Stanley Motta, Recording Pioneer

From the Daily Gleaner, March 12, 1958

From the Daily Gleaner, March 12, 1958

Stanley Motta is always mentioned as an early pioneer in the ska industry since he had the first recording studio on the island, although they were not pressed there–Motta sent the acetates to the U.K. for duplication. But Motta began the recording industry in Jamaica. His recording studio was opened in 1951 on Hanover Street and his label, M.R.S. (Motta’s Recording Studio), recorded mostly calypso and mento. Motta’s first recorded in 1952 with Lord Fly whose birth name was Rupert Lyon. It is to be noted that in his band on these recordings were Bertie King on clarinet, an Alpha Boys School alumnus who would go on to have a successful jazz career in Europe, as well as Mapletoft Poule who had a big band that employed many early ska musicians and Alpha alumni. Motta also recorded artists like Count Lasher, Monty Reynolds, Eddie Brown, Alerth Bedasse, Jellicoe Barker, Lord Composer, Lord Lebby, Lord Messam, Lord Power, and Lord Melody (good Lord!).

 

There is a strong ska connection too. While I originally thought and posted that Baba Motta was Stanley Motta’s little brother and got that misinformation from Brian Keyo (here: www.soulvendors.com/rolandalphonso.html), I have been corrected by mento scholar Daniel Neely, as you will see from his fantastic and helpful comments below. They, in fact, are not related. Baba Motta was a pianist and trumpeter who also played bongos at times. Roland Alphonso performed with Baba Motta and Stanley then employed Roland to play as a studio musician for many of his calypsonians. Baba Motta had his own orchestra based at the Myrtle Bank Hotel. Baba Motta also recorded for his brother Stanley Motta with Ernest Ranglin. And other ska artists who recorded for Stanley Motta include Laurel Aitken and Lord Tanamo. Rico Rodriguez also says he recorded for Stanley Motta. Theophilus Beckford also performed for other calypsonians that Motta recorded, playing piano before he cut his vital tune “Easy Snapping” for Coxsone, the first recognized ska recording.

 

So who was this Stanley Motta character and what was his interest in Jamaican music? Well as most Jamaican residents know, Motta was the owner of his eponymous business that sold electronics, camera equipment, recording equipment, and appliances. They also processed film, if you remember that! Motta started his business in 1932 with just two employees. Motta’s grew to hundreds of employees over the years and they sold products from Radio Shack, Poloroid, Hoover, Nokia, and Nintendo, to name a few. Stanley Motta was born in Kingston on October 5, 1915. He was educated at Munro College and St. George’s College. He was married twice and has four sons, Brian, David, Philip, and Robert.

 

Motta chose to get into recording perhaps because it was a new industry for the island. And as a businessman, he saw that there were tourists who flocked to Jamaica with spending money, and in an effort to capture some of that money, he began recording to send them home with a souvenir. Many of these calypso and mento recordings for MRS were intended to be souvenirs, a take home example of the sounds enjoyed while on the north coast beaches. In fact, later Motta would serve on the board of the Jamaica Tourist Board from 1955 to 1962, so this was a focus for Motta. He recorded 78s, 45s, but also 10 full-length LPs including “Authentic Jamaican Calypsos,” a four volume series targeted at tourists upon which Roland Alphonso is a featured soloist on the song “Reincarnation.” In short, Motta was an entrepreneur, so his interest in recording came from a vision to fill a need, and he quickly moved on into more enterprising endeavors when he saw that need was being met better by others, like Federal Records, a physical pressing plant, and he chose to focus on his retail stores instead, stores which are still in business today.

 

Motta was also involved in broadcast, but not as you might think. In 1941, after viewing a program that was broadcast on NBC, Motta was so moved by the content of the program titled “Highlights of 1941,” that he wrote to NBC to obtain a recording of this broadcast. He secured the one-hour program which he then showed for audiences at the Glass Bucket Club and he used donations from the screening to support war funds. The program dramatized many of the events of the year interspersed with real footage of Pearl Harbor and the milestones leading up to World War II.

