A quest to honour Bermuda´s great musicians

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Dale Butler continues to champion Bermuda’s musical legacy, as Amanda Dale reports in this article for Bermuda´s Sun.

Bermuda may be small in size but it is huge in musical talent.

The island has a rich heritage of world-class artists and musicians, but over the years, many have struggled for recognition and for venues at which to perform.

Perhaps it is the unassuming trait which Bermudians tend to have in their character which has also restricted their exposure on a wider, international stage.

Decades ago however, one man recognized the need to tell their story and to gain more recognition for Bermuda’s musicians.

Mission

Since collaborating on the book Jazz of the Rock (The Musical Heritage of Bermuda and Its People), published 1978, Dale Butler has made it a mission to promote local artists wherever and whenever he can.

The veteran politician, author, filmmaker and community activist went on to update this ‘encyclopedia of Bermuda music’ with his book Music on the Rock in 2009.

Over the years he has also created documentaries and promoted concerts featuring local musicians both at home and overseas (Cuba).

Butler has pushed to get Bermuda’s artists and music on the school curriculum, and also commissioned a report on the state of local music, as Minister of Community Affairs and Sport, in 2004.

Butler told the Bermuda Sun: “To me, Bermudian musicians have tremendous talent, so much so that they can play with any international star.

“Ghandi Burgess (the legendary trumpet player who played with artists such as Ben E King and Nina Simone) was offered a recording contract by a big recording studio, but turned it down. It was then taken up by Miles Davis, and we all know where he ended up. That’s how good Ghandi Burgess was.”

Burgess was reportedly offered a deal with Blue Note, as well as contracts with Columbia Records and Decca, which he is also said to have turned down.

Butler said the lack of opportunity to play local venues forced jazz pianist Lance Hayward to head to the West Indies during the winter months.

“He couldn’t find enough opportunities to play in Bermuda. But then he went to live in Greenwich Village (New York City) and reached world renown.”

Butler recently met with the musician’s daughter Sylvia Hayward, “to discuss how we can celebrate Lance’s life”.

“This was a significant musician but we don’t hear anything about him,” he said.

Butler said he started promoting local music in 1978, as part of the group ‘Bermuda for Bermudians’.

“Almost all of us were teachers and we realized we knew very little about our own history, so we started looking at ways of bringing our history to life.

“As we started to explore the areas of sport, art and music, we realized we didn’t know all the artists of Bermuda. We put a list together and then did the same for sport and music. Then we started researching music.

“We thought there needed to be a documentary but we didn’t have any access to video recorders in those days and couldn’t find any sponsors for the project.

“So, we decided to produce a book. But neither the Government or any local businesses were interested in sponsoring it. So, we put on a few concerts to raise the money.

“We started collecting old photos and memories of the musicians to put into the book, which we called Jazz of the Rock.

“We were just overwhelmed by the stories and pictures the musicians had. People like Lance Hayward and Ghandi Burgess were legends, and then there was Maude Fox of Laffan Street, who had had the opportunity to play for Princess Louise.

“The Governor had made it compulsory for her to practice three times a day for a month. But Princess Louise loved her playing so much, she kept saying, ‘One more’.

“The book took us about a year to write and publish. There were numerous stories and we tried to include as many musicians as we could.”

The first edition of Jazz of the Rock was published in 1978 and covered the island’s music from 1930 to the late Seventies.

“Island Press did a great job and the book sold out,” said Butler.

“It still stands as ‘the encyclopedia’ on Bermuda music.

“The researchers included myself, Arnold Simmons, Randy Scott (Parliamentary Registrar), Wesley Simmons, Dr Wilbert Warner and Craig Simmons (economics lecturer at Bermuda College).

“We were young students who had just returned home to the island from college, and although we had learned the world’s history, we didn’t know our own.”

Bermuda for Bermudians also produced the first book of national poetry, This is My Country (1978), and Curtis: A Tribute to (Charles) Michael Clarke (guitarist, singer-songwriter, 1978).

Over the years, they linked up with the Bermuda Federation of Musicians and Variety Artists, led by the late Hubert Smith senior. Together they staged a series of concerts at the Fairmont Southampton hotel, from 1983-89.

Struggling

“We got the venue for free and so it gave the musicians — who were always struggling — somewhere to play,” said Butler.

“We always gave the most senior musicians the opportunity to play first. We honoured more than 150 musicians at those concerts.

“People like Ghandi Burgess, Lance Hayward, Gene Steede and Kenny Iris all played, as well as the Aldano Sextet and some of the great female singers, including Pinky Steede.

“These musicians were in their sixties and seventies and the shows could last up to three hours, but no one ever complained about the time.

“I remember Maude Fox was 96 and when her name was called, it took her about 20 minutes to get to the stage because she had to be helped.

“Once she started it was another three minutes before she raised her hands, but then she boogied, woogied and rocked that piano for 25 minutes non-stop.

“The whole place was screaming and hollering, and the applause lasted for a good five to 10 minutes afterwards. I will never forget that concert.”

Bermuda for Bermudians disbanded in 1986, leaving Butler to continue on his quest solo.

“I stuck to my guns about trying to highlight Bermuda’s history and our outstanding Bermudians, and I was one of the first to say we should have a National Heroes’ Day,” he said.

He also started interviewing and videotaping musicians, and collecting photos.

“I collected as many pictures as I could and reproduced Jazz of the Rock, adding new photos received from 1979 to 2009.”

Music on the Rock (2009) updated the history of Bermuda’s music, covering up to 500 pages.

