We all know that words can have multiple meanings and that context is everything. As a student and teacher of rhetoric, I will refrain from digressing here, but suffice to say that when The Specials in the 2Tone era chose their name, the word “specials” was a reference to the one-off acetate recording (later called the dubplate) that sound system producers would use to test on their audience to determine reception. If the crowd liked it, they pressed vinyl for sale in their shops. It was special because it was one-of-a-kind until the other recordings followed. This was apropos for the 2Tone band because they were one-of-a-kind, others did follow, and they also paid respect to the Jamaican ska influence.
But prior to The Specials in the 2Tone era, and prior to specials in the recording and sound system era, there was another Specials–Doc Bramwell and the Specials. They were sometimes billed at Doc Bramwell and the Specials, sometimes as Doc Bramwell and the Springfield Specials, and sometimes as Doc Bramwell and the Springfield Special Orchestra. Doc Bramwell was born Oscar Bramwell in 1907. He was a trumpet player and band leader for this 11-piece orchestra. The first record of their performance was in a Daily Gleaner advertisement in the December 21, 1938 issue on the very same page as an article titled “Capone Held ‘Dangerous'” on the gangster that would go on to inspire Prince Buster and subsequently The Specials in the 2Tone era. But Doc Bramwell’s orchestra was originally called “His Bournemouth Boys” since they performed at the Bournemouth Beach Club in southeastern Kingston (the site is still undergoing reconstruction today). They also performed that holiday season as Doc Bramwell and His Band as well as Dob Bramwell and His Swingsters at the Lucas Cricket Club for “invited guests only,” and in this era of segregation, one can only assume what that means.
They performed dance music and orchestra music for tourists and the wealthy who came to visit Jamaica which was still a British colony for another two-plus decades. They were especially popular at the Springfield Beach Club since tourist liners like the S.S. North Star would arrive and deliver instant clientele looking for a “jolly time.”
What did the term “Specials” mean for Doc Bramwell’s band? The following article explains the nomenclature:
So CHEERS! Maybe I’ll name the next band The Green Gras-ska-ppers!
Original Sound Clash
Doc Bramwell and The Specials rose to fame through winning competitions–against other orchestras. That’s right, it was the original sound clash! The first one took place, according to the Daily Gleaner on March 23, 1939, at the Carib Theatre. The article stated, “Springfield Club’s orchestra, ‘Springfield Specials’ proved their worth as one of Jamaica’s best orchestras on Sunday morning when they won a contract to appear at the Carib Theatre during the summer season. Altogether three orchestras went up to the Carib on Sunday for auditions, but it was not difficult for the judges to choose the best. Playing with their usual mastery of the difficult modern swing-tempo, the Specials came through, with flying colours, especially in their interpretation of Jamaican melodies. The specials will appear two or three times a week at this theatre with native shows; and it is believed that the Carib management will also bring down American entertainers sometimes for the amusement of their public. These also will be accompanied by the ‘Specials.'” The rest of the article provided information on the identity of the judges.
The next sound clash (to be clear, it wasn’t called that, as this is a modern moniker) took place when Doc Bramwell and The Specials performed at the Palace Theatre in a contest judged by public applause which was billed as the “Knockout Orchestra Contest.” The Specials faced off against Swaby’s Pep Wizards.
Here is how reporters promoted the competition:
The Specials won that round and went on to the next elimination:
The Specials were named victors, moving on to face Steve Dick and His Orchestra on April 20, 1939, all the while playing on tour ships and at the Springfield Beach Club. Unfortunately, they lost that round, but boy, what a ride! Still, they performed all that summer at the Carib Theatre and the Springfield Beach Club.
If you’re thinking that this competition sounds a little like the Vere Johns’ Opportunity Hour, you’re not that far off base. Vere Johns and his wife Lillian “Lady Luck” Johns started their talent show competition in Savannah, Georgia in 1937, bringing it back to Kingston in 1939. Who performed backup music for many of those talented youngsters looking to get their start on the Palace Theatre stage during Opportunity Hour? Why none other than Doc Bramwell and The Specials themselves.
