Anita Mahfood - Margarita, Don Drummond

Margarita Dreams of Stardom


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.”

Anita Mahfood - Margarita, Don Drummond

Don Drummond and the Murder of Margarita


I have heard over the years, read in books, and still hear today that on that fateful night, January 1, 1965, that Margarita did not give Don Drummond his medication, or gave it to him late, thus causing him to sleep through his Skatalites gig and, in anger, stab her when she returned on January 2nd in the wee hours of the morning. I want to take a moment to address this myth because I think what this argument does is very subtly places blame on Margarita for her demise, takes away some of the responsibility from Don, and gives some sort of justification or reason where there is no reason other than untreated insanity.

First on this matter, an excerpt from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist.

But many have thought over the years that Drummond became upset when he finally awoke to find he had not only slept through his performance, but that Margarita was gone. His defenders claim that Margarita manipulated his medication dosage or gave it to him late so she could go dance at the Baby Grand on Crossroads for her first show, and at Club Havana in Rockfort where she had her residency to dance the rumba for wealthy gawking men. There is no way to prove such a claim that Margarita somehow altered Drummond’s medicine he took to treat his schizophrenia, nor is there any way that anyone would know such information. Zola Buckland Sergi, Margarita’s niece, feels that many fans, band mates, or Rastafarians are skeptical of the events and merely looking for an explanation, looking to put the onus on Margarita for Drummond’s actions. She dispels this myth saying, “People say she must have given him his medication improperly and so he slept through it. She didn’t give him his medication! He took his own medication! My mom said it was impossible and people are looking for a reason why he killed her. The reason is, he was nuts!”

Now, let’s take a moment to think logically about this argument. How would anyone know that Margarita gave Don his medication late or not at all? Don never showed up at his gig that night, so he never left the house and was asleep. Margarita, the only person involved in the interchange, was dead, so was unable to tell anyone that she had done such a thing. If Don later told someone that Margarita had given him his medication late, that would be an excuse offered by the murderer, so is suspect, and has never been stated by any of the musicians. Instead, what we have are musicians or friends of Don who offer this as a sequence of events, as a way to provide reasoning. It is blaming the victim of abuse and it simply defies logic. But it speaks to the love for Don, that his friends and musicians would want to protect him, give him a reason. The reason, as Zola says, is he was insane and it was untreated properly. That is the reason, the only reason, and it is sad and horrible, but time that we accept it.

Here’s a similar blog post I wrote in October 2013. Still the myth persists, so I write it again.


The Voice Winner Tessanne Chin and Ska? Big Time!


Tessanne Chin’s connection to ska is much more than just her birthplace of Jamaica—it’s her family lineage! Tessanne Chin’s mother (and father) were in world’s first all-girl ska band—The Carnations! I don’t want to disclose all the information that I have uncovered, as The Carnations are featured in my upcoming book Songbirds: Women in Ska. I have interviewed Christine Levy (Tessanne’s mother), Christine’s ex-husband and sole boy in this “all-girl” ska band Richard Chin (Tessanne’s father), Margaret Wong, and Marie Crompton-Nichols and have exclusive photos of this group from family photo albums, but here’s some history that led to the launch of Tessanne Chin’s huge career!


Never heard of The Carnations? That’s because they never recorded and only played live, so perhaps you remember seeing them back in 1966, playing at clubs in Kingston like the VIP Club, the Flamingo Hotel, the Myrtle Bank Hotel, Club Havana, and in Ocho Rios at Club Maracas and the Brown Jug, to name a few. Perhaps you remember when they became The Avengers and added a few men to the lineup and their shows at the Ding-Ho Club (formerly Club Havana) and the Golden Dragon, playing alongside Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. But let’s step back to those early days when Tessanne Chin’s mother, Christine Levy, took up the trumpet and joined her schoolmates to form this interesting group.


Levy was in high school when she began playing the trumpet in the Excelsior High School Band. They performed at school functions, the Manning Cup, an inter-school soccer tournament at Sabina Park, and during independence celebrations throughout Kingston. It was through this school band and through Levy’s knowledge of her instrument that she learned of an opportunity to perform for another new band that was forming—but this one was different than the Excelsior High School Band. In fact, this one was different from any other band that existed. It was an all-girl ska band.