Butler also wrote My Blue Heaven on Ghandi Burgess and Triumph of the Spirits — the Heroes and Heroines of Bermuda’ (Parts One, Two and Three).

He has also filmed the documentaries Chilled & Shaken: The Closing of Hubie’s, and Five Profiles in Harmony: The Lives of Five Warwick Musicians, and My Blue Heaven.

As Minister of Community Affairs and Sport in 2004, he commissioned the report Musicians and the Entertainment Industry in Bermuda, written by Stuart Hayward.

This recommended the development of more outlets for live entertainment, plus more promotion and recognition of local artists.

In 2006, Butler also opened the Bermuda Musicians’ & Entertainers’ Hall of Fame, with music teacher and saxophonist Wendell ‘Shine’ Hayward.

“Bermuda has produced numerous outstanding musicians, and this led myself and Wendell to form the hall of fame, at 97, St John’s Road, Pembroke.

“We received a legacy grant from the former Government but were disappointed more Bermudians didn’t support it. However, we are currently in the process of renovating the facility.”

Butler added: “I’d also like to salute the late June Augustus,  who had her own hall of fame on the island and who had a charcoal portrait completed of Lance Hayward.

“The Government needs to find more ways of honouring local musicians, either with Queen’s Awards or more local awards.”

While an MP for the Progressive Labour Party (PLP), Mr Butler also contributed a significant amount of his salary to the development of music on the island.

He set up the Ghandi Burgess Music Scholarship five years ago, which gives one music student studying under Wendell ‘Shine’ Hayward $500 a year towards their studies.

He also set up the Pastor Eugene Virgil Award, which gives $500 a year towards a Bermuda College student in need.

This however is the last year the awards will be given.

Mr Butler said: “I used to send back almost 75 per cent of my salary into the community in various projects. Unfortunately I’m not an MP anymore so no longer have the means of doing this, so this is the last year for these two awards.”

He would like to see Bermuda’s musical legacy included in the school 
curriculum.

“As a schoolteacher as early as in 1979, I wrote a curriculum on how to teach local music, but it went nowhere as there was no interest expressed from schools or teachers.

“Today however, there is more interest in talking about local history and I believe educators need to ensure local music and these outstanding performers are included on the curriculum.”

Asked if he felt there was a characteristic ‘Bermuda sound’, Butler said: “There’s isn’t anything unique unfortunately, other than the Gombeys, who came up from St Kitts via Africa.

“Every major musical movement worldwide has been brought here, either by British soldiers or via the media.

“Calypso, reggae and soca were imported from the West Indies, and in Bermuda we were bombarded with jazz from the United States. In the tourism industry it was felt that that was what American tourists wanted to hear.

“It has always been a dream of mine. I grew up in a neighbourhood where I got to hear the legendary Charles Michael Clarke play. He was trying to develop a local sound in the early Sixties and Seventies.

“We do need to develop our own sound. (Clarence) ‘Tootsie’ Bean (drummer) does a piece where he breaks into a Gombey beat, but it has not been accepted in the local music scene like reggae and soca are in the West Indies.

“We also have the problems of a lack of sponsorship and venues.

“Musicians have faced numerous challenges. But although they find it difficult to find venues at which to perform, they still keep their standards high.

“And today, there are more people trying to develop a ‘Bermuda sound’.”

Butler added: “There are good radio stations, such as VSB, which play a lot of Bermuda music. Some do it naturally because it’s in their heart, but others don’t see the need for it and don’t do this, which is unfortunate.”

Another obstacle he said, was attracting support from Bermudians themselves to come and hear local artists.

“I have promoted numerous concerts all over the island since 1979 featuring local talent. But sometimes, even when you put on a show, Bermudians don’t show up, it’s hard to get them to come out.

“At the moment I also feel the country is lacking in entrepreneurs to finding musical venues and pull programmes together, like Choy Aming (Clayhouse Inn owner) and Tony Brannon’s father (Terry) did (40 Thieves Club), in the past.

“The music seems to come and go.”

He does however, acknowledge the “important” contribution of the Chewstick Foundation in nurturing and promoting local talent.

“Chewstick has talented people with an artistic background and plays an important role. It appeals to both the hearts of young people and older people, so it’s a great mix.”

He is also actively promoting The Giant Steps Band, which features veteran jazz musicians Max Maybury, Eugene ‘Stacker’ Joell, Clarence ‘Tootsie’ Bean, Dennis Fox, Quinton ‘Tiny’ Burgess and Graham Maule.

The band will perform at the Havana International Jazz Festival in December and Butler is behind the fundraising efforts.

On January 20 he organized the Deep Bay Music Festival at Pembroke Community Club. The event featured other local musicians such as Toni Robinson, Jade Minors and Lavette Fuentes and was described by Butler as “an outstanding success”.

Fundraiser

Another fundraising concert will take place on March 10 and he has also written the play We Are Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder, to be performed at the First Church of God on Angle Street, Hamilton, on Sunday, April 21, followed by five other churches.

Butler also hopes to develop a youth offshoot of the band, called Footsteps, later this year.

In the meantime, he is appealing to islanders to support all local artists.

“If you are buying a gift for someone, please consider a CD of local music. This will help Bermudian musicians. And whenever there’s a concert, please try to attend — and take a young person with 
you.”

Music on the Rock by Dale Butler is available from all good bookstores, priced $75. Look out for the second part of our tribute to Bermuda’s music —it will be focusing on Chewstick.

For the original report go to http://www.bermudasun.bm/Content/LIFESTYLE/Lifestyle/Article/A-quest-to-honour-our-great-musicans/9/230/63476

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