 

Motta was likely also a supplier for many sound system operators, as you can see from the advertisement above. He sold amplifiers, speakers, and all types of recording equipment so without his influence, the face of Jamaican music would not be the same, in many ways. Share your stories, memories, and research on Stanley Motta here and keep the dialogue going!

 

Here are a number of links to more information on Stanley Motta and his recording legacy:

 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1842828

http://www.mentomusic.com/1scans.htm

http://bigmikeydread.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/stanley-motta-mottas-recording-studio-kingston-mrs/

 

 

 

 

14 comments

  1. Hi Heather! Love your site! And it’s great to see a little chat about Stanley Motta!

    Just a few quick points: Stanley Motta was indeed the first to make commercial records of local music available for purchase, however, the Lord Fly records you put to 1952 were actually available in December, 1950. (The piano player on those sessions, btw, was a guy named Dan Williams, not Mapletoft Poulle; also, IIRC Bertie King wasn’t on that first batch of early, early recordings, as there is no clarinet on them.)

    Also, while Motta was *among* the first to have a “studio” (and I think that in this context “studio” simply means “a room with a piano”) he wasn’t *the* first to have one, nor was he the first to record locally. The first recording-capable studio in Jamaica was at ZQI, which set up its recording division in 1948. (I was told that ZQI recorded tracks fairly early on that Motta released years later, BTW.) The first *recordings* pertinent to this discussion were made by Ken Khouri, who first started advertising a recording service (which was similar to Motta’s) in May 1947.

    Finally: Baba and Stanley weren’t brothers. As far as I know, Baba was from Spanish Town, Stanley were from Kingston and they represented different parts of the Motta family. I don’t know how they were related, but I imagine they probably were somehow.

    • Daniel, it is so good to hear from you and have you involved in the dialogue, thank you. And respect to you and your work as well!

      I have made the change about their relation, or lack thereof, above and noted where I obtained the misinformation (Brian Keyo), and default to your expertise on these other notes! Thank you again, Daniel.

  2. Rolando Alphonso is the source that “Baba” Motta was younger sibling to Stanley.
    I’ve not been able to corroborate that, but have learned that “Baba” shared his first name and at least middle initial with Stanley’s father.

    Daniel, you say they weren’t brothers but also that you don’t know how they were related. Wouldn’t you agree that lacking definitive info we should go with Alphonso’s account?

    • No, I wouldn’t agree because I think I my info was pretty solid to begin with. Some years ago when I was doing my doctoral work, I spoke with two of Stanley’s kids, Brian and Philip. These were productive conversations about his dad and his family, but this relationship detail wasn’t something I remember either of them mentioning. In 1951, there was a feature about Baba in the Star and since Stanley was getting his record business “do” into gear at that time it would have made sense to get a plug in for his brother. But again, no mention.

      It’s worth mentioning that Stanley did, in fact, have a brother named Nathaniel, who died in 1999. I know that he was not Baba. First off, Charles Hyatt told me it wasn’t so. (Charles and Baba were close friends; when Charles got married, Baba was his best man.) Also, in 1994, Hedley Jones wrote a piece for the Gleaner called “Our Musical Heritage” and didn’t mention a relationship with Stanley. However, he DOES say that Baba died in 1988, which is long before Nathaniel’s passing. So based on this evidence alone it’s pretty clear they weren’t brothers. I think Roland had it wrong.

      Just to nail this down, though, I just got off the phone with Hedley, who confirmed that no, indeed, Baba and Stanley were not just not brothers, they weren’t related at all. The two men were from completely different families, of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, from two different parts of Jamaica.

      This being said, more research is needed on both men, but especially Baba. Such a fascinating and important early musician!