They also performed at the Glass Bucket, at gala events for nurses, and alumni events for local high schools. At Sea View Park on November 11, 1941 they gave patrons a “night of Jump, Swing, and Jive!” They performed multiple times a week, every week from 1939 through 1943. In 1944, however, Doc Bramwell, whose band was now billed as the Jive Gentlemen, performed only sporadically. Whereas he would perform five times in two weeks, Bramwell only performed five times in that one year. 1945 seemed to pick back up for Doc Bramwell whose band was now known as the Gay Caballeros and they performed at the Palmerston Club on East Queen Street. He played up until the week before his death. Doc Bramwell never married and died at Kingston Public Hospital at the age of 39 on November 19, 1949 of a perforated gastric ulcer which became blood borne causing toxemia. The newspaper account from the Daily Gleaner on November 11, 1946 follows:
Sister Iggy’s Garrard turntable, Museum of Pop Culture
Sister Iggy was a deejay. A selector. A collector.
In order to help instruct her boys in the Alpha Boys’ School Band, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies curated her own record collection, enlisting the help of Alpharian Floyd Lloyd Seivright who sadly passed away in November 2018. Seivright, Winston “Sparrow” Martin, and numerous other Alpha Boys had told me about Sister Ignatius playing her record collection for all the boys, and I always wondered–exactly what was in her collection.
Knowing that Sister Ignatius sold a large number of artifacts to the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle in 2003 in order to raise much needed funds for her boys, I consulted the staff to inquire. This museum was owned by Microsoft founder Paul Allen and rumor had it he had purchased her collection personally since he was an avid record collector himself. Sure enough, I received a list of Sister Ignatius’s records, all located at the MoPop! There are over 600 records that were part of her collection, now housed in storage at the MoPop in Seattle, along with other artifacts of Jamaican national heritage such as the iconic Alpha Boys’ School sign, one of Don Drummond’s trombone and case, photos, and Sister Ignatius’s Garrard turntable (photo above).
Kenneth Davy, Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem
Daily Gleaner, Feb. 14, 1958
You can read all about Alpha Alpha Boys MoPOP Material Query_SI AlbumsBoys who recall Sister Ignatius spinning records for them, how she helped to build and retain the Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem for fundraisers at the school, and how Seivright made these purchases for Sister Iggy in the book Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music which I authored with Adam Reeves. Click on the home page of this site to see all of my books for sale. You can also read more about Sister Iggy and the Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem HERE, and her turntable HERE. But in the meantime, here is the list of Sister Mary Ignatius Davies’ records!
You can hear it in her voice–she is definitely her mama’s child. But Jaelee Small does not, by any means, sing in the shadow of her mother, Millie Small. Jaelee is her own woman, with her own sound and her own deeply creative vision which is on full display in her new EP titled Memoirs (Part II). This five-song collection, released on October 11th, showcases the many facets of Jaelee–sweet and glimmering, catchy and feisty, soulful and layered. Woman has got some chops!
This is Jaelee Small’s first EP. She studied at LCCM, the London Centre of Contemporary Music, graduating with honors and earning a bachelor of arts degree in Vocal Performance and Music Production.
Check out Jaelee’s new video for the enchanting “Memoreveolody.” This song is a soundscape, aural poetry, a wisp of light and air. Her video for “Home” is a fun and catchy breakup song, and “Tic Tok” channels Kate Bush with dramatic vicissitudes in pitch that skip effortlessly like a fluttering butterfly. “Small World” is ethereal layer upon layer of harmony.
This work was recorded at Antonio’s Fish Factory Studio, St. Johns Studio, and Steve’s Flat and was mastered by Mike Cave at Loft Mastering in Liverpool.
Though she is the daughter of Millie Small, Jaelee Small’s voice, both in its physicality and personality, is all her own.
