. The experience was done more for the exposure than the money.

So who are these legends who got their start here on this stage? They include Desmond Dekker, Alton Ellis, John Holt, Laurel Aitken, Bob Andy, Derrick Morgan, the Wailers, and Anita Mahfood. In 1997 Derrick Morgan told me, “I started at the age of 17 at a talent show in Jamaica at the Palace Theater by imitating Little Richard, singing ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Jenny Jenny’ that night at the contest. At the contest I sang first. From there, there was a comedian in Jamaica called themselves Bim and Bam and they started taking me around doing stage shows. That was in 1957.”

The stage at the Palace Theatre today should be a museum, a landmark to the music launched here, but instead it is in a terrible state of disrepair. While on this spontaneous tour of the interior in February of this year, the owner told me that there is a remote possibility they will remodel the theater, but it is more likely it will be razed due to safety concerns and expense. The original movie projector is still in the projection booth, a relic of the past, but the ghosts of the early ska era still flicker on the stage, and in our hearts and minds.

Spies, Gun Slingers, and Gumshoes. American Film in Jamaican Ska.

guns of navarone

Here is an advertisement for Guns of Navarone from the Daily Gleaner, January 19, 1963. Certainly it inspired The Skatalites and Don Drummond to create their classic ska version of the American film’s soundtrack. American movies were incredibly popular in Jamaica during the 1950sand 1960s, as were all types of American culture and media, especially music. Spaghetti westerns with tough cowboy stereotypes, and spy movies were favorites. In addition to “The Guns of Navarone” which was a seminal hit for the Skatalites, so too was the James Bond theme, “Dick Tracy,” and “Lawless Street” which was made after the 1955 western movie, while “007 (Shanty Town)” became a big hit for Desmond Dekker in later years. “Bonanza Ska” was a ska version of the classic television theme song played by Carlos Malcolm and his outfit. “Duck Soup” by Baba Brooks was a song in honor of the Marx Brothers’ 1933 movie of the same name.

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires even appeared in the Bond movie Dr. No, the first James Bond movie, which came to film in Jamaica. The Dr. No soundtrack included Byron Lee & the Dragonaires tunes “Kingston Calypso” and “Jump Up,” which they performed in the film as the house band in a scene set in a club. The club in the Dr. No was known as Pussfeller’s bar but they were actually filmed at a hotel and yacht club at Morgan’s Harbour which was located on the main road to Palisadoes airport (renamed to Norman Manley International Airport).

The Daily Gleaner on January 16, 1962 boasts the headline, “Dr. No Team Arrives.” Ian Fleming had already visited the island as early as 1948 and fell in love with the land and its people, eventually calling it home, so it is no wonder that he chose Jamaica as setting for his first film. The film stared Sean Connery and Ursula Andress. The article stated, “Many Jamaican actors will be used in the film. They Include Reggie Carter, ‘Miss Jamaica’ Marguerite LeWara, Eaton Lee, and others. Monty Norman, who is to write the music for the film, will use local bands as far as possible. Director Terence Young will be interviewing local artists at the Copacabana club tomorrow evening, for the cabaret scene.”

As a side note, the following month, musician and orchestra leader Carlos Malcolm and guitarist Ernest Ranglin filed a monetary claim suit in the Supreme Court against the production team, claiming that “he was engaged to compose and write musical scores and supervise the recordings, while Mr. Ranglin claims he was engaged to look after the arrangements.” It is not known what the outcome of that suit was, but the film was premiered in Kingston at the Regal and Carib Theaters on September 17, 1963.

The role of American film in early Jamaica ska is important. Scholar Joseph Heathcott writes, “Such songs reveal the close affinities ska musicians felt to liminal male characters—tricksters, spies, cowboys, private dicks—as well as the ongoing media and commodity ties between Jamaica, Britain, and the United States.”  The incorporation of such imagery in ska and rocksteady only grew and evolved in the English and American incarnations of ska in the subsequent decades as they were interpreted through new eyes.