The members of the new all-girl band, The Carnations, included Levy on trumpet and vocals, Ingrid Chin on bass guitar, Jean Levy on steel guitar, Margaret Wong on lead vocals and congo drums, Althea Morais on keyboard, Marie Crompton-Nicholas on guitar, Pam Mosely on guitar, and Richard Chin on drums. Richard was a male in the all-female band and was the brother to Ingrid Chin, the two who put together the entire band. Christine later married Richard. Christine’s mother served as a chaperone for the girls when they played at clubs, but it was Richard who performed alone at times. Why? Because Christine’s mother removed the girls from sets when the exotic dancers performed—dancers like Madame Wasp and Margarita herself. Christine’s mother, Tessanne’s grandmother, found the performances too risqué for teenage girls, although Richard says he didn’t mind them so much!


Richard Chin (Tessanne’s father) had an uncle who helped steer Richard’s career in music. Richard’s uncle was none other than Kes Chin of Kes Chin & the Souvenirs! The ska family tree has many branches and strong roots, my friends! Kes Chin & the Souvenirs was a popular club act, ska with a Latin flavor featuring Chin, Denis Sindrey on guitar, Lowell Morris on drums, Peter Stoddart on keyboard, and Audley Williams on bass and steel guitar. Richard’s father and Kes’s brother, Keyoung Chin, managed The Carnations.


Christine and Richard passed their love of music on to their children, especially Tami and Tessanne, their two youngest daughters. Richard and Christine built a music studio called “The Underground” in their family home and they taught the girls to follow their passion in life. As a result they both have successful musical careers. Tessanne toured with Jimmy Cliff as a backup singer for three years before going solo and opening for Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, and Peabo Bryson. She has collaborated with Shaggy and on December 17th was crowned the winner of The Voice. Tami, who spells her last name Chynn, has toured with Shaggy as a backup singer and collaborated with Sean Paul, Beenie Man, and Lady Saw. She opened for the New Kids on the Block on their 2008 tour, she has performed on a Pepsi commercial, and she wrote a song that Jennifer Lopez has recorded, “Hypnotico.” She is married to dancehall artist Wayne Marshall and she also designs clothing.


Here comes my shameless plug. My book, Songbirds: Women in Ska, will feature these women along with many other pioneering women who have been gracious enough to share their stories with me—women like Millie Small herself, Yvonne Harrison, Patsy, Janet Enright, Calypso Rose, and numerous others, so stay tuned in 2014 for this book, which is underway. My others, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation, and Ska: An Oral History are available at or


Margarita Mahfood


With the recent release of my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, and the launch of this blog, I thought it only fitting to start with Anita Mahfood and a photo of her father and sisters that didn’t make it into the book. I love this photo. I think it says it all. There are the four sweet girls, innocent and young, full of potential and life, and their protective father, Jad Eid Mahfood, behind them, proud, brooding. But there is something sinister beneath the surface. Anita, the beautiful cherub, appears on the far left next to her sisters Janet, Conchita, and Monira from left to right. Theses four girls would each experience their own level of abuse from Jad Eid depending on the stages of his suffering. Anita would leave that home to go to another where the abuse was worse, marrying Rudolph Bent, the great British Honduran boxer, only after she was pregnant by him, the result of a rape. She would leave that marriage for the security of another, Don Drummond, her colleague of many years in the entertainment circuit–she a rhumba dancer, he the greatest trombonist the island, perhaps the world, had ever heard. But that abuse was worse than all others, resulting in her murder at Drummond’s hands early the morning of January 2nd, 1965 after she returned from her performance at Club Havana where she headlined.

I was sad to learn that Conchita had passed away this year in her home near Toronto, Canada. She was the last of the four girls here on earth. Jad Eid passed away the year after Anita was murdered–a heart attack, or a broken heart. Janet passed away a few years ago and Monira before that. Such tragedy had come to this family, not only from Anita’s murder and the aftermath of the pain that all the sisters and family felt, especially Anita’s children, forever, but also there was the tragedy of the girls’ mother, Brenda May Virtue, who attempted suicide twice before succeeding a third time. It was a brutal life. But in this photo, all appears happy, peaceful, loving, proud. You would never know by looking at this beautiful family photo all the pain that would follow.

I promise not to make all of my blogs so macabre. It’s just that, as I said, I do love this photo and my publisher wasn’t able to put it in, said the resolution wasn’t good enough and it was the only version I had. The world of foundation ska is big and there are many things for me to talk about, most all brighter than this, so upward and onward!