Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

027: The Jamaican choir in Britain 1906-1908

The 1906 group - Drysdale 3rd from right, Jackson 3rd from left, Bryan seated left, Nationa standing right

The 1906 group - Drysdale 3rd from right, Jackson 3rd from left, Bryan seated left, Nation standing right

The Kingston Choral Union of Jamaica, renamed the Native Choir from Jamaica, left the island on 4 January 1906 for Bristol and then to Liverpool where they were to appear at the colonial products exhibition for entrepreneur Alfred Lewis Jones. Led by T. Ellis Jackson, with pianist Harry Nation, the males were Louis George Drysdale, Carlton Bryan, J. T. Loncke,

St George's Hall, Liverpool 1907 - Harry Nation, seated, left
St George’s Hall, Liverpool 1907 – Harry Nation, seated, left

J. Packer Ramsay; the women were Adeline MacDermot, Marie Lawrence, Connie Coverly and Evelyn Gordon. Three returned to Kingston in January 1907 just before the earthquake.

An augmented group, totalling 15 reached England on 27 February 1907 where again they sang at the colonial products exhibition in Liverpool 5-19 March. The above photograph was taken at that time. During their 1906 tour William Masters (born Liverpool June 1887, son of a sailor also named William Masters) joined them, and went to Jamaica – and is in the 15 above. The new female was Miss Welch, and a new male was named Barnes.

In 'native costumes' Liverpool, 1907
In ‘native costumes’ Liverpool, 1907

 

 

Sometimes wearing ‘pictureque costumes’ or ‘native costumes’ the choir moved into the entertainment circuit.

In 1906 they had performed in Swansea in late April, and for a week (ending 5 August) in Worthing where the Worthing Observer said they were ‘well educated and well-trained’; they returned there in mid-September. They appeared in Whitby for three days and then went to Bridlington, yet another seaside resort, 25-28 August. They were in Wrexham (North Wales) 1-3 November where Masters joined them, and at the end of that month were in Ennis, Co Clare (Ireland). The 5 January 1907 Jamaica Times reported their triumphs when Bryan, Locke and Coverly returned. ‘Mr. Bryan scored heavily’ in Britain – when he sang ‘down to a double B-flat the applause was tremendous’. The following week it announced that postcards of the choir, and of Bryan ‘pulling a face’, were on sale in Kingston.

Carlton Bryan 'pulling a face' - 2 images from 1906
Carlton Bryan ‘pulling a face’ – 2 images from 1906

Two of those face-pulling cards have been located. There are no comments written on them. These images are so different to musical qualities of the choir – ‘remarkable musicians and vocalists, their whole programme being full of charm and interest’ (Whitby Times, 24 August 1906).

 

The 1906 group is subtitled ‘twelve coloured artists’ suggesting Stratton was not the only addition in that year’s tour. The 1907 tour after Liverpool is little known apart from an undated visit to Plymouth which was revealed in the Western Daily Mercury of August 1908 when they were back in that port city. Details of their songs suggests American ‘darkie’ ballads or plantation ditties but an advertisement (17 August) said ‘Jamaican street songs’ would also be presented. No details have been recovered.
The Era, the major British show business weekly had carried their announcement on 6 June 1908, ‘twelve coloured ladies and gentlemen’. They were in Blackpool on 11 and 12 September 1908 when the Blackpool Herald said there were thirteen performers. In November they were back in Liverpool.
Bryan was working in an Uncle Tom’s Cabin show in Holloway, north London in February 1913 (‘a grand plantation festival by real negroes’ Era 15 February 1913) with Tom played by the Ghanaian John H. Boehm. In early March they were in Southampton. Drysdale (1884-1933) was in London in 1918, where he worked as a tailor and taught singing techniques – his American pupils included Florence Mills and Marian Anderson – and played cricket for Jamaica-born Dr  J. J. Brown’s team (Brown’s nephew said in 1984 that Drysdale had a very good sense of humour and a funny run when bowling. Dr Brown’s son Leslie [born 1909] recalled the Jamaican comedian Cupidon visiting his parents, and Cupidon is known to have stayed with Drysdale in London). Marie Lawrence followed a singing career in London in the 1920s when she was closely associated with the African Progress Union led by Dr John Alcindor. Jackson’s namesake son was a trombonist with the British showband of Billy Cotton from the 1930s and was living in retirement in London in 1978. Masters changed his name to Gordon Stretton and had a musical career in Britain, Europe and South America.
Nation participated in the Coleridge-Taylor festival in Jamaica in September 1913 and remained active through the 1920s. None of those who toured Britain with him were members of the Kingston Glee Singers formed by George Goode in 1909, and their names are absent from the 58 listed as members 1909-1934 in Ethel Marson’s George Davis Goode: The Man and his Work (1964). This suggests that others were in Britain, too.
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