Can you think of more Jamaican-era ska or rocksteady references to American film? Comment here.

 

Music Is My Occupation

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The Jamaica Defense Force Band (JDF), or as they are commonly referred to, the military band, plays here last February at Hope Gardens in Kingston where I was fortunate enough to see them play under the direction of maestro Albert Hird. There were three bands where boys could play for a paycheck in this arena—the Jamaica Military Band, the Jamaica Regimental Band, and the Jamaica Constabulary Band. The military band was, and still is, a prestigious band where a large number of Alpha Boys gained employment after graduation. In the earliest years at Alpha, Walter S. Harrison became a drill sergeant at the school, appointed by the Jamaican Defense Force, and he even served as the inaugural bandmaster for one year but continued on as drill sergeant through the mid-1960s. As a result, there was a strong connection between Alpha and the military and after graduation from Alpha, boys frequently took positions in the West Indian Regiment which became the Jamaican Military Band after independence. Band boys trained at Alpha either went into the military bands, which provided a manageable living, or they entered into the jazz club circuit, and so orchestra leaders scouted at Alpha to fill their seats.

A number of pioneering ska artists got their start in the military band. Trumpeter Johnny “Dizzy” Moore served in the military band until he decided to leave over his refusal to cut his dreadlocks. He served for three years though and was discharged because he was “not amenable to military service,” and he then went into the club circuit. Saxophonist Lester Sterling also gained employment with the military band before he too left for a chance to play different tunes in the clubs. Sterling and Moore were in the military band at the same time.

Dr. Sandra Mayo writes in her article “A Sound Legacy” of the Alpha and military band connection. “With its emphasis on discipline, and through the development of its music programme and cadet unit, Alpha has served as a training ground for Jamaica’s military. . . . As a feeder institution to the military bands, Alpha through its music programme not only instilled values of discipline, uniformity, and respect for authority and good citizenship, but also prepared students for industrious lives.”

I asked Mr. Hird this past winter about how many of his band members were once students at Alpha. He had them demonstrate through a show of hands. About 75% of the men raised their hands and many said they were taught by Bandmaster Winston “Sparrow” Martin. We think of Alpha as an incubator for the bands that recorded, like the Skatalites and the like, and the clubs and orchestras, but the military band was also, and still is, a way that Alpha Boys went upward and onward.

 

Rude Roots

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Here is a photo I took of the gorgeous and talented Pauline Black on September 14th, 2013 at RiotFest in Chicago where Selecter performed. She is amazing, her vocal range is impressive and what a show-woman! Because my blog focuses on the foundation of ska, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the link between bands like Selecter and the others of the 2Tone era with the roots of ska.

During their set, Pauline and Gaps sang some of their classics that brought the Jamaican foundation into the UK in the 1980s, and by performing them on stage today, they still are reminding the next generation of the foundation. “Carry Go Bring Come” was a Justin Hinds original, trombone solo by Don Drummond, of course, and what a masterful one it is! “Too Much Pressure” included a little segue into “Pressure Drop,” the Toots Hibbert classic. Plenty of 2Tone bands paid homage to their ancestors and breathed new life into these tunes.

Why did they do this? Well, first of all, they liked the sound. When the West Indian immigrants ventured over to what they thought were greener pastures on ships like the Windrush, the immigrants brought with them their culture and their music. This music, when played at house parties or clubs in the West Indian neighborhoods, was a way to remember home, a force of comfort in the land where rental signs brazenly stated they weren’t welcome–No Irish No Blacks No Dogs. Unemployment was rampant and white working-class youth suffered the effects. They lived in the neighborhoods where the West Indian immigrants played their songs from home, and so the sound leapt into new ears and was seen through new eyes. The message was the same–pressure, oppression, racism, struggle–but the sound was changed, blended with the British genres that surrounded this era–punk, rock, pop.

Styles were also adopted and adapted–scooters, hats, sharp suits, shortened pants with white socks and black shoes. And the culture was adored too–the rude boy, which was actually a very dangerous and deadly gangster in Jamaica, was turned into a badass in Britain, a character.