      • Thanks for the response and info Daniel. I agree more research is needed.
        That’s great that you spoke with Charles Hyatt. I’ve read When Me Was A Boy more than once.
        Fascinating that Hedley is certain they weren’t related. Is he aware that Baba’s name, Alfred E. Motta, is same as Stanley’s father? Sure Roland’s account could be wrong, but wouldn’t it be something if they weren’t related yet both named Alfred Evelyn Motta? I don’t know Baba’s full name, just his first and that his middle initial was E.
        Any info on Stanley’s father having children outside the marriage?
        McCook and Mickey O’Bryan gave details on seeing Baba perform in Manhattan after he’d emigrated to the States and remarried. McCook must have seen him shortly before his passing, provided 1988 is correct date of death. Ever seen day or month?
        Cause might’ve been cancer as O’Bryan mentioned that Baba told him he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
        In addition to the Live at Myrtle Bank LP from 1957, there’s an LP of standards he likely pressed up himself in US.

        • It *is* some coincidence that they share a name! No, I’ve never come across an obit for Baba, although I have looked.

          I did find out some neat info on Alfred (Stanley’s father), though. Turns out, he was a man of some serious standing and apparent moral character. He was known as a shrewd and successful businessman but more importantly, he was a solicitor for the Jamaican Supreme Court (I wonder how well he knew Norman Manley). His big hobby was horse racing (he bred horses and founded a couple of racing associations). He died in NYC in 1932 after having traveled there in search of medical care. I also found that he lived on Hope Road, which reminded me that I’d once heard that the Motta family owned 56 Hope Road, but that’s little detail I haven’t been able to verify. (I do know that the Mottas called their house “Maryfield”; if this rings a bell for any Marley scholars out there, you know, chime in!)

          BTW, one of my favorite things about Baba Motta is that the year Gil Hodges became the manager of the New York Mets he wrote a song called “Up the Hill With Gil!” The manuscript is at the Library of Congrefs.

          Also this, from the Omaha World Herald, 1964 (yes, Nebraska):
          http://wshso.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/omaha-1964.pdf

          • There should’ve been an obit on Baba in Gleaner although he probably died in the US.
            Good info on Stanley’s father. Another horse racing pioneer who founded Jamaica Turf Club, and is credited with combining it with Knutsford to create Caymanas, is Dewsaram Tewari, father of producer Dada.
            Fascinating that Baba wrote a tune about Gil Hodges. He must have been especially thrilled by the Amazins.
            Gots be a good tale behind that cow town gig in Nebraska, exotic indeed! Cool find.

          • Yeah, pretty cool find! I wish someone would digitize the Star, the Jamaica Times and Public Opinion too, because each one is interesting and has a different perspective from that of the Gleaner – imagine what you’d find! Don’t get me wrong, I think having the Gleaner online is amazing and a game-changer, but it only represents one side of the story. Generally speaking I think the Star did a much better job with music. The other two papers weren’t music heavy, but they both had really interesting perspectives that differed substantially from the Gleaner’s, and occasionally covered things that were of musical interest.

  3. I really enjoyed reading about Motta’s recording from you guy’s perspective (Heather’s here). One thing that always kept me curious was this *debate* between Ken & Stanley as far as who was the first to release local recordings. I knew that Stanley started with his releases after he came back from Europe/Uk before he *made* them in Jamaica but was Ken releasing 100% homemade stuff before Motta did? (if that makes sense). I have never read anything solid about ZQI as of yet Daniel and I surely would enjoy to do so as I am working on a project about the backbones of the recording industry, the industrial / mechanical part in fact.

    Daniel, I can relate to your position on the Baba question but at the same time we *know* that artist/people tend to affirm certain points for *credibility* purposes on their behalf. I am not saying it was/is the case here but knowing for sure would be great.

    • correction:

      *Brian*, I can relate to your position on the Baba question but at the same time we *know* that artist/people tend to affirm certain points for *credibility* purposes on their behalf. I am not saying it was/is the case here but knowing for sure would be great.

Leave a Reply