Ska at the Glass Bucket

Glass Bucket

This is the Glass Bucket Club, a stage that once bore the greats before ska ever existed. This stage helped to shape the musicians who would go on to create the sound that swept Jamaica and the world. Without this stage, it could be argued that Jamaican music would be altered and unrecognizable.

The Glass Bucket Club opened on December 22, 1934 on Half Way Tree Road in Kingston owned by Bob Webster and later Joe Abner. This area of Kingston was a border between uptown and downtown and the club certainly catered to high-class clientele. On opening night, some 700 patrons packed the club to see “the Rhythm Raiders, a new dance orchestra under the direction of’ Dan Williams. These musicians have been carefully chosen. not only to play for dancing, but to accompany the Vaudeville troupe which will be a regular feature of the Glass Bucket dances. Vaudeville acts are to be brought from the United States, each troupe remaining on the island for six weeks beginning January 5th,” read the Daily Gleaner announcing the opening.

Because the club catered to the upper classes and tourists, the entertainment offered was according to established tastes and was frequently dictated by trends in the U.S., such as Vaudeville. But when tastes changed from Vaudeville to the sounds of big band orchestras, the Glass Bucket adapted. It was here, at the Glass Bucket in 1956, that great American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan came to perform in mid July. Don Drummond played trombone as part of Vaughan’s musical backup and Vaughn was so impressed with his playing that she said he likely ranked in the top five trombonists in the world. Other acts included Xavier Cugat and Abby Lane. In the 40s and 50s the people who went the Glass Bucket wore gowns and tuxedos, or suits at least. There were formal shows on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and galas of all sorts.

It was also here that Margarita, who was advertised in Glass Bucket advertisements as “Jamaica’s No. 1 Torrid Rhumba Dancer,” performed her sultry dance. Another advertisement on July 9, 1955 for her performance at the Glass Bucket stated, “Sparkling Native Flooor Show featuring Desir & Rahma in their sensational dance on broken glass, and Marguerita, ‘exotic dancer.'” Margarita’s father, Jad Eid Mahfood, did not approve of her dancing at the Glass Bucket, or anywhere, but she snuck out to do it anyway. When Anita won a competition at the Glass Bucket, her father was there to see it, unbeknownst to her. Her father’s discovery never stopped her though. The Glass Bucket also served as the live broadcast venue of the Teenage Dance Party (TDP) hosted by Sonny Bradshaw which was broadcast on JBC Radio in its early days. Later, Winston Blake played the venue with Merritone Disco, and his moves made him the first King of the TDP.

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires first performed here in 1960. Lee recounted these days for an article in the Daily Gleaner. “When you go to the Glass Bucket you had to have a reputation.  We used to play as an opening act,” for such entertainers as Perez Prado from Cuba and Sammy Davis Junior. Soon they graduated to holding main spots of their own. Lee said the Glass Bucket’s real party days were Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with lunch being served and activities such as rehearsals being conducted during the week. On party nights, when the music was provided by a band before clubs utilized sound systems, the music started at 9 p.m. and by 1 a.m. things were winding down. “By 8 p.m. people started to come in. They expected that you would start at 9 p.m., or they would clap you,” Lee said. Lee remembers that it was also a very peaceful time. “You used to park your car, don’t roll up your windows when you come back everything was inside. Sometimes even the key was in it,” he said. Lee brought ska to the Glass Bucket from what he had seen at Chocomo Lawn, sent there by Edward Seaga to popularize the sound. “Glass Bucket mash up the night. Glass Bucket was for the rich and famous and then for the people. Ska played that role,” said Lee.

Today, the site of the Glass Bucket, which changed names to VIP during the later 1960s, is a shopping plaza.