The following is a list of either cover songs or interpretations of Jamaican originals released on the 2Tone label. Since the days of 2Tone, the tradition to cover or be inspired by the Jamaican ska greats has produced thousands of songs:

The Specials:

Gangsters, inspired by Al Capone by Prince Buster

A Message to You Rudy by Dandy Livingstone

Too Much Too Young, inspired by Birth Control by Lloyd Charmers

Guns of Navarone by The Skatalites

Longshot Kick De Bucket by The Pioneers

Liquidator by Harry J Allstars

Skinhead Moonstomp by Symarip

Rude Boys Outa Jail inspired by Rude Boy Gone A Jail by Desmond Baker & The Clarendonians

Too Hot by Prince Buster

Monkey Man by Toots & The Maytals

Stupid Marriage inspired by Judge Dread by Prince Buster

You’re Wondering Now by Andy and Joey and later The Skatalites

Enjoy Yourself by Prince Buster

Madness:

The Prince inspired by Earthquake by Prince Buster

Madness by Prince Buster

One Step Beyond by Prince Buster

 

The Beat:

Ranking Full Stop inspired by Pussy Price by Laurel Aitken

 

The Selecter:

Everyday (Time Hard) by The Pioneers

My Boy Lollypop inspired by Barbie Gaye and later Millie Small

Carry Go Bring Come by Justin Hinds

Murder by Leon & Owen & Drumbago All Stars

 

The Bodysnatchers:

(People Get Ready) Lets Do Rocksteady by Dandy Livingstone

Too Experienced by Winston Francis

007 by Desmond Dekker

 

Rico:

Oh Carolina by The Folkes Brothers

Easy Snappin’  by Theophilus Beckford

Do The Reload inspired by Green Island by Don Drummond

Don’t Stay Out Late by Lord Creator

That Man Is Forward inspired by Joker by The Duke Reid Group

* Source: “Under the Covers.” 2-tone.info/articles/covers2.html

Skanking with Sister Iggy!

sister ignatius turntable

This is Sister Mary Ignatius Davies turntable! It is in the collection at the EMP Museum in Seattle, donated by Sister Iggy herself. Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, also known as Sister Ignatius or Sister Iggy, was crucial to mentoring, educating, and raising the boys at Alpha, and she single-handedly shaped the course of music with her passion and devotion to her boys. She was born in Jamaica in 1921 in Innswood, St. Catherine. She came to Kingston as a child where she attended Mico Elementary School and then became a student at the Alpha Academy, which was the girls’ section of the institution. Sister Ignatius became a member of the Sisters of Mercy, or a nun, shortly after her graduation from school since she felt a calling to their way of life and she started serving at the Alpha Boys School in 1939.

Sister Iggy, once described by Pierre Perrone, a reporter at The Independent, as “bird-like” because of her diminutive stature, had a great love for music. It was because of her passion for all kinds of music that the band program prospered. The band program at Alpha Boys School had long been established back in 1892 as a drum and fife corps, and then bolstered in 1908 when a Roman Catholic bishop in Jamaica donated a number of brass instruments to the school. The same year, Walter S. Harrison became a drill sergeant at the school, appointed by the Jamaican Defense Force, and he even served as the inaugural bandmaster for one year but continued on as drill sergeant through the mid-1960s. As a result, there was a strong connection between Alpha and the military and after graduation from Alpha, boys frequently took positions in the West Indian Regiment which became the Jamaican Military Band after independence. Music taught during these times was solely classical. But under the leadership of Sister Ignatius, the band program grew since she saw the opportunities in music for her boys after they left Alpha. The band program also grew in Sister Ignatius’s years because music was her passion.

