In Search of Bermuda Vocal Groups

by Charlie & Pam Horner

 

On May 30, 2010, we boarded the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship in New York City on our way to Bermuda.  Bermuda has long had its own music traditions, though some Bermudian music is heavily influenced by Caribbean music styles like steelpan and calypso.  (Bermuda is not a Caribbean island).  Bermuda is also home to Gombay dancers (a West African-based tradition that dates to slavery days), reggae, jazz and Gospel music.



Charlie & Pam arriving the Royal Navy Dockyards, Bermuda


Pam Horner in Bermuda


Charlie Horner in Bermuda


Bermuda


Gombay dancers celebrate to the wild drumming.
Tradition dates to slavery times and can be traced in part to West African origin.


Modern reggae group performs at the Hamilton Harbor Nights Festival.

 

The Talbot Brothers

The Talbot Brothers are one of the best known Bermudian groups.  Often thought of as a calypso group, the Talbot Brothers could sing in a number of styles and some of their early records bear a striking resemblance to American jive groups like the Cats & A Fiddle.


The Talbot Brothers story began in a one room cottage in Tucker Town.  Tucker Town is now the playground for multimillionaires but before the 1920's it was a mostly black community of small farmers and fishers.  From these humble beginnings, came a family vocal and instrumental group that would become known worldwide.  Brothers Archie, Austin and Roy, along with cousin Ernest Stovell formed a quartet to sing in church.  One neighborhood record player allowed the Talbots to listen to records by American artists, one of their favorites being the Mills Brothers.  It would be the 1940's before they had access to radio.

The group started performing at local events and gaining in popularity.  Needing a bass fiddle, Roy built his own from a packing case and fishing line.  It soon became part of the group's act.  As tourism grew in Bermuda during the 1940's so did the Talbot Brothers' fame.  Brother Ross (Blackie) Talbot replaced Ernest Stovell and another brother, Dick (Bryan) Talbot joined the group, as did cousin Cromwell Manders.  The Talbot Brothers were now a sextet.

In January, 1949, the Talbot Brothers decided to make some recordings.  The recordings were done in Bermuda and were produced completely by the Talbot Brothers on their own Bermuda label.  The original 78 RPM records were only sold in Bermuda, though many were bought by tourists who brought the back to the U.S., Canada and Great Britain as souvenirs.  Later the sides would be reissued in the U.S. and Canada on labels like Audio Fidelity.


Talbot Brothers original 78 RPM album
(From the Classic Urban Harmony Archives)
 

Two of the songs issued on the three-record 78 RPM album should be of strong interest to vocal group collectors.  "Bermuda Buggy Ride" sounds a lot like something from the jive group "Cats & A Fiddle."  "But She's My Buddy's Chick" is the 1945 Nat Cole Trio song also done in harmony 1946 by the Delta Rhythm Boys.  The Talbot Brothers do a great interpretation of the song, also in fine harmony.  Also of interest to harmony fans, from the first Talbot Brothers recordings is "Hip Hip Hooray."



(From the Classic Urban Harmony Archives)


(From the Classic Urban Harmony Archives)


Talbot Brothers recordings issued on 10" 33 RPM album, ca. early 1950's.
(From the Classic Urban Harmony Archives)


The Talbot Brothers went on to world acclaim, appearing on Ed Sullivan's TV show and even performing at the London Palladium.  In Bermuda they are considered national heroes, even deserving of their own postage stamp.



While many of the Talbot Brothers recordings over the years are calypso, some should be heard with an ear to vocal harmony.  Check out "Bermuda's Still Paradise" and "Sunset In Bermuda" for some close (almost Four Freshmen) harmony.

Unfortunately, all of the Talbot Brothers are gone now.  While in Bermuda, we were pleased to see many of the store selling the book, Bermuda's Famous Talbot Brothers by Elizabeth Jones.  This 59-page coffee table book traces the history of the Talbot Brothers, including scores of photos from different stages of the group's career.  Also included with the book are a fabulous 30-minute narrated DVD with footage of the Talbot Brothers appearance on Ed Sullivan's TV show and two CD's of the groups better known recordings.  The book/DVD/CD package is also available on line at www.talbotbrothersbermuda.com.


Talbot Brothers book, 2009

 

The Harmony Four

Bermuda also has it's share of Gospel quartets, only a small number of whom has recorded.  We've always been intrigued by a group called the Harmony Four who did a record in our Classic Urban Harmony Archives called "Miracle World."  This record features a tenor lead, reminiscent of Bill Kenny, great harmony and a talking bass bridge.  It came out on the group's own Har-Fo label out of Hamilton, Bermuda, probably around 1962.


Great Gospel harmony record from Bermuda
(From the Classic Urban Harmony Archives)


Hamilton, Bermuda, home of the Har-Fo label
As seen today from the water.
(Photo property of Classic Urban Harmony)


The Harmony Four, are believed to be from Hamilton and began singing as a group around 1960.  In addition to the 45 RPM single shown above, the Harmony Four are said to have released three albums.  We are still trying to acquire copies of these.  A 1995 newspaper article lists the Harmony Four as consisting of Mr. Warren Williams, Mr. Louis Thomas, Mr. Eugene Richardson and Mr. Tredwell Smith.  All four group members are Seventh Day Adventists and also sing in the Gospel choir, the Warrenaires.  Warren Williams is the writer and arranger of "Miracle World."  By 1995 Morton Williams had replaced Louis Thomas in the quartet.  In live appearances, the Harmony Four would often sing acappella.  We don't know if the Harmony Four are still singing.  We sincerely hope so.  On our next trip to Bermuda, we'll try to locate them.  In the meantime, if any Bermudian visitors to this website know the group, please email us.

 

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