I was sad to learn that Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga died yesterday on his 89th birthday. Though not a fan of his politics to say the least, I do admire his passion, dedication, and support of Jamaican music–especially folk music and ska. His contributions to Jamaican culture are undeniable.
My most recent book, Operation Jump Up: Jamaica’s Campaign for a National Sound, revolves around Edward Seaga as a prime mover in promoting ska as a way to shape Jamaica’s newly-independent identity. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Seaga in February, 2015 when Byron Lee’s daughter brought me to his office at the University of the West Indies Mona.
Mr. Seaga is a complicated character. He was a champion of his people, deeply loved them and was devoted to them, but he also was ruthless. He, in many ways, embodies Jamaica and its many facets and dichotomies.
The following is an excerpt from my book that tells of Hon. Edward Seaga’s beginnings and his support of Jamaican music:
… Edward Philip George Seaga, born in 1930 in Boston to Jamaican mother Erna Alleta Maxwell and Lebanese-Jamaican father Phillip George Seaga. He was born in Boston since both of his parents resided there after marrying in the city. But they soon returned to Kingston, Jamaica when Edward was just three months old and he attended school at St. James and Wolmer’s High School. Edward headed back to Boston to attend Harvard and graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social relations, a field that would serve him well in many ways.
As part of his research as a student, Seaga channeled his curiosity and interest in Jamaican folk music and traditions and studied the people of rural Jamaica, recording it and producing it for an album by Folkways for the Smithsonian Institute. Seaga says this was not popular with his family, particularly his father. In his induction as a fellow of the Institute of Jamaica on May 1, 2006, Seaga told the crowd, “My father could be heard at the breakfast table grumbling loudly as I replayed the tapes of the revival sessions I attended the night before. He repeatedly asked my mother in an audible voice, ‘Is this what I sent him to Harvard for?’” And Seaga told NPR’s Michel Martin on December 27, 2012, “They didn’t think good of it at all. My mother had to protect me from my father. He thought he had wasted his money. But it turned out, eventually, that it had a link to political life, and that’s how I got into politics because that study that I did eventually made me realize that there was work to be done in the folk society of the country and in helping the people who are poor.”
Seaga lived on the west side of Kingston and saw the value in both recording the traditions and music of his people, as well as representing and empowering them. “During more than three years in Buxton Town, St. Catherine, and in the inner-city community of Salt Lane in West Kingston, and elsewhere, I had living in these areas experienced life not as a visitor seeing to capture some basic understanding with a few photos for testimonials, but as part of the community, experiencing the widest forms possible of participation in everyday life. I collected folk tales, folk music, participated in nine-nights and digging sports, played ring games, attended a great many revival spiritual functions, and, in short, was immersed and ‘baptized’ in the folk culture of Jamaica,” he says in his book, Edward Seaga: My Life and Leadership. The record for the Smithsonian took him three and a half years to make since he was also studying and researching in these communities. As a result, Seaga became close to his people, including Malachi Reynolds, “Kapo,” the Zion Captain and the most prominent of Zion revivalists in Jamaica; as well as Imogene Kennedy, known early on as Sister B and later as Queenie, an African Kumina Queen. Seaga says in his book, “We would greet each other with a ‘malembe, malembe buta munte,’ a salutation in a language of Angola, the country of origin of the Kumina people.”
When Seaga recorded this folk music, it led him to involvement in the newly emerging recording industry in Kingston and further developed his fascination with Jamaican popular music, which evolved from these folk traditions. “I had also become involved in the emergence of Jamaican popular music, which borrowed some of the idioms of traditional music. In 1959, as a manufacturer of records at that time and a promoter of Jamaican music, I produced on vinyl the popular hit ‘Manny Oh’ created by Jamaicans—sung by Higgs and Wilson, written by Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards. The song had won a Vere Johns Opportunity Hour contest,” Seaga says in his book. “Manny Oh” was released by Seaga after he produced a popular recording by Byron Lee on a label Lee had established for himself. “Dumplins” was a cover of a song by American keyboardist Doc Bagby.
“Dumplins,” like “Manny Oh,” was pressed at West Indies Records Limited, or WIRL, a record manufacturing plant located on Bell Road in the Industrial Estate of Kingston. Seaga built this plant after finding little success distributing his folk music LP. “When the album was out in about ’56,” he told David Katz in the book Solid Foundation, “I was interested in having the material exposed to people—what’s the use of doing research and nobody knows about it? I took it around to music stores—Stanley Motta’s on Harbour Street, KG’s at Cross Road and Wonard’s on Church Street—but they weren’t too interested. It was a little bit too way out for them. Then they asked me if I could import other types of music for them, which I did. They wanted stuff like Pat Boone and Nat King Cole, but there was also a very strong interest in rhythm and blues music …” So Seaga began importing records, which was his foray into the music industry. “I became an agent for Columbia, Atlantic, ATCO, Epic—probably more labels than anybody else. Then I had a manufacturing operation and there was only one other manufacturer, Khouri—Federal Records, but he was more interested in calypsos and mentos. He started two years before me, but they were manufacturing for the tourist market,” Seaga told Katz. The Seaga recording sessions took place at RJR, while the production took place at WIRL which was officially founded by Edward Seaga in 1958. The relationships Seaga established with other record labels would prove crucial in the coming years in the promotion of Jamaica’s music—the same music Seaga had started to record and the same music he heard in his home district at soundsystem dances at Chocomo Lawn.
Seaga saw that there was potential for music to put Jamaica on the map after he heard the music in West Kingston at Chocomo Lawn. This was the same area where Seaga lived and was the district he represented when he was appointed by founder of the Jamaica Labour Party, Sir Alexander Bustamante, to the Upper House of the Jamaican Parliament in 1959, three years before independence. In February, 1959, Edward Seaga wrote two articles for the Daily Gleaner that discussed the reality of independence and seceding from the West Indies Federation. One consideration that Seaga discussed in these articles was the cooperation of the United States, should Jamaica pursue independence. Already, the United States and its cooperation and support was on Seaga’s mind. He would continue to operate with this mindset throughout his career, and certainly in the years post-independence.
Seaga was elected by the constituents of West Kingston to Parliament in April 1962 where he was then appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Development and Welfare. In this position, Seaga was charged with all areas of planning, social development, and culture. Seaga recognized that during an era when Jamaica was literally breaking the bonds of colonialism leading up to independence, Jamaica needed to embrace its own identity more than ever before. There was a “… need for greater self-identity as a people, following on the heels of Garvey’s teachings of the need for greater self-identification as a race,” wrote Seaga in his book, Edward Seaga: My Life and Leadership.
One way that Seaga sought to showcase Jamaican culture to the world was through an exhibition of Jamaican arts and crafts at the Jamaica Reef Hotel Arcade in Port Antonio in December 1964 after a year-long program spearheaded by the Craft Development Agency. Seaga organized this program because he saw a market for the arts and crafts, including works “in needle and straw,” with merchandisers in the United States. He visited arts and crafts centers throughout the island to enlist and train artisans for the program. Again, it was a push to put Jamaica’s music, arts, and landscape in the minds of American marketing outlets. That same month a delegation from Jamaica hosted an exhibition in the Rotunda of the Bronx County Building in New York with “arts, crafts and industries of Jamaica with photographs, posters and publications,” according to the New York Amsterdam News on December 26, 1964, in addition to “Calpyso music which includes the new Ska tunes and many of the original folk tunes of the British West Indies.”
Another way Seaga sought to promote the Jamaican identity was through the creation of his Jamaica Festival. Centered around independence, the first annual Jamaica Festival took place in August 1963. Seaga chose Byron Lee to produce the final show. Competitors vied for honors in a number of categories, including ska singers, ska composition, ska dancers, ska band, mento singers, and mento band. They were also organized according to region—eastern, western, southern, and northern. It took place at venues around the country in Kingston, Christiana, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay. Seaga continued the festival each year after and in 1966 brought the Popular Song Competition into the offerings. Seaga’s meetings of the Parish Festival Committee were broadcast on JBC and RJR so the public was aware of his agenda to promote the Jamaican identity through music and the arts. Seaga says, “Festival Song Competition was to preserve Jamaican music. The folk music of the country wasn’t being focused on. It wasn’t being used and I wanted to bring it back and give it a platform and I did and all the schools took up that challenge teaching the children and choral groups and that sort of thing and they held the contest in July of every year to select the best group. In the beginning it was natural for the winner of the song competition to go on to do records.” Toots & the Maytals won the first Festival Song Competition in 1966 with “Bam Bam,” with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performing backup. The song was a raging hit. Seaga also stated that the Jamaica Festival was a way to provide a “major national vehicle promulgation of Jamaican arts and culture.”
The rest of my book discusses in great detail the campaign that Seaga spearheaded with his friend, advertising executive, and music/dance aficionado Ronnie Nasralla, as well as Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. Other efforts include those by Carlos Malcolm and His Afro-Jamaican Rhythms; a tour of teachers to the U.S., Mexico, and Canada with Lynn Taitt; a tour of the U.S. with The Ticklers, and, of course, the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York with Millie Small.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable examples of Edward Seaga’s work with music is found here, in this iconic photograph by Adrian Boot that captures Bob Marley’s message of unity, on April 22, 1978 when he brought political foes Edward Seaga (JLP) and Michael Manley (PNP) together on stage at the National Stadium in Kingston during the One Love Peace Concert to join hands in an attempt to quell the violence that had gripped the country.
In the words of Bob Marley at the moment of that monumental event on stage,” I just want to shake hands and show the people that we’re gonna make it right, we’re gonna unite, we’re gonna make it right, we’ve got to unite.” Clearly, these words still resonate today–for Jamaica, for the world.
When I heard the news on NPR this morning that Paul Allen had died, my mind immediately went to Sister Ignatius. I had long heard rumors that Allen, co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates and billionaire businessman and philanthropist, purchased Sister Ignatius’s record collection and so I inquired and confirmed this fact in December 2015 with the director of curatorial affairs for the Experience Music Project, the museum that Allen founded in Seattle. Today the museum is called the Museum of Pop Culture and one year after it opened in 2000 it housed an exhibit called, “Island Revolution: Jamaican Rhythm From Ska To Reggae, 1956-1981.” It was then, for this exhibit and for their permanent vaults, that the museum purchased a number of artifacts from Alpha Boys’ School, including instruments (one of Don Drummond’s trombones), the iconic Alpha sign (which was loaned out to the Jamaica! Jamaica! exhibit in Paris in 2017), and Sister Ignatius’s own turntable.
But it is Sister Ignatius’s record collection that is in Allen’s private collection. These are the records that Iggy used to instruct the boys, shaping their musical education by illustrating the sounds of all genres of music. Here is an excerpt from my chapter on Sister Ignatius in Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music that illustrates how important this record collection was to her boys:
“It was because of her passion for all kinds of music that the band program prospered. It is quite a sight to imagine ‘Bones’ in her full habit, spinning records at a DJs 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. 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 … Tony Greene remembers her spinning records for the boys and said she had a fine ear for popular music. ‘She know everything that was going on outside on the street. She could tell you what song was number one what song was number two, anywhere in the world. She used to amaze us! We’d say, “How she know that? How she interested in that?”‘
So what will happen to Sister Ignatius’s record collection? One would assume that it will become part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Pop Culture, but this is likely a matter for the lawyers and estates. I do know that I asked the curator of the museum to donate the Alpha Sign back to Alpha Institute or to the Jamaica Museum Museum since it is part of Jamaica’s cultural and historical heritage and is not even on display in Seattle and sitting in the vaults. I was told that it is available for loan, if the institutions in Jamaica wanted to borrow it. Though I know that Sister Ignatius had the best intentions of her boys at heart, selling these items to acquire essential funds for the school that have deeply benefited the education and care and well being of these children who now will go on to lead productive and healthy lives, thanks to this sale; I still cannot help but feel that it is somehow wrong for a wealthy American businessman to essentially exploit and harvest the fruits of the rich cultural heritage of Jamaica. If the items were on display (and I know that a large percentage of museums have their valuable collections in vaults and not on display), that might be different since the public would be able to view, enjoy, learn from, and be inspired by these artifacts. But when they are in storage, and worse yet, in a private collection, that just feels like the spoils of wealth. I don’t doubt for a second that Paul Allen deeply loved and cherished these records and that he was a worthy vanguard but this seems different than just a record collection–these are historical artifacts.