It is quite a sight to imagine a petite nun in her full habit, spinning records at a DJ’s turntables, music pumping from the huge speakers for the boys who danced to the hits, but that’s exactly what Sister Ignatius did on many occasions at Alpha Boys School to show the boys the varieties of music they could play in the clubs to earn a living. “She build a sound system, we call it Mutt and Jeff. The reason for that, the people who used to play the music, one man was very tall, the other one is very short, so we call it Mutt and Jeff,” says Sparrow Martin, bandmaster at Alpha and former student. Sister Ignatius bought her sound system from Mutt and Jeff who were sound system operators, modern day DJs. Davy attended Alpha Boys School and returned to emcee events. With the blessing of Sister Iggy, Davy had the Alpha boys at the woodshop create his cabinets and his friend, Leighton Geoff, created the electrical components of the amplification system from parts and knowledge Geoff gained in his employment at Wonards.

After Davy decided in 1964 to leave the life of the sound system behind to spend more time with his wife and their eleven children, he sold his entire set, equipment and music, to Sister Ignatius who added the records to her already-large collection. Sister Ignatius had hundreds of 78 and 45 records in her collection—everything from classical music to speeches by Malcolm X. This collection was built from not only Davy’s additions, but Sister Ignatius would regularly send her students, such as Floyd Lloyd Seivright, to purchase records from local record shops, giving him money for the acquisition and a list of her selections. Sister Ignatius recognized the potential of the music for her boys. Of the music that would soon develop in Jamaica and take over the world, largely the result of the talent at Alpha Boys School, Sister Ignatius once said, “I knew it was not going to stay in Jamaica only.”

Sparrow Martin recalls his days as a student when they all listened to her tunes. “So she would come on Saturdays and she would have a whole lot of record, you name it, classical, jazz record, pop record, all kind, Latin, American, European music, Cuban music, and mento music, and she would say, ‘Okay today we are going to listen to classical music,’ and she would take out Beethoven, Bach, and she says, especially to the band boys, ‘Listen to your classical music.’ Then she’d say, ‘Okay, I’m going to play jazz for you today,’ and she’d play jazz music. Then she’d play Cuban music. Now we don’t speak Spanish but she would take Spanish music from Cuba and she’d say, ‘Listen to the drums, listen to the bass, listen to how they play saxophone.’ She would sit down with you so you have the interest,” says Martin. And Sister Ignatius even took up her instrument from time to time. Vocalist Owen Grey says, “Our teacher, Sister Ignatius, she was a musician herself because she could play the saxophone, she could play the flute, and she was very strict.”

Read more about Sister Iggy and her impact on the life of Don Drummond in Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist. For more information, click the “Ska Books” link above.

Tonight! Marguerita and Don Drummond

june15 1955 don and margarita

There has been much speculation about how and when Anita Mahfood, stage name Margarita or as it is spelled here, Marguerita, and Don Drummond met each other. Some say it was in the Wareika Hills, but there is evidence they met long before that. Here in this June 15, 1955 advertisement in the Daily Gleaner, we see that Don Drummond and Margarita appeared together on the same bill and it is the earliest proof of their performing together. They performed in the same evening of entertainment which was the order of the day–entertainment after movies, between movies, on the outdoor or indoor stages, featured a variety of acts–dancing, comedy, pantomime, and yes, music.

In 1955, those musicians on the bill weren’t playing ska. Performances like these in the early and mid 1950s, even the late 1950s, were largely jazz or American R&B, or calypso. Janet Enright performs here with Don Drummond and the two were good friends from the get-go. Janet was a female jazz guitarist and Don Drummond took good care of her, like a little sister. And we also see Roland Alphonso on the bill too, another skilled jazz instrumentalist who would go on to perform in the studio and stage with Don for the next decade and in the Skatalites.

This advertisement and the placement of Don and Anita in the same place does not suggest at all that the two started a relationship as early as 1955–not at all. Anita would have been only 16 at this point, in fact she had just turned 16 the day before this ad appears. Four years later she would marry boxer Rudolph Bent and have her first child, although not in that order. Still she would continue to perform on bills like this, on the stages of the movie theaters, in virtually every club in Kingston, commiserating with her fellow performers, like Don Drummond and years later, when they grew close in the Wareika Hills, a relationship was kindled–to a devastating end.

Read the details of their lives and relationship in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, skabook.com.