What are your thoughts?
Here is some more information on Paul Allen:
According to Business Insider, May 21, 2015, Paul Allen’s $200 million superyacht named “Octopus” has plenty of amenities, including a glass bottom swimming pool, basketball court, movie theater, two submarines, and two helicopter landing pads. Also notable though is that “Mick Jagger has used the recording studio onboard. A longtime fan of rock and roll — he built an entire museum dedicated to Jimi Hendrix memorabilia — Allen reportedly lent Octopus’ recording studio to Mick Jagger when he was recording an album with SuperHeavy in 2011. Usher, Dave Stewart, U2, and Johnny Cash have all reportedly performed onboard Octopus.”
According to Reuters, April 30, 2013, the following is a shortlist of Allen’s involvement in various sectors of business and philanthropy:
Microsoft – Co-founders Allen and Bill Gates started off with a 64/36 partnership. Allen’s share was worth about $30 billion at the company’s zenith in 1999-2000. He now has only a small stake.
Asymetrix/Starwave/Metricom – his first projects after leaving Microsoft in 1983 never lived up to expectations.
Interval Research – Allen set up his own idea lab in 1992, but it was too unfocused to bring its ideas to life. He shut it down in 2000.
America Online – Allen dumped his 24.9 percent stake in 1994 for a $75 million profit. Those shares would have been worth more than $40 billion at the height of the tech stock bubble.
Charter Communications – Allen calculates he lost $8 billion on cable firms Charter and RCN in an unsuccessful attempt to buy into the internet delivery business.
Wireless Spectrum – Allen’s advisers say he has made a “very large profit” investing in wireless and telecom tower infrastructure.
Vulcan Energy Corp – a unit of Vulcan Capital, invested $200 million in Plains All American Pipeline several years ago, and says it has generated $2.25 billion in returns.
DreamWorks SKG – Allen invested about $700 million in the movie studio in the 1990s, eventually doubling his money.
Seattle’s South Lake Union (SLU) – Allen has made a massive profit from renovating this dilapidated commercial area, boosted by the growth of Amazon.com
Portland Trail Blazers – The basketball franchise Allen bought for $65 million in 1988 is now value at $457 million.
Seattle Seahawks – Allen bought his hometown football team for $194 million in 1997. It is now valued at more than $1 billion.
Seattle Sounders – Allen is part of the ownership group of Major League Soccer’s best supported team.
EMP Museum – Pop/rock music museum in Seattle inspired by Jimi Hendrix and housed in swirling Frank Gehry-designed structure costing $250 million.
Allen Institute for Brain Science – inspired by watching his late mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, Allen has invested $500 million in this research institute.
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation – Run together with his sister Jody, the main arm of Allen’s philanthropic activities focuses on the Pacific Northwest.
Universities – Allen has given millions of dollars to the University of Washington and his alma mater Washington State University, chiefly for libraries, medical and science research.
Allen puts his total giving at more than $1.5 billion.
SpaceShipOne – An Allen-funded team won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 by sending the first privately built manned rocket into space.
Stratolaunch Systems – Allen set up this new company to ferry people and cargo into space. First flight of the launch aircraft is slated